Looking for the best bakery for birthday cake in NYC? As a food critic who’s ordered countless top-notch birthday cakes in the city over the last decade, I’ve got you covered. More importantly, New York City has no shortage of excellent bakeries– and with the advent of Instagram, it seems like even the previously unknown Big Apple bakeries are stepping up their game. This is particularly true in the realm of birthday cakes, which are highly visible and one of the most whimsical aspects of bakery operation.
Interest in clever birthday cake design has also been addled by public interest in televised baking competitions, which have dominated Netflix in recent years. As a result, even the average consumer now expects even casual birthday cakes to deliver on flavor, presentation, and originality. Otherwise, why bother? (Thank you, Holiday Baking Championship.) Moreover, adults in New York City– like the kids of yesteryear– now look forward to ordering fancy birthday cakes just as much having a nice meal on their birthday. For a certain class of working young professionals in NYC, getting a cool birthday cake is a rite of passage. (Especially if you are a foodie.)
And doesn’t everyone love a good birthday cake? (Answer: yes!) And don’t we all love to Instagram a beautiful, whimsical birthday cake, especially when it’s ours? (Yes, we definitely do.) Whether you’re shopping for a kid or just a kid at heart, the below are the best places to get fun birthday cakes in New York City. There’s something for every taste, style, and affinity. Happy Birthday, everyone!
Milk Bar (For Iconic Confetti Birthday Cake)
You guessed it. Milk Bar’s iconic confetti birthday cake is probably the most famous and recognizable cake in the city. Every New Yorker who lives here for long enough eventually either a) buys this cake for someone else on their birthday or b) has had someone else buy this cake for them on their birthday. Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar empire is no joke. They now ship nationally, but the original bakery is based in NYC. They also have several locations around the city, so the cakes are easy to get and transport.
Ultimately, these cakes are so popular that Milk Bar now offers classes on how to make them yourself. Also, gluten intolerant take note: Milk Bar now offers gluten-free versions of the confetti cake, so more people can participate in the magic of the best birthday cake in NYC. (Related: Those who like baking should also check out Tosi’s new cookbook, All About Cake, which is a great gift to give alongside one of her actual cakes.)
Magnolia Bakery (For Timeless Elegance)
Magnolia Bakery is perhaps the most “classic”, old time-y New York City bakery. Known for their insanely delicious old fashion Banana Pudding (something on every NYC foodie’s bucket list), the bakery also makes excellent cupcakes and cakes. Here, you can finesse every detail down to the bordering and piping of their equally delicious birthday cakes. Magnolia Bakery is great for control freaks or people who want to exercise wedding-cake-level-control over the design process of their cake.
Invariably served on a lace doily, these cakes are always perfectly baked. Magnolia bakery is a quintessential NYC institution for a reason. There are no flashy designs here, but the resulting cakes are always smart, elegant, and classy looking. (We like to call this the “Audrey Hepburn” aesthetic.)
Flour Shop (For Iconic “Rainbow” Cake)
Flour Shop‘s famous rainbow explosion cake took the Internet by storm when it started circulating on all the food channels around 2017 and 2018. Soon, Flour Shop founder Amirah Kassem was demoing the cake on The Today Show and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. In the time since, it has taken off. Many would call the Rainbow Explosion Cake the best birthday cake in NYC in terms of sheer whimsy. And if you ask anyone from the social media generation– they’ve probably already seen it.
Keep in mind, however, that the Rainbow Explosion cake is one of the pricier birthday cakes in NYC (the smallest cake costs $150, though it also feeds ~15 people). Regardless of the steep asking price, pretty much everyone loves it. The cake consists of 6 layers of rainbow-colored vanilla cake stuffed with tiny chocolate balls and sprinkles that pour out once you cut into the center.
This is a great cake to get for someone who isn’t expecting the surprise inside. Watching their faces light up when they remove the first piece is a truly magical experience. It’s like being a kid again, in that moment when the piñata breaks.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine (For Custom Flavors)
This tiny LES institution is something of a hidden gem, favored by locals who love their excellent trifles and cupcakes. However, Sugar Sweet Sunshine makes reliably excellent custom birthday cakes, as well. As a result, they are totally under the radar! One year, my husband worked with their team to design a custom Peanut Butter and Banana Cake for my birthday. Made with fresh banana, peanut butter frosting, and vanilla butter cake, it was the best birthday cake I’ve ever had! (No shade to the other cakes on this list, though.)
Later, I bought my mother a custom pistachio cake from this same baker, and it was so fun creating a flavor profile that was tailored to her specific taste. (She doesn’t like super sweet frosting or cakes that are artificially colored, for example. I told them about this, and the bakery delivered exactly what I envisioned.) Sugar Sweet Sunshine also specializes in unique flavors like mocha. Whether you want a simple chocolate cake with an elevated frosting, or something much more elaborate and unexpected, they’ll create something perfect for your palate. (And they have great customization options for gourmands.)
City Cakes (For Out-of-the-Box Creativity)
City Cakes makes crazy, insanely-creative fondant designs that prove anything is possible when it comes to birthday cake imagination. Go to them if you have a specific, ambitious design in mind. Even though they are without a doubt the best bakery for children’s birthday cakes in NYC, City Cakes’ designs delight adults, as well. (See their epic Roman Colosseum Cake, above.)
Obviously, this creativity comes at a price, but if you’re going to go for an outlandish design, you can trust that you will get what you pay for. The execution is reliably flawless. City Cakes also does weddings and corporate events, as their cakes are best suited for a crowd. Accordingly, we recommend ordering for birthday parties rather than intimate gatherings. Otherwise, you’ll have tons of cake leftover– which, admittedly, might not be such a bad thing. 🙂
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Erin McKenna’s Bakery (For GF/Vegan Cakes)
The bakery formerly known as Babycakes is now Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC. This OG gluten-free bakery on the Lower East Side is perfect for anyone who is gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, kosher, avoiding wheat, or any combination of those things. This is the place to order your birthday cakes from if so; they don’t have any cross-contamination in their kitchen.
And, you don’t need to sacrifice taste or design just to accommodate an allergy! Erin McKenna’s cakes are fluffy and decadent. If anything, they are richer than “regular” cakes because every single ingredient is chosen for a reason. The portions are also generous for a gluten-free bakery. (Check out their galaxy cake, above.)
Cookie DŌ (For People Who Don’t Like Cake)
Cookie DŌ makes “alternative” cakes for people who don’t like cake. (I know, crazy. But these people do exist.) DŌ does a great s’more’s cookie cake that I once bought for my husband’s birthday since he loves cookies and s’mores. Be advised these cookie cakes are super rich! Each one is like a massive Otis Spunkmeyer cookie (I mean this as a compliment).
They also have gluten-free and vegan options. Cookie DŌ is not, however, a dedicated gluten-free facility (for those who have Celiac disease; be careful). Look for out-of-the-box creations like their “donut cake and cookie dough combo” (above). Or, try the “Brookie” cake, which is a hybrid cake made of brownie and cookie dough with a layer of frosting in the middle. (This city really does have something for everyone.)
Want more sweet NYC insights? Read our guide to The Weirdest, Coolest Ice Cream Shops in NYC.
Need a cool birthday cake in another city? Consult our beautiful Birthday Cake archive, here.