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With its outstanding vanilla flavor, pillowy soft crumb, and creamy vanilla buttercream, this is truly the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had. And after 1 bite, I guarantee you’ll agree.

slice of vanilla cake being served from a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting on white cake stand

Out of all the cake recipes on my website, there’s a glaring absence. There’s white cake with a pristine soft crumb, vanilla naked cake with a flavorful tight crumb, and checkerboard cake with a whimsical design.

What about a classic vanilla layer cake draped in vanilla buttercream? I already have homemade vanilla cupcakes and a 6 inch vanilla cake covered and now in all its crowning glory (and after plenty recipe testing catastrophes), I present you with cake perfection:

This is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had.

slice of vanilla cake with 3 layers

What Makes it the Best Vanilla Cake?

Let’s count the ways!

  1. Soft, light crumb from cake flour
  2. Fluffy from extra egg whites
  3. Buttery and cakey from creamed butter
  4. Stick-to-your-fork moist from eggs & buttermilk
  5. Extra flavor from pure vanilla extract

Not to mention its versatility: This vanilla cake batter is strong enough for shaped cakes, tiered cakes (see the slight variation in my homemade wedding cake recipe), and holds up beautifully under fondant. Use this batter for vanilla cupcakes, Bundt cake, or even piñata cake. It’s classy enough for a wedding celebration, but unassuming enough for a big family dinner.

Vanilla cake slice on white plate

Behind the Vanilla Cake Recipe

After years of cake successes and flops, I’m confident in this homemade vanilla cake. During my recipe testing, I combined my white cake recipe and naked cake recipe. These are two reader favorites and I knew they’d be the best starting point. At first there were too many eggs and I quickly learned sifting cake flour was NOT doing any favors.

You need the following power ingredients:

  1. Cake Flour: If you want a fluffy and soft bakery-style vanilla cake, cake flour is the secret. The cake will be denser and heavier using all-purpose flour.
  2. Eggs & 2 additional egg whites: 3 whole eggs provide structure, moisture, and richness. 2 extra egg whites keep the cake light and airy. I don’t recommend using 4 whole eggs; stick to the 3 egg & 2 egg white combination.
  3. Baking Powder & Baking Soda: Remember the differences in baking powder vs baking soda and why we use both in some recipes? Using enough baking powder to give these layers height gave the cake a bitter aftertaste. Baking soda allows us to use less baking powder.
  4. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is an acidic ingredient and baking soda requires an acid to work. Plus buttermilk yields an EXTRA moist cake crumb. See recipe note about the alternative.

For more prominent vanilla flavor, use homemade vanilla extract. (What a fun DIY gift!) This vanilla cake batter is moderately thick and fits perfectly in 3 9-inch cake pans. We actually use the same exact batter to make snickerdoodle cake.

Vanilla cake batter in a glass bowl

Do you know how to level a cake? Let me help. It’s really easy. You can use a fancy cake leveler, but I use a serrated knife. Carefully slice off the tippy top of the cooled cake layers, creating a flat surface. Leveling cakes doesn’t require a ruler, talent, or any mathematical equations. Instead, just use your eyes, hands, and a knife.

Leveling the cake layers promises a straight and sturdy layer cake.

2 images of how to level a layer cake and stacked level cake layers on a white plate
2 images of vanilla frosting in a glass bowl and spreading vanilla frosting on vanilla cake

How Much Frosting Between Cake Layers?

I always eyeball the amount of frosting between cake layers, but I measured when I decorated the pictured cake. The vanilla buttercream recipe below yields about 6 cups of frosting. I recommend you use about 1.5 heaping cups of buttercream between each cake layer and reserve the last 3 cups for outside the cake.

Cake Decoration Inspiration: For a simple look, stick with vanilla buttercream, fresh berries, and mint sprigs. You can also decorate with chocolate buttercream (I recommend the same amount from this piñata cake), rainbow sprinkles, or even beautiful buttercream flowers.

Top of a vanilla cake with raspberries

Homemade Vanilla Cake Success Tips

Learn from my mistakes and bake the best cake on the 1st try!

  1. Follow the recipe closely. Use each power ingredient listed.
  2. Use room temperature ingredients. The batter mixes together evenly when all the cake ingredients are roughly the same temperature. This also reduces the risk of over-mixing and over-baking. Set out your ingredients 1 hour before beginning. Read here for more information.
  3. Line your cake pans with parchment. Place your cake pans on a large sheet of parchment paper. Trace the bottom of the cake pan with a pencil. Cut parchment paper into rounds. Grease the pan and the parchment paper. Parchment paper rounds guarantee seamless removal from the pan because the cake slides right out.
  4. Cool cake layers completely. I’ve tried taking shortcuts by assembling a layer cake with semi-warm cake layers. Well, the frosting completely melts and causes the entire cake to collapse. Make sure each layer is cool– refrigerate or freeze the layers if you need to!
  5. Refrigerate decorated cake. After frosting the cake, place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. This is optional, but it sets the frosting and cake layers. You’ll get beautifully clean slices because the crumbs are cool and tight.

Great read: Check out Tessa’s Top 10 Best Layer Cake Tips.

Vanilla cake slice on white plate

Finding the perfect vanilla cake recipe requires a celebration. Luckily we have cake!!!

More Classic Cake Recipes

And here is my perfected vanilla cupcakes recipe.

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Vanilla cake slice on white plate

Best Vanilla Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours (includes cooling)
  • Yield: 1214 servings 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

With its outstanding vanilla flavor, pillowy soft crumb, and creamy vanilla buttercream, this is truly the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had. Make sure you read through the recipe and recipe notes before beginning. This recipe yields approximately 8 cups of batter which is helpful if you need this batter for different cake pans and conversions.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 and 2/3 cups (433g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups (400ggranulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 2 additional egg whites, at room temperature*
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract (yes, Tbsp!)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 5 and 1/2 cups (650g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the 3 eggs, 2 egg whites, and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 2 minutes. (Mixture will look curdled as a result of the egg liquid and solid butter combining.) Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients just until combined. With the mixer still running on low, pour in the buttermilk and mix just until combined. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
  4. Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Weigh them to ensure accuracy, if desired. Bake for around 23-26 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  5. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more milk if frosting is too thick, or an extra pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
  6. Assemble and decorate: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I use and recommend an icing spatula to apply the frosting.
  7. Refrigerate cake for at least 1 hour before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving. See how to freeze cakes for detailed instructions.
  2. 9×13 Inch Cake: I recommend using my white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake. See recipe notes for the 9×13 inch version.
  3. 2 Layer Cake: I recommend using my 2 layer white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake.
  4. Bundt Cake: This vanilla cake batter will fit into a 10-cup or larger Bundt pan. I’m unsure of the exact bake time (likely around an hour), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same oven temperature.
  5. Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19-21 minutes. Yields about 3 dozen. Or try my vanilla cupcakes recipe.
  6. Cake Flour: To prevent a dry-tasting cake, make sure you are spooning and leveling the flour or weighing it. For the best results, I strongly recommend cake flour. You can find it in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it. Usually a homemade cake flour substitute works, but this recipe uses far too much cake flour and the homemade substitute is not ideal.
  7. Eggs: 3 whole eggs provide structure, moisture, and richness. 2 extra egg whites keep the cake light and airy. I don’t recommend using 4 whole eggs; stick to the 3 egg & 2 egg white combination. Here are recipes using leftover egg yolks.
  8. Buttermilk: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a DIY sour milk substitute. Add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1 and 1/2 cups. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
  9. Why is everything at room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
  10. Want chocolate frosting instead?: I recommend the recipe/amount of chocolate frosting I use for Piñata Cake.
  11. Sprinkle Cake: To make a sprinkle cake, fold about 3/4 cup (120g) of sprinkles into the cake batter. Avoid nonpareils (the little balls), which tend to bleed their color.

Keywords: vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, birthday cake

Vanilla cake slice on white plate

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. HI, I am making a vanilla cake and want to decorate /serve it with kiwis and strawberries. Should I use a vanilla buttercream frosting or sweetened/vanilla whipping cream for the most complimentary result? Love your website.

      1. Hi, Can I pour over mango ganache for this vanilla cake ?

  2. Me encantaría saber si puedo reemplazar la mantequilla por aceite y harina de pastel con harina all purpose flour? Gracias

    1. Hi Maria, it’s best to stick with butter and cake flour in this recipe.

    1. Hi Tea, This post has everything you need to know about making 6 inch cakes (including a vanilla cake recipe). If you want to use this recipe to get more cakes, you can reference our cake pan sizes and conversions guide to find out how many 6 inch cake rounds you would get from this batter (this recipe yields 8 cups of batter). Happy baking!

  3. Hi Sally – do you think this could work if I added in m&m baking bits? My daughter is obsessed with M&Ms and wants an M&M cake for her birthday. I mostly am finding recipes for M&M cookie cakes, not regular cakes. Let me know what you think!

    1. Hi Claudia, That should work. We recommend about 1 – 1.5 cups of mini M&Ms. You can add them at the end and gently fold them into the batter — being careful not to over mix. Let us know if you give it a try!

  4. Hi Tea, you usually only fill pans around 1/2 way with batter, not completely full. So you would use 2 cups of batter for each 6 inch pan

      1. My kids loved this cake so much!! I was wondering, was the cake supposed to be so dense? I believe I over mixed it but wasn’t exactly sure. Or I added to much cake flour when I tapped the cup.

      2. Hi Madeline, if the cake was overly dense, it could be over mixed like you mention. Also be sure to spoon and level your flour (or use a scale if available) to ensure just the right amount of flour. Tapping the cup will actually cause the flour to settle and will lead to more flour than necessary. Here are more tips on how to prevent a dry and dense cake. Glad the cake was a hit!

  5. This is my go to recipe for my girls’ birthdays- it is absolutely perfect. Thank you!

  6. This is the best vanilla cake I have ever made. Excellent texture, plush, tender yet sturdy. I used Vanilla Chobani Greek yogurt since I had some I needed to use, and it worked perfectly! This recipe made 34 cupcakes. Truly a keeper!

  7. I’m so in love with the recipe !! The cake was super soft and fluffy !

  8. Hi! Would this work for a tiered cake? or is it too light to support it? Thanks!

  9. Once the batter is ready , how do you prepare & bake in the pans? One pan at a time? Do you leave the batter in the fridge or on bench top while the first pan is baking? Many thanks

    1. Hi Anita, you can bake multiple layers at once, as long as they can all fit on the same rack in the oven. If not, you can leave the leftover batter, covered with a clean towel, at room temperature while the other layer(s) are baking). Be sure to grease and line your pans with parchment paper rounds as mentioned in the post. Hope this helps!

  10. I made this today to freeze for the weekend. My three layers are a little flat. Only about 1” high. I’m a pretty good baker so don’t know what happened.

    1. Hi Barb, we’re happy to help troubleshoot. First, make sure your baking powder and baking soda are fresh. We find they start to lose their potency after about three months. If the cakes are squat and dense, it’s possible the batter was over mixed. This post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes will be helpful to review. Thanks so much for giving this cake a try!

  11. I made this cake yesterday and I can tell you, it lives up to its name. It is *The* best cake I have ever made. The crumb was so light and moist and full of rich vanilla flavor. I had set out to re-create the amazing (and expensive) bakery cake my husband got for my birthday. Boy, oh boy, it’s not only as good, it’s BETTER! To complete this cake, I dehydrated some organic strawberries, pulverized them and whipped them with heavy whipping cream and confectioner’s sugar to make a filling/frosting. I wrapped a few slices and froze them, and it’s even delicious right out of the freezer (I couldn’t wait to thaw it out – that’s how good it is.) Thank you, Sally, for this recipe ~ it’s a true winner and will be my go-to recipe from now on!

    1. Hi Ana! Butter creamed with sugar makes up the base of the cake and oil is not a suitable replacement, unfortunately.

  12. I love this recipe!
    Do you think I would be able to add maybe 6 oz of grated white chocolate? And a little pink swirl by mixing in some raspberry fruit spread with a little of the batter?
    This flavor combination has been requested of me…and I’m unsure of some of the recipes I have seen online. I know your cake recipe is perfect.

    1. Hi Carol, I’m so glad to hear that you love this cake recipe. I wouldn’t add white chocolate to the batter, however you could use this white chocolate frosting. I would double it to ensure there’s enough for the tall layer cake. You could absolutely swirl each layer with raspberry jam before baking and decorate with raspberries.

  13. Love this recipe! Although my cakes come out springy and full but then after a few minutes begin to sink and pull away from the sides. Is there any way to stop this? Also what brand flour do you use, as I’m from Ireland and we don’t have cake flour here and I’m looking to order some.. thank you!

    1. Hi Ella! Often when cakes shrink, they’ve been slightly over-baked. An easy fix! We usually use Swans Down or King Arthur brands for cake flour.

  14. I want to use this cake recipe and use vanilla custard for the layers and whipped cream on top. Is this recipe very sweet? I need a less sweet cake for the layers.

  15. Hi sally! Thank you so much for this recipe.
    However what do you mean by spoon and levelled in your flour measurements?
    Thank You!

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