9 best birthday cakes for the ultimate celebration

Stacey Smith
iStock/The Independent

Planning a birthday party for your loved ones can be stressful enough without having the extra added pressure of trying to make the cake yourself. So give yourself a break and turn to one of these show-stopping celebration cakes instead.

Whether you’re looking for something super sweet and child-friendly or are in need of an altogether more grown-up option, we’ve found budget supermarket creations through to splash-the-cash cakes they’ll remember long after they’ve blown out the candles.

The important thing to remember when choosing your birthday cake is how many you’ll need it to serve.

We found that some retailers rather overestimated how many slices you’d get out of their cake, so best err on the side of caution and go up a size if, like us, you’re a greedy bunch.

And while you don’t want to leave it too late, a fresh cake always tastes best, so check the shelf life before buying.

Some only last a day or two, others weeks and many can even be frozen until you need it.

So gather around the troops, get ready for the obligatory out of tune rendition of “happy birthday” and whatever you do – don’t forget the candles.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Sponge super sharing cake: £30, Sponge

If you’re feeling indecisive about which flavour sponge to go for, or are trying to please multiple different tastes, then we’ve got the answer. The beauty of this clever cake is that it contains 14 unique, pre-sliced flavours with a separator between each. So unlike some of the other, slightly questionable serving suggestions we tested, here you know exactly how many portions you’re getting. Each generous wedge genuinely tasted different from the next, without being overly sweet, sickly or artificial tasting.

Highlights for us included the carrot, red velvet and bakewell but there are also slices of cookies and cream, apple crumble, chocolate orange, victoria, coffee, sticky toffee, rocky road, chocolate, lemon, millionaires and a seasonal special. Left it a bit late? Sponge offer next day delivery, with ours arriving in perfect condition – and it even includes a few napkins so you can dive straight in.

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Waitrose Heston top hat cake: £45, Waitrose

We were blown away by the presentation of this show-stopping birthday cake – but then we’d expect nothing less from the theatrical Heston range. The top-hat design is covered in a smooth chocolate fudge icing, decorative sugar “cards” and a silky ribbon. Cut into it and the drama continues, revealing four different coloured layers of moist flavoured sponge – including sherbet lemon, raspberry jam, blackcurrant, and chocolate and salted caramel. Even the base is edible, made from a chunky chocolate and almond tiffin similar to rocky road. The only slight downside is that due to its height, slices need to be thin (otherwise they’d be huge!) but it should easily serve 20 people. Make it even more special by adding a personalised message to it for free!

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M&S giant personalised Colin the caterpillar cake: £40, M&S

Is it even your birthday unless you’re blowing out candles on a Colin the Caterpillar cake? Young, old, David Beckham, Judi Dench, we’ve all celebrated getting a year older with this much-loved character but now M&S have supersized him – ideal if you’re having a bigger bash (it serves 40). You’re probably familiar with this one, but just to recap, the giant chocolate sponge roll is filled with buttercream, coated in more chocolate, sprinkled with chocolate beans and finished with the cheerful white chocolate face (which must always be saved for the birthday boy or girl). This larger version also has space for a personalised message. Impersonators have come and gone but for us, you can’t beat the original.

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The deluxe chocolate hazelnut truffle cake: £23, Desserts Delivered Bakery

This 6in cake may look on the small side but thanks to the three layers of chocolate sponge, sandwiched together with Nutella-flavoured buttercream, you’ll find it serves 10 easily. It’s delivered frozen to make it a bit sturdier, so do factor in time for it to defrost before serving. Topped with melted chocolate which has dripped artfully down the sides, a layer of frosting, a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts and 10 Ferrero Rochers – we were impressed to see it was completely intact on arrival.

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Funfetti cookie cake: From £60, Baked by Steph

Appealing to Instagram-loving millennials, this clever cookie cake can unfortunately only be delivered within London. However, we just couldn’t resist including in our round-up as it really is a looker. Adorned with a riot of macarons, chocolate-covered pretzels, meringue kisses and edible leaf, you can choose any combination of letters or numbers for the lucky recipient, with each character serving about 10 people. The cookie cake base comes in a choice of nine flavours – from the original vanilla, through to decadent chocolate and salted caramel or fruity mango and coconut. As if it didn’t look special enough already, you can also add edible flowers to your design.

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Baker Street chocolate celebration cake: £7.65, Ocado

We liked the simplicity of this celebration cake. Presented in a large rectangle traybake style, it’s super easy to portion up into equal pieces and a doddle to transport (we took ours into the office where it went down a treat). Moist and light chocolate sponge is topped with chocolate icing and finished with a trio of chocolate swirls. It’s a great price and the simple design means it will appeal to all ages and serves an impressive 20.

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Tesco unicorn cake: £12, Tesco

The classic madeira sponge and strawberry jam filling is a winning combination for kids’ birthday parties. Here, Tesco has included four layers of sponge before the cake is hand-decorated with white frosting and topped with cute icing ears and the all-important unicorn horn, along with a swirl of rainbow coloured icing mane. As you might expect from looking at it, the icing is incredibly sweet, so you won’t need much. Serves 18 according to Tesco but we couldn’t manage more than 16 slices out of it – and you might get some arguments over who gets the magical horn.

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Betty’s Happy Birthday chocolate cake: £18, Betty’s

This one felt very grown up – in part due to the apricot preserve filling which was the perfect surprise accompaniment to the rich chocolate ganache. Topped with a layer of chocolate swirls and a Happy Birthday disc, it serves six people comfortably, eight at a push and will last up to four days but can be frozen if necessary. There was a good weight to this one, rather how we imagined Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake in Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

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Sainsbury’s loaded lemon drizzle cake: £12, Sainsbury’s

If lemon drizzle is the birthday person’s go-to cake of choice with their afternoon cuppa, they’ll love this luxe version for a special occasion. It’s not quite a lemon drizzle as you may know it. Instead, the base is three layers of madeira sponge, sandwiched together with layers of lemon curd with more drizzled on top. There was an impressive waft of white chocolate as we opened the box, with artfully displayed shards stuck on top of the cake, along with pieces of crunchy meringue and sweet lemon-tinged buttercream. A sophisticated crowd-pleaser for adult birthdays.

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The verdict: Birthday cakes

We feel the Sponge super sharing cake represents fantastic value for money – you’re essentially getting 14 cakes in one! Each flavour tasted exactly as described and our guests loved fighting over their favourite (and saved us the faff of cutting it up!). From the supermarkets, both Heston’s top hat and M&S’s supersized Colin the caterpillar came in as joint favourites which will appeal to both kids and adults alike.

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