"Who's Counting?" Birthday Cake

Prep Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Makes two 12-by-17-inch cakes (enough for 2 numbers)

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.


  • For the cakes:

  • 4 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for baking sheets and parchment

  • 9 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for parchment

  • ¼ cup baking powder

  • Salt

  • 3 cups whole milk

  • 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

  • 4 ½ 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 Notes

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

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