9 Best 21st Birthday Cakes in 3 Categories & Top Gifts
Turning 21 is a big step in every young adult’s life. It marks a defined leap out of childhood and into becoming a grown up. Whether you’re planning a 21st birthday fit for royalty or something a little more low key, our fun and unique cake ideas below offer something for everyone.
Your 21st birthday marks a significant milestone, particularly if you live in the US. At 21, young adults are legally allowed to do a lot more. This includes drinking, smoking, and entering night clubs, for example.
With that in mind, a 21st birthday party should be the biggest celebration the birthday boy or girl has had to date. It should truly mark this chapter in their lives, so to speak. Our 21st birthday cake ideas will help you achieve just that.
21st Birthday Cake Ideas for Him
21-year-old men want cakes that really showcase their newfound adulthood. Gone are the cute cakes from their younger days. What you want is a manly cake, featuring sports or beer. If your young grown up is really keen to start celebrating ALL of his newfound freedoms, we have just the cake for that, too.
Sports fans and young athletes will love a cake that features their favorite sports. This is a fairly easy cake to replicate at home. Start by baking our simple cake recipe below and let it cool to room temperature.
Decorate using buttercream frosting or fondant sheets in the birthday boy’s favorite team’s colors.
Add fondant items representing the different sports: for example a football, tennis racket, rugby, dart board, or swimming goggles. Finish this fun cake with a large 21 cake topper or candles on top.
Beer Barrel Cake
For those young men showing particular interest in their newfound freedom to drink alcohol, this is the perfect cake. Create it by baking our basic recipe below in two 9” round tins. Make a fondant ‘keg’ around them. You can recreate the wooden barrel effect by using different shades of brown fondant.
Add miniature bottles of beer to the top of the cake, as though they’re resting in the barrel. You can use rock sugar to give the illusion of ice cooling the beer. If you can’t find real mini bottles, ones made of fondant are just as fun.
‘All The Things You Can Do’ Cake
You have plenty of options when it comes to this particular cake. Start with a rectangular base made of our easy cake recipe below. Decorate using fondant figurines and items representing all of the new legal freedoms the birthday boy will gain.
Miniature beer bottles and cigars are good options, a disco ball, and even an entire beer pong set-up. made from fondant icing. You can even paint a little scene, crafting a fondant bed with the birthday boy in it, surrounded by all of these items.
21st Birthday Cake Ideas for Her
When it comes to 21st birthdays, girls tend to like a slightly softer approach. At least that’s what comes across when you see some of the best 21st birthday cake ideas for young women.
A simple yet elegant cake will go a long way, as will something celebrating young womanhood. If those are not her ‘thing’, our fun Friends cake couldn’t BE any more of a winner.
Elegant ‘Twentyone’ Cake
This is one of the easiest cake ideas you can make at home. Start by baking our basic recipe below. You can alter it slightly by using different kinds of extract, such as almond, orange or even rose.
Frost the cake using your favorite buttercream recipe. You may wish to add a bit of foodcoloring for a subtle hue of the birthday girl’s favorite color.
Ensure you frost the entire cake as smoothly as possibly using an extra tall scraper tool. Finish by adding a glittery ‘twentyone’ cake topper for the ultimate classy birthday cake.
Friends TV Show Cake
An easy take on a modern classic. Frost your cake in soft purple buttercream and pipe Monica’s signature golden door frame on the front of the cake. Complete the look by adding the friends logo in chocolate writing and, “The one where NAME turns 21.”
You can further personalise this cute cake by adding Friends memorabilia made of fondant. The sofa and a Central Perk fondant mug make good options. For the ultimate Friends fan, you may even make this cake using cheesecake.
Shopping & Beauty Cake
If the young lady celebrating her 21st birthday is particularly into her shopping and beauty, this is the cake for you. One elegant take on this cake showcases black and white fondant wrapped precisely around a round cake.
The cake is then topped with a fondant Sephora bag, some fondant makeup and brushes, and a big pink fondant icing bow.
To make your own simpler version, follow our recipe below. Frost your cake using white buttercream, then add fondant makeup utensils.
The big fondant bow is a relatively easy addition that can look really professional. Just use a rolling pin to roll the fondant out, then cut into a wide ‘ribbon’ with a pizza cutter. Make the bow by pinching the center and placing some of the ribbon behind.
Simple 21st Birthday Cake Designs
If all you’re after is a very simple design you can easily replicate at home, we’ve got you covered. The most important thing when baking a 21st birthday cake is to make it personal and craft it with care.
Below are some easy ideas even novice bakers can make at home. They’re by now means less impressive, though, and are sure to get a big reaction.
21 Number Cake
A simple number cake is easy to make yet beautiful at the same time. Start by baking our basic recipe below in a large rectangular tin. If you want really big numbers, you’ll want to double up. Once the finished cake has cooled down, use A4 paper stencils to cut out the two and one, respectively.
Frost each cake using your favorite buttercream or fondant icing. Here’s where you can get really creative: You can make each number a different flavor of cake batter by adding different extracts, chocolate powder, or buttercream sandwiched between layers.
Some fun flavor combinations include white and dark chocolate, strawberries and cream.
Simple Monochromatic Cake
This is another easy cake you can quickly whip up at home. Match your buttercream icing to the candles or topper on your cake using a little bit of food coloring. Then frost your cake using a tall scraper tool, ensuring a smooth and even finish.
Add the candles on top, and your cake is done. This is a great 21st birthday cake for a tea party or picnic. You can match napkins and tableware to the colorscheme by using different shades of the same color throughout.
Down Memory-Lane Cake
A cake design that’s sure to get an emotional reaction: This cake looks so good yet is one of the easiest ones you can make. Just bake our basic cake recipe below and frost using a buttercream of your choice. Your frosting doesn’t even need to be that smooth for this to look good.
Next, use a fondant sheet printed with memorable photos to wrap around the cake. You can get edible fondant online.
Don’t be tempted to try and print on fondant ‘paper’ yourself unless you have an edible ink printer. If you don’t want photos wrapped all around the cake, you can get a printed circle to place on top of your cake instead.
Alternatives to a 21st Birthday Cake
Let’s face it, not everyone is a fan of cake, even if it’s made using the best recipe you can find. Below are some fun and surprising alternatives to 21st birthday cake. These are easy and quick to whip up, and especially fun for sharing.
Cupcakes are always an easy choice when you’re looking for alternatives to cake. Our basic recipe below will yield up to 24 cupcakes. You can frost them using different colors of buttercream and decorate them using little cake toppers.
As cake toppers are so readily available, you can easily do a theme: sports, flags, beers, even little printed faces of the person celebrating. Why not top your cupcakes with printed baby photos of the birthday boy or girl for a cute surprise?
Waffles are a fun alternative to birthday cake. They make a great addition to a birthday brunch or as a quick surprise when there just isn’t time for an elaborate cake.
Whip up your favorite waffle recipe, ideally using a waffle maker or baking mold. Stack circular waffles into a cake shape, then ‘frost’ using whipped cream, strawberries, and a small candle.
A candy buffet is a little more elaborate than the other options, but it’s a great extra touch for a special 21st birthday. One fun idea is to offer different ‘retro’ sweets from your birthday boy or girl’s childhood.
Alternatively, you could bake a selection of different brownies and cookies for everyone to enjoy.
Happy 21st Birthday: Best Quotes & Captions
The best ways to wish a newly 21-year-old a happy birthday is by writing something heartfelt and personal. Embarking on their ‘legal’ adult life is sure to be exciting, but it can also feel slightly overwhelming.
Not every young adult feels ready for this new adventure and some would probably prefer to remain children at heart.
Below are some lovely suggestions for messages you can use as inspiration to craft something just right:
- “Turning 21 is a special day. May your future bring all that you wish for.”
- “Happy 21st birthday! Thank you for giving us 21 years of watching you learn and grow. We’ve loved laughing with you and know you’ve got the power to achieve anything.”
- “On the roller coaster of life, your 21st birthday is like being at the top of the first giant hill with your hands in the air and no lap bar.”
21st Birthday Gift Ideas
Depending on your budget, there are lots of great gifts you can give for a 21st birthday. If the person celebrating is a big fan of baked goodies in particular, a beautifully decorated cake is a great place to start.
You can add additional goodies such as cookies and brownies, or go a little quirky by getting a hamper of bath and body products that smell like cake.
A special piece of jewelry is another great present, particularly for young ladies. Birth stone jewelry is popular, as are simple diamond pendants and silver bracelets. Alternatively, you can opt for a nice watch if your budget allows it, and have it engraved on the back.
A watch is also a great gift for a young man. Others include a special bottle of whisky or champagne, and longed for gadgets such as fancy headphones.
If all else fails, a birthday hamper with a selection of goodies is always a great choice. Many local businesses now create bespoke hampers that include both edible and non-food items.
21st Birthday Party Ideas
The most obvious choice here is going on a first nightclub experience. That isn’t for everyone, however, and you can get a lot more creative with some other ideas.
A party bus can be a fun club away from a club experience. You can create a playlist of their favorite songs throughout their teenage years and beyond. Friends may want to contribute songs that evoke special memories.
Organising a scavenger hunt is a great idea. Include special places and particular hobbies of your birthday girl or boy. You could even lead them to an especially anticipated event such as a music show or a sporting event.
Alternatively, you could always throw their first real house party complete with beer pong and a hired DJ. Keep it light by making the cutting of the cake a special event that draws the evening to a close early, before the night gets messy.
Basic Recipe for a 21st Birthday Cake: A Simple Guide
The best kind of birthday cake is a homemade one. Here is a very basic cake recipe you’ll be able to use again and again.
If you’re vegan, you may substitute the milk for an oat or almond milk alternative, the eggs for aquafaba or yogurt, and the butter for coconut oil or coconut butter. Those with a gluten intolerance can substitute the flour for their favorite gluten-free alternative.
The vanilla extract is optional and you can add less or more depending on your personal taste. Alternatively, add chocolate powder or a different flavor of extract to your cake. A few drops of food coloring added to the batter will result in a fun, colorful cake.
Pair this recipe with your favorite homemade or storebought buttercream and enjoy as part of one of our design ideas above.
- 2 ¼ cups self-raising flour
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup salted butter
- 2 tsps vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 3 medium eggs
Here’s how you do it:
- Preheat the oven to 350F and grease two 9” cake tins or one 9”x13” pan using butter or your favorite cooking oil.
- Cream the butter and sugar using a mixer until it’s fluffy and quite pale.
- Combine the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl.
- Gradually add the egg, flour, and butter mixture until you have a smooth cake batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. At this point the center should be soft and lightly browned yet springy to the touch.
Allow your cake to cool down to room temperature before adding frosting and decorations.