Elevate a birthday with this Anything-But-Average Cake

Watch pastry chef Paola Velez bake a bakery-worthy birthday cake with carrot cake, dulce de leche & buttercream frosting at home.

Capital One wants to help you “Elevate the Everyday” so you can do more of what you enjoy doing—even when you’re spending more time at home. We’re bringing you personal hacks, tips and tricks for all the things you love doing—all brought to you by professional tastemakers and trendsetters. 

For Capital One’s Elevate the Everyday series, pastry chef Paola Velez takes birthday cakes to the next level with this recipe for her Anything-But-Average Birthday Cake.  

Velez is known within the food community for her desserts, and she landed a 2020 James Beard nomination for rising star pastry chef. She’s also the co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, the world’s largest unofficial bake sale, which has raised over $1.9 million for social justice.  

Follow along with Velez and her recipe for a birthday carrot cake with dulce de leche and vanilla buttercream frosting that’s anything but average.

Anything-But-Average Birthday Cake:
Carrot dulce de leche-filled layer cake

Difficulty level: Medium

Time required (including prep and cooking): 8 hours

Tools needed:
3 4-inch springform pans
Parchment paper
Serrated knife
Offset spatula
Rubber spatula
Cake board
2 piping bags
2 piping tips (one large circular and one the design of your choice)

Makes: 1 (4"x6") layer cake


Carrot cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ cups grated carrots
⅔ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Vanilla buttercream
5 sticks softened butter
5 large egg whites
1¼ cups granulated sugar
⅓ cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
Pinch of salt

For assembling and decorating
2 cans dulce de leche
Food coloring (optional)
Edible flowers (optional)


Carrot cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • In a bowl, mix the oil, sugar and eggs until incorporated.
  • Whisk in the dry ingredients (all-purpose flour, baking soda, ground cinnamon and kosher salt) and mix until there are no visible flour clumps.
  • Fold in the grated carrots.
  • Line the springform cake pans with parchment paper and coat them with cooking spray, then fill them three-quarters full with batter. 
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  • Let the cakes cool to room temperature before decorating.

Buttercream frosting

  • Place the egg whites in a stand mixer and begin whisking on speed 2.
  • Place the water and sugar in a medium-sized saucepot and bring to a boil.
  • Cook the syrup to 239 degrees Fahrenheit, then remove it from the heat.
  • Working quickly, bring the mixer to max speed. Slowly and safely pour the sugar syrup down the inner side of the bowl.
  • Keep mixing until the meringue cools to room temperature.
  • Add the butter little by little until all 5 sticks are incorporated. (If the buttercream is loose, keep whisking—it will come together.)
  • Add the pinch of salt and vanilla bean paste, and mix until incorporated. 

Assembling the cake

  • Remove the parchment paper.
  • Gently slice the tops off the cakes before slicing each again through the middle.  
  • Use the rubber spatula to add icing to your first piping bag (with the large circular piping tip).
  • Add a small dollop of frosting in the center of your cake board to secure the bottom layer of your cake.
  • Use the same piping bag to create your first layer of icing. Pipe a circle of frosting around the top edge of your first cake round.
  • Fill in the center of the ring with dulce de leche.
  • Add the next cake layer; repeat until the entire cake is assembled.
  • Once the cake is assembled, cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting (also called the crumb coat) and smooth with the offset spatula.
  • Place your cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes to allow the cake to stabilize.
  • Using the first piping bag (with the large tip), pipe 1-inch frosting rings around the outside of the cake.
  • Then use your offset spatula to smooth the frosting in a zigzag pattern to ensure the icing is spread evenly along the exterior of the cake. (If the cake feels unstable as you frost it, just pop it back in the freezer for 5 minutes to let it solidify before smoothing out the outer layer of icing.)
  • Once you have a smooth edge, it’s time to decorate. If desired, mix a few drops of food coloring into the remaining frosting and fill the second piping bag (with the decorative piping tip).
  • Pipe a ring of frosting around the base of the cake and freehand the design of your choice on the top and sides of your cake.
  • Add finishing touches like edible flowers or fresh fruit.

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