Birthday Cake (All-In-One Vanilla Sponge)

A delicious, light vanilla sponge birthday cake recipe. Quick and simple to make and perfect for decorating to make a birthday really special.

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A slice of vanilla birthday cake on a plate filled with jam and vanilla buttercream and covered in blue fondant icing.When I was a child I loved the birthday cakes my mum made and decorated for me. At my parties, I was always really proud to show off my birthday cake to my friends. In the weeks running up to my birthday, I used to look through my mum’s cake decorating book and choose the cake I wanted (actually I always chose the fairy castle, but never got it).

Now I have my own children, it’s important to me to do the same for them. Rather than choosing from a book, I let them describe what they want and then scour the internet for inspiration to achieve it (I don’t know what I’d do without Google Images and Pinterest). Today is my littlest’s second birthday so I thought it would be a good time to share with you the recipe I use for making the vanilla sponge which goes inside most of the cakes I make for my family.  The recipe is adapted from a book called Cake Magic by Virginia Welsh and Alison French – the same book I chose my cakes from when I was little.

The theme I was given for today’s cake was Chuggington. I was told it must include an engine shed, three trains (Wilson, Koko and Brewster), and a turntable (they don’t ask for much!). I’m not a professional cake decorator, but what I lack in skill I hopefully make up for in enthusiasm and effort. Here’s what I managed…

A Chuggington birthday cake. The cake is a blue engine shed with Koko, Wilson and Brewster poking out. There's a train turntable and a farm with a pig and sheep.

If you want to take a look at the other cakes I’ve made for friends and family then visit my cake gallery.

Recommended Equipment

To make my vanilla sponge I’d recommend the following equipment…

NOTE – These are affiliate links which means that if you purchase from Amazon after clicking on one the product links below I will earn a small commission.

Accurate scales are essential when baking and I love these Electronic Scales from Salter. You can reset the weight every time you add a new ingredient which is perfect for something like this all-in-one sponge. They’re also compact so take up hardly any space in your cupboards.

If I’m making a round cake I use these tins from Delia Smith (well if it’s good enough for Delia then it’s good enough for me!).

Instead of using greaseproof paper to line your cake tins I recommend trying these Bake-o-Glide reusable liners. There’s no need to grease the tin as they’re easily removed, and they’re pre-cut to size so there’s no fiddling around trying to get the greaseproof cut to the right shape.

You’ll also need a large mixing bowl and an electric mixer (you can mix by hand if you don’t have a mixer just be prepared for some arm ache!).

Fancy making a chocolate birthday cake instead?

Then try my new CHOCOLATE BIRTHDAY CAKE RECIPE, it’s really chocolatey, easy to make and perfect for decorating.

A slice of chocolate birthday cake, filled with chocolate buttercream and covered with white fondant with multi-coloured fondant spots.

Sponge birthday cake recipe
4.67 from 27 votes

Birthday Cake (All-In-One Vanilla Sponge)

A delicious, light vanilla sponge birthday cake recipe. Quick and simple to make and perfect for decorating to make a birthday really special. Recipe VIDEO below.
Active Time 10 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 12 servings


  • 225 g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs I usually use medium but large also work well
  • 225 g soft margarine
  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 6 drops vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp milk


  • Preheat the oven to 160ºC/140ºC fan
  • Line your baking tins(s) (I usually use 2 x 20cm round sandwich tins or a 20cm x 30cm rectangular tin, depending on the shape of cake I want to make).
  • Sift the self-raising flour (225g) and baking powder (2 tsp) into a large bowl.
  • Add the remaining ingredients (4 eggs, 225g soft margarine, 225g caster sugar, 6 drops of vanilla extract and 2 tsp milk) and beat until thoroughly mixed.
  • Pour into the tin(s)
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes. To check if the cake is cooked insert a skewer and if it comes out clean the cake is ready.
  • Leave to cool in the tin(s) for about 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to cool completely – Make sure the cake has cooled completely before decorating.


Using a different shape or size of tin? Find out the exact quantities you need and the answers to lots of other FAQs about this recipe – BIRTHDAY CAKE FAQs.
If you’d like to make your own buttercream to fill and cover the cake you can find the recipe here – VANILLA BUTTERCREAM.
Adapted from Cake Magic by Virginia Welsh and Alison French.

Recipe Type: Dessert
Have you tried this recipe?Please leave a comment and rating at the bottom of the page to let others know what you thought.

Nutritional Information

Calories: 297kcal | Carbohydrates: 33g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 199mg | Potassium: 131mg | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 15% | Calcium: 5.4% | Iron: 2.7%
Any nutritional information shown is the estimated nutritional information per serving. Please refer to my guide to Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen nutritional information if you want to learn more about how this is calculated.

Free From/Suitable For

  • Suitable for Vegetarians
  • Nut-Free
  • Soy-Free

The ingredients for this recipe are commonly available free from all these allergens. However, please ensure you double-check allergen information for all ingredients.

I’m sharing this with the following recipe challenges… #TastyTuesdays with Honest Mum.


  1. Hiya!
    I’m wanting to make a birthday cake for my daughter’s 2nd birthday.
    It will be covered in a layer fondant icing then have a Peppa Pig figure on top.
    I’ve read that a standard sponge wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand the fondant and that madeira sponge is recommended instead.
    Do you think this sponge would withstand the weight of fondant?

    • Yes, it’s absolutely fine. I’ve made all of these cakes using either this sponge or the chocolate one (which is based on a very similar recipe) and never had a problem.

  2. Can I substitute the margerine for butter?

  3. Hi, I love this receipe . How would you adapt the recipe to make a caramel sponge flavour? Thanks

    • The easiest way to give it a hint of caramel flavour would be to switch the caster sugar for dark brown or demerara sugar. You could then use caramel buttercream to give more of a caramel flour to the cake.

  4. Hi Charlotte

    i use your site all the time , its so great! Am about to embark on my next cake challenge, a football pitch cake for my nephew. I have a rectangle cake tin the size you mention above for your vanilla sponge…my question is…will that one layer be enough do you think or do i need two tins? I haven’t done it in a rectangle before so don’t know if the recipe above is enough for one deep cake that can be cut in half and sandwiched together?

    • That wouldn’t be deep enough for cutting and sandwiching. You’d be better off baking two cakes and then sandwiching them after baking.

  5. My cake has sunk :-(. What did I do wrong?

    • There are several things it could be. It’s difficult to say without knowing a bit more, e.g. what size tin did you use? Was the cake cooked in the middle when you first opened the oven door? Did you accurately measure the ingredients (if you use a normal teaspoon as opposed to a measuring spoon it’s easy to add too much baking powder which may cause the cake to rise too high and then sink? If you overmix the cake mixture you can beat in too much air which could have the same effect. Some tins are more insulated than others which can make cakes cook more slowly (meaning they’re not cooked when you open the oven and they sink). If you can give me a bit more detail I might be able to help.

  6. Thank you so much! I used this recipe to practice making a birthday cake for my partner but I made cupcakes instead and they came out really well. I took loads into work and everyone commented on how nice they tasted plus my manager was amazed how light and fluffy they were.

  7. Hi,

    I am looking for some advice on my next cake adventure using your recipe! I am looking to make a wooden barrel beer bucket type cake and wondered if you would be able to help me with a couple of questions? I have googled no end and watched as many you tube videos as I can find but still a little unsure on a few I just fondant cover the top of the cake then put fondant wooden slats around the outside or do I fondant the whole cake then fondant slats around the edge? Wasn’t sure if there would be too much fondant if I did the latter as there would be 2 layers of fondant but was worried that the cake may not stay fresh if I put just the slats around it?(I would make sure they stick next to each other so no gap if possible!) Also would I need to dowel a 4 layer cake or support it in any way? If I do 4 layers do I do the same amount of buttercream/jam in each layer as I did following your recipe or would you put less in as there would be 3 layers? Last question honestly! I am going to buy largr rock candy crystals as ice cubes to put in it – should I put a cake board on top of the cake for the ice cubes to ‘rest’ on?
    I’m sorry for so many questions and I’m not sure if you have done anything like this before but any help would be really appreciated!!

    • Personally, I would put a thin layer of fondant over the whole cake and then add the slats over the top of that. As long as you keep the slats quite thin then it won’t be too much fondant. Only using the slats without a layer of fondant underneath may be harder to keep neat.

      You shouldn’t need dowels for four layers (unless you’re adding a lot of weight to the top).

      If you use my calculator (there’s a link in the recipe notes) it’ll tell you the amount of buttercream you need for 4 layers.

      Whether you need a board for the rock candy depends on the weight and how much you want to add. If you’re only adding a few then it’ll be fine (I put quite heave fondant figures on top of my cakes without any problem). If you’re piling them up quite high then a thin board for extra support would be a good idea. If you are putting the board on top then I’d also add dowels to support the extra weight.

  8. It’s that time of year again! I always use your recipe for my daughter’s birthday cakes – choc one in the oven baking now!

    I just wanted to say thank you for making me look good in my daughters eyes as the cakes have always turned out perfectly!

    Fingers crossed this time will be the same

    • Aww thanks, hopefully she’ll have lots of happy memories of the cakes you made as I do with the ones my Mum made for me 🙂

  9. how can I make sprinkles stick to the side of a cake with frosting?

  10. what type of frosting should I use?

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