Red Truck Bakery’s Time-Tested Birthday Cake

Brian Noyes shares a celebration-worthy, century-plus-old family recipe

Photo: Angie Mosier

For generations, this white cake—with a Swiss meringue–type white frosting that has melted chocolate poured over the top—was trotted out for birthdays in the Noyes family. My dad introduced it to our immediate family, as did his father to his, and it goes back at least to my great-grandfather at the Noyes ancestral home, Edgewater Farm, near Waterloo, Nebraska (now owned by my cousins Mac and Laura Burford). This dessert is the jewel in our family’s food legacy, and, no, it’s not a vanity project—this has been the name of the cake through the ages. I was heartsick when I couldn’t locate a copy of the long-surviving recipe for this cookbook, and at the last minute—after I finished writing it, and as I was moving cookbooks from my house to the farmhouse—my grandmother’s small spiral-bound book entitled “Kitchen Secrets” fell out of the pile. In a bit of happenstance (this seems to occur frequently to me, and my recipe tester Bonnie Benwick refers to it in Yiddish as beshert or destiny), the cover slid off and the first loose page inside was the recipe for this cake, written in my grandmother’s hand. It took some tweaking to bring it into the current day (with original instructions like “add butter the size of a walnut”), and my very understanding editor let me sneak it into the desserts lineup.

My cousin Carol Clark has since sent me her own copy of the same recipe, written by my great-grandmother, whose notes attest to the magic of the frosting: “This is really a plain cake, but it takes practice to get the frosting just right. The cake is better when it is several days old. It is very good, almost like candy.” Herewith, the cherished single-layer version true to the historic family recipe, although I sometimes double the recipe to make a two-layer cake for larger events.—Brian Noyes, from his new cookbook, The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook

Read our interview with Noyes here.




    • 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

    • 1 cup sugar

    • 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

    • 2 large egg whites

    • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

    • 1¾ tsp. baking powder

    • ½ cup whole milk


    • 4 large eggs whites

    • 1 cup sugar

    • Pinch kosher salt

    • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

    • 5 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped


  1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease an 8-inch round pan (with 2-inch sides) with vegetable oil spray and dust the inside evenly with flour, tapping out any excess.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add half of the egg whites, beating well to incorporate, then the remaining half. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.

  3. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with a spatula. Rap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean and the cake has pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully invert the cake onto a wire rack set over a baking sheet to cool completely. Trim the cake, as needed, so that it sits flat.

  4. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and bring it to a simmer. Place the mixing bowl over the simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Gently whisk the mixture until the egg whites are very warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Be patient and continue to whisk until the mixture no longer feels grainy (rub the mixture between your fingers to test it). Keep the pan of simmering water on the stove; you’ll be using it again. Add a little more water to it, if needed.

  5. Rinse and dry the mixer’s whisk attachment and return it to the mixer, along with the bowl of the warm egg white mixture. Beat on medium-low speed until foamy, about 3 minutes. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until shiny, stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat just until combined. Frost the cake as soon as possible (for best consistency), smoothing the top with an offset spatula, while keeping the sides fluffy and wavy with swirls and peaks.

  6. Place the chocolate in a separate bowl and set it over the pan of simmering water, again making sure the water does not touch the bowl. Stir the chocolate just until it’s fully melted and smooth, then remove the bowl from the pan. Let cool for 1 minute, then stir once to mix. You’ll want to pour the chocolate quickly before it thickens.

  7. Use an offset spatula to spread the melted chocolate in a large circle evenly over the smooth top of the frosted cake just up to the edge of the cake. You can gently nudge some of the chocolate to start spilling over the side, if desired.

Reprinted from The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook, copyright © 2022 by Brian Noyes. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Angie Mosier. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.