Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on Sept. 11. Volunteer today



Most Popular


Best Birthday Cakes

Sure, you have a favorite — but these will make you change your mind

Woman with Birthday Cake

— Image Source/Corbis

En español | No one wants fruit salad to celebrate a birthday. On that one day a year, of course you want cake. It may be the same cake your mother baked for every birthday or it may be something new, but it is probably frosted and has candles on top.

In her book, A Piece of Cake, Susan G. Purdy says it is thought the first birthday cake candles were used in Germany during the Middle Ages, an outgrowth of earlier religious votive candles. "The candle in the center of the cake," she writes, "was called the lebensclicht, or light of life." Today that's "one to grow on."

However the tradition started, it is firmly entrenched. Birthday cake rituals are established early and some people want the same cake as adults they enjoyed as a child. Every year for her son's birthday, my friend Gayle made her son an angel food cake with white, seven-minute frosting from the Joy of Cooking. He wanted — and got — that cake for his 30th birthday.

Some people pass carrot birthday cakes from generation to generation. Others cut children's cakes into animal shapes or numbers — a big hit for the single-digit crowd.

Personally, I go for simplicity. Sure, you could take a few days and make a multilayered cake with fondant icing and hand-painted circus animals for your 5-year-old grandson. But a bakery can probably do it better.

The only fancy birthday cake my son ever got was one I did order from a bakery. For his first birthday — a day he will never remember — he had a train cake with a colorful cake engine and caboose and cake cars carrying licorice logs. It was spectacular. For all subsequent childhood birthday parties, I made a Texas sheet cake, a fallback for many busy parents. It is a thin chocolate sheet cake made with sour cream and cocoa with fudgy chocolate frosting. It's simple and delicious.

Most people have a favorite cake — and that's what they like on their birthday. Without a cake, the anniversary of your birth is just another day.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Services & Discounts

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

denny's restaurant member discount membership

Members save 15% all day, every day when dining at participating Denny’s restaurants.

Pepperoni Pizza, Papa Johns Superbowl promotion for AARP members

Members save 25% off regular menu price orders at Papa John's

Outback membership benefit aarp festive steak dinner

Members save 15% on lunch and dinner every day at Outback Steakhouse.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.