My totally awesome baby brother turned 24 last week.  Um, what?  How is that possible?  In my mind he still remains the sweet little “Stevie” who became hysterically upset when he saw a clown at my birthday party one year (I agree though, clowns are creepy), and who is the best sharer I have ever known (he’ll even give you the rest of his milkshake – for real!)  Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile my memories of that little guy with the young man now in his first year of teaching elementary school, and who also happens to be one of the two best uncles my kids could hope for.  Time is just flying.

Instead of dwelling on that fact, we celebrate!  We celebrate with family time together, which in part consisted of him pushing Andrew around the backyard on a riding mower that was not turned on.  Uh yeah…happy birthday, Uncle Steve!  We celebrate with macaroni and cheese, and his personal favorite, chicken taquitos.  And we celebrate with the cake of his choice.  This year, the choice was cherry vanilla.  Now having tasted it I can say, stellar choice, Steve!

Cherry cake sounds pretty great in theory but it made me a little anxious.  It isn’t a slam dunk like raspberry or strawberry.  It requires more finesse because the flavor can be way too strong or barely there.  Thankfully this version was an all around winner and I thought the flavor balance was just right.  The cherry vanilla combo is awesome…but the chocolate fiend in me is also thinking that a cherry chocolate chip version could be even more spectacular.  Either way you go, it’s bound to be a winner.  If you haven’t tried Swiss meringue buttercream yet, now is the time!  We had a big crowd for his party and many people commented on how much they enjoyed the frosting because it was so smooth and light without being too sweet.  This is an all-around wonderful celebration cake and there is a distinct possibility that the cherry-chocolate version will make its debut at my birthday in January :)

Note: Since people always ask for a photo of the inside: Per my usual birthday party policy, I do not photograph the sliced cake.  Parties are about the birthday honoree, not the perfect photo!  However, I did take some photos of the assembly process (below).

  • Yield about 16 servings


For the cake: 
3 1/3 cups (370 g) plus 2 tbsp. cake flour, divided
1½ tbsp. (20 g) baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1¾ cups (415 ml) whole milk, at room temperature
6 egg whites, at room temperature
3 tbsp. (45 ml) cherry syrup (from the jar of cherries)
¼ tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2¼ cups (450 g) vanilla sugar (or regular granulated sugar)
¾ cup (173 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup maraschino cherries, finely chopped

For the filling:
1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (250 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tbsp. (15 ml) milk
1 tbsp. (15 ml) cherry syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup maraschino cherries, finely chopped

For the frosting:
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. (225 g) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1¾ cups (397 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Maraschino cherries with stems, for garnish


  • 01

    To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Grease and flour the edges of 3 8-inch round cake pans.  Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, combine the 3 1/3 cups cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  In another bowl whisk together the milk, egg whites, cherry syrup, almond and vanilla extracts.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar and butter.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in three additions alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat each addition just until incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.  In a small bowl, toss the chopped cherries with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour.  Use a silicone spatula to fold in the chopped cherries by hand.

  • 02

    Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans.  Bake, rotating halfway through, until the cake springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes total.  Transfer the pans to wire cooling racks.  Let cool at least 15-20 minutes in the pans, then carefully turn the layers out and let cool completely.

  • 03

    To make the filling, combine the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until well combined.  Add in the milk, cherry syrup, vanilla, and salt.  Whip on medium-high speed for 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the chopped cherries.

  • 04

    To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the bowl, and add the pod to the bowl as well.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Discard the vanilla pod.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes.  Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don’t worry, it will come together!)  Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated.

  • 05

    Level cake layers if necessary using a thin serrated knife.  To assemble the cake, place one of the layers on a serving platter (or a cake board).  Top with half of the cherry filling mixture and smooth in an even layer.  Place a second cake layer on top of the filling and top with the remaining filling.  Place the final cake layer on top.

  • 06

    Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake with the vanilla bean frosting.*  Use a pastry bag with a decorative tip to pipe swirls of frosting around the top of the cake.  Garnish with maraschino cherries.

  • 07

    *I am no expert at frosting cakes, but I’m getting better each time.  This video series from Zoë Bakes taught me everything I needed to know and I revisit it frequently.  As she mentions, a revolving cake stand is essential.  I have this Ateco stand and absolutely love it.