Classic Chocolate Birthday Cake

Posted June 17, 2015 by Stephanie
classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

I made this cake for a self-proclaimed cake hater. But, first let me explain what this cake is supposed to look like. If you grew up in Canada in the late 80s, you’ll remember McCain’s Deep ‘n Delicious chocolate cake. It’s not particularly deep or delicious, but as a chocolate cake deprived little kid, DND (as the cake shall now be known) was the best thing I ever tasted. It’s a basic chocolate cake, in a tinfoil tray, covered with star shaped piped chocolate frosting. The cake was (and still can be) found in the frozen section, you know, where they keep the Sara Lee Pound Cakes and such.

classic chocolate birthday cake recipe - classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

DND tastes like childhood. It brings me back in a intense way to a time when my biggest worry was if my mom would let me have a second slice of cake or not. I have to admit, that I still eat DND today, in a completely non-ironic sort of way. I love that shit! In fact, I have half of one in my freezer right now. It’s the perfect indulgent I-don’t-have-to-do-anything-cake cake. It’s a I-want-chocolate-cake cake. And that’s why, when I wanted to bake a homemade version for a birthday cake, I turned to the master of homemade cakes, Deb, of Smitten Kitchen.

classic chocolate birthday cake recipe - classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

The power of DND is real my friends. It convinced my non-cake loving friend that he is, indeed, a lover of cake. It all happened, as many stories in my life do, on a pizza night. Mike and I were over at his place for pizza and I, of course, wanted cake but didn’t want to bake one so we trekked over to the grocery store to buy a tray of DND. I had one lone slice, since no one else would deign to try it. I left the rest in the freezer and promptly forgot about it until the next pizza night when I wanted another slice. To my surprise the cake was nowhere to be found…Apparently my friend finished off the entire thing as dinner one day.

classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

He was a bit sheepish about it, but I know the power of DND. So, it was a no brainer that his birthday cake would be DND inspired. This cake came together like a dream. I didn’t even sift the cocoa power – I just ran a fork through it. If you’re a stickler for following instructions, go ahead and sift. The crumb is moist and deeply chocolatey and the frosting is delightfully fudgy. I had the leftovers for breakfast the next day and I was not at all mad about it.

classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

Classic Chocolate Birthday Cake Recipe via Smitten Kitchen
makes 1 4×4 inch cake*
prep time: 30 minutes
bake time: 25-35 minutes
total time: 2 hours, including cooling and frosting


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 large egg (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 large egg yolk (1/2 tablespoon)
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon table or fine sea salt


  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 4 inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving overhang on the sides.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Cream with the brown and white sugar. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, mixing well. Add the buttermilk and mix. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sift the dry mixture over the wet ingredients and fold until just combined, being sure to scrape down the sides. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove and let cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy, then add the powdered sugar. Add the chocolate, salt, milk, and vanilla and beat until smooth and fluffy. Ice using an offset spatula for swirls or use a star tip and piping bag to pipe on stars. Top with a dinosaur a la my favorite cake maker, My Name is Yeh.

Note: to measure out the eggs, break into a small bowl, whisk well and measure out.
For the original recipe measurements, which makes an 8×8 inch cake, check out Deb’s recipe.

classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

These guys are part of a Slow Cooked Baby Back Ribs dinner party. Check out the ribs, mac and cheese waffles, and sangria too!
classic chocolate birthday cake recipe -

If you’d prefer to let someone else do the hard work, check out plain sponge cake bases from Nude Cakes.


  1. Alana says:

    I feel so deprived of the DND experience right now but I’m gonna focus on the blue dino instead. He’s so cute!! I want some mini weeny figurines to prop out all my cakes now!! This cake looks AMAZING btw. But you don’t have to win me over with any kind of cake (cake, pie, brownie, cookie, anything sweet lover here)!!

  2. there wasn’t a transcendent chocolate cake in my childhood (apple cake and nut cups, which are tastier than they sound, reigned supreme), but i’m game for trying to make up for lost time with this recipe!

  3. That looks scrumptious! Can’t go wrong with classic chocolate cake :)

    And are plastic dinosaurs a thing now? lol

  4. Abby says:

    OMG! This cake, Steph! I’m obsessed. So chocolatey and I LOVE that your recipe makes a 4×4 as opposed to an 8×8 cake. That dinosaur topper is the absolute cutest. <3

  5. Omg yessss! McCain’s Deep ‘n Delicious chocolate cake (thumbs up emoji times x 5)

    Goes great with a glass of homo milk :P

  6. omg! i just finished decorating a chocolate cake with plastic dinosaurs for erlend’s birthday! great minds think alike yo. this cake looks BOMB.

  7. Adrianna says:

    OMG this is so GD cute. That dinosaur, the piping, the square. LOVE IT.

  8. Adina says:

    This looks so good. I don’t know the DND cake but yours looks totally yummy. This will be my next chocolate cake.

  9. Lise says:

    Thats one lucky mini-dinosaur!

    One thing missing in your recipe though: 1/4 what of cocoa powder? I’m guessing cup, not tablespoon – but then again I always err on the side of overendulgence when it comes to cocoa.

    1. Stephanie Le says:

      ooh thank you!! it’s a cup – i’ve edited it!

  10. Jennie says:

    I love this cake, sometimes the simple things are the best, aren’t they! The piped stars remind me of cakes my Mum used to make me when I was a kid too :)
    Also, I LOVE your dinosaur. Every good birthday cake needs a dino!

    Jennie xx

  11. molly yeh says:

    heheheh can my dinosaurs and your dinosaurs be friends??? i want a DND!!! i wish my childhood had DNDs :-O

  12. Ha! I’m worried about your friend … who doesn’t like cake?! Luckily it sounds like he’s coming around to it. What a fun post! Love that dinosaur.

  13. DND WAS SO PART OF MY LIFE TOO! I love that you continue to keep one in the freezer. There’s nothing like that cold cakey bite, and whipped chocolate frosting … ! Can we get one at the supermarket and each eat half? Haha… we can also jam on some Sara Lee (who I always imagined to be Chinese)… also : TINY 4 x 4 square cake pan is TOO CUTE! XO

  14. Amy Bui says:

    Your food images always look so deliciously amazing and the recipe is so simple. This cake brings me back to my childhood. Yummy!

  15. cynthia says:

    Your description of DND is so captivating. I am convinced I desperately need it without ever having had it, or at the very least to make this gorgeous cake!!!! I LOVE that it’s a teeny 4×4″ beauty! You know that speaks to me ;) so amazing, Steph!!!

  16. Hannah says:

    Oh that frosting is so cute! Definitely reminds me of childhood birthday cakes (in a sophisticated way …)

  17. Sammie says:

    This cake is sooo pretty AND it chocolate. That’s one delicious cake on my have-to-bake list, near the top, very, very near! Fab post and beautiful pictures. Sammie

  18. sydney young says:

    is there any way to print these recipes without taking a screenshot?

    1. Stephanie Le says:

      hi sydney, i don’t have a print button yet – you can copy and paste into a text file. hope that helps!

  19. Dot says:

    Just want to point out that this could be baked in a small loaf pan 4×8. If the original recipe made an 8×8 cake and you have halved the ingredients, this recipe should make a 4×8 cake. A 4×4 cake is one quarter of an 8×8, not one half. It is easy to see if you figure out the square inches in each size. 4×4=16 sq in and 8×8=64 sq in

  20. Moriah Martin says:

    Is it possible to print off recipes from this blog?

    1. Stephanie Le says:

      i’m working on it, but for now, copy and paste is the best way to go! hope that helps!

  21. hungrySLIF says:

    Microwave DND for a few seconds. Top with No Name vanilla ice cream from a carton. Douse with chocolate syrup from a squeeze bottle (nonbranded of course #becauseChinesehousehold). If feeling adventurous, spritz with whipped topping from the blue can (you know which one). Eat with abandon and wallow in the fact that I was a fatty fatty fat fat as a child.

  22. Carmen says:

    I love your blog. Full of adorable surprises in each post. It’s beautiful. Congratulations. Keep it up Stephanie. A hug from Stockholm.

  23. Joanne kunz says:

    I went to UNB in the 80s from a little island in the Caribbean. Homesickness was made a bit better by the magic of eating Mc Cain DND. Now I live in South Africa and telling these stories to my teenage kids brought back memories of that wonderful moment when I took off that cover!. I miss it all! Thank you going try this recipe!

  24. Kavina says:

    Omg. I live in Australia now and crave DND allll the time, it was my Canadian birthday cake every year because it was AMAZING. Can’t wait to try this! *runs to the kitchen*

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