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"Who's Counting?" Birthday Cake

Transform sheet cakes from basic to impressive with simple stencils, some straightforward cutting skills, and colorful candies. If your birthday girl or boy prefers chocolate, make a double batch of the Number-Themed Mini Birthday Cupcakes; bake for about 20 minutes.

  • Prep:
  • Total Time:
  • Yield: Makes two 12-by-17-inch cakes (enough for 2 numbers)
"Who's Counting?" Birthday Cake

Source: Martha Stewart Living, January 2011


  • For the cakes:
  • 4 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for baking sheets and parchment
  • 9 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for parchment
  • 1/4 cup baking powder
  • Salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 14 large egg whites, room temperature
  • For Decorating:
  • Quick Swiss Meringue Buttercream
  • 2 pounds multicolored candy-coated chocolates


  1. Make the cakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets. Line with parchment. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt into a bowl.

  2. Combine milk and vanilla. Beat butter with a mixer on medium speed until very smooth. With machine running, gradually add sugar, and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

  3. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined; do not overmix.

  4. Beat egg whites in a clean mixer bowl on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Gently fold egg whites into batter in 3 additions.

  5. Transfer batter to baking sheets, smoothing tops with an offset spatula. Bake until tops spring back when pressed with a finger and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in sheets on wire racks for 15 minutes. Loosen edges of cakes with a small metal spatula or paring knife; invert onto racks. Discard parchment. To prevent splitting, reinvert cakes, top side up. Let cool completely.

  6. Decorate the cakes: Place "20" stencil (or another number) onto 1 cake, setting numbers side by side. Secure with toothpicks. Cut around each stencil using a paring knife. Remove scraps. Repeat with remaining cake.

  7. Spread 2 cups buttercream onto the "2," and spread 2 cups buttercream onto the "0." Top each number with remaining matching cake number, and frost tops and sides of each with remaining buttercream. Cover each cake with rows of candies.

Cook's Note

Make ahead: Unfrosted cakes can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Reviews (24)

  • jamesvergara296 11 Jan, 2013

    Nice idea Martha.

  • jplatypus13 11 Aug, 2012

    Impressive looking but takes way to long. Took me 12 hours, 4 of those were spent bedazzling the cake with the m&ms. Does not keep well in the fridge, the colors bled and lost their vibrantness. Kinda costly too. I skipped the Swiss meringue buttercream and went with a different but equally delcious buttercream. I would rate this recipe a 3

  • jplatypus13 11 Aug, 2012

    Impressive looking but takes wayyyyyyyyy to long. Took me 12 hours, 4 of those hours were spent putting the m&ms on. Also once you add the cost of each ingredient (14 egg whites!) it gets pretty costly. Does not fridgerate well, the m&ms began to bled and run and lost there vibrant color. I would give this recipe a 3. This recipe would be made Easter if you had a single digit number.

  • cwiduch 18 Apr, 2012

    It is a lovely cake and I got a lot of compliments, but the "custom color" m & ms are very pricey, and also putting those 2 lbs of m&ms on in a pattern is much more time-consuming that it seems like it would be (took me 4 hrs with help from hub). Those insides are tricky. Also, I used two box mixes and I'm really glad I did - worked well. I don't think I will make again though. The m&ms were too much - I noticed everyone was trying to pick them off. Too sweet.

  • klmoore23 18 Mar, 2012

    Just made this cake and got rave reviews! However after reading some other comments, I just used a cake mix and it worked great. Be prepared to spend big bucks on the candies! It takes several!

  • craftycat102782 5 Aug, 2011

    This cake comes out great but be careful the batter will not fit in your standard mixing bowl. I had to transfer it to a larger bowl and do it manually. my advice would be to split the recipe in half and do it twice.

  • pinayrican 16 Feb, 2011

    I just made this cake last night for my mom's 50th birthday. It was really difficult to get the M

  • lissabeth82 7 Feb, 2011

    I used the template but with Paula Deen's chocolate cake with cheesecake filling recipe... TONS of work but SOOOO good!!!!

  • Dragonness 6 Feb, 2011

    It's very tricky to put the MnMs on the inside of the number. The result was very impressive looking but rather dry and tasteless. It was big enough to serve more than 20 adults and kids, but many people just tried it and didn't eat it. I made a strawberry sauce to give it more flavour, but it was still not enough. Also, now I have 12 unused eggyolks.

  • Dragonness 6 Feb, 2011

    Contd: It's very tricky to put the M

  • Dragonness 6 Feb, 2011

    I made this for my daughter's fifth birthday and used half the ingredients. It took six hours to do. It's very tricky to put the M

  • Joseph_Erdos 3 Feb, 2011

    Sorry for any inconvenience. The missing step, number 6, has now been added to the recipe.

  • BetsyAnnette 31 Jan, 2011

    Also, this recipe, to make a two number, two layer cake will have to be mixed in two 5 qt Kitchen-Aid stand mixer will not hold 9 cups of flour 3 c of milk and 14 egg whites at one time. I love the swiss meringue frosting for this recipe as well, but again, I will make in two batches. Cake plate: 12 sq pedestal in the Martha collection at Macys.

  • BetsyAnnette 31 Jan, 2011

    This version of the recipe is missing step 6 from the magazine, which discusses cutting out the numbers. This should be fixed

  • mariconmom 30 Jan, 2011

    I'd love to find the platter used in this photo, as well as on the show. It's not in January's The Guide. Anyone from MSL available to assist? Thanks!

  • mariconmom 30 Jan, 2011

    I'd love to find the platter used in this photo, as well as on the show. It's not in January's The Guide. Anyone from MSL available to assist? Thanks!

  • MaryPlatis 29 Jan, 2011

    What happened? Cont. M

  • MaryPlatis 29 Jan, 2011

    Cont. M

  • MaryPlatis 29 Jan, 2011

    This cake makes two numbers,double layered! (4 single).Place the numbers on the cake width-wise. Cut one at a time,place on large cardboard(Michaels) and frost, Then add second layer.Do not use more frosting than 1/8 inch layer. Don't fret,can't see with M

  • marcardb 26 Jan, 2011

    I am making this for my son's second b-day in a few days. I feel the same way, the explanation is not clear at all. I was also wondering if I could cut the recipe in a half since I am only making one number. Please please help!

  • JillyBeanGirl 26 Jan, 2011

    Next to the picture above is a description. Click on the work 'stencils' and that is how you print numbers to cut your cake into the correct number shape. Looks like each number takes 2 pages to print. I agree they look a little difficult to carve. I would try a large saw tooth knife and lots of patience. I am planning to make this for my son's 12th birthday in a couple of months. Good luck to us all.

  • JMillard 26 Jan, 2011

    I have absolutely no idea how to get the cakes to look like numbers - these directions are not clear. Martha was on the today show this morning and did not explain it then either... Help!

  • mundorff 19 Jan, 2011

    It isn't obvious to me how to cut the cake using the template? (spoken by someone who has only made square cakes)...

  • swujick 12 Jan, 2011

    Can I cut this recipe in half equally to make one number?

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