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.
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 vanilla 6 inch 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.
What Makes it the Best Vanilla Cake?
Let’s count the ways!
- Soft, light crumb from cake flour
- Fluffy from extra egg whites
- Buttery and cakey from creamed butter
- Stick-to-your-fork moist from eggs & buttermilk
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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. If you are going to add a filling such as raspberry cake filling, you’ll use less frosting between the layers.
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.
Homemade Vanilla Cake Success Tips
Learn from my mistakes and bake the best cake on the 1st try!
- Follow the recipe closely. Use each power ingredient listed.
- 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 more about why room temperature ingredients are important.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
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.Print
Best Vanilla Cake
- Prep Time: 35 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours (includes cooling)
- Yield: 12-14 servings
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
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.
- 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 (345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 cups (400g) granulated 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*
- 1 and 1/2 cups (345g) unsalted 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
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together. Set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Refrigerate cake for at least 1 hour before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Stand Mixer or Handheld Mixer | 9-inch Cake Pans | Kitchen Scale | Large Icing Spatula | Cake Turntable | Bench Scraper | Cake Carrier (for storing and transporting)
- 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.
- 2 Layer Cake: I recommend using my 2 layer white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake.
- Bundt Cake: This vanilla cake batter will fit into a 10-12 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Why is everything at room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read more about why room temperature ingredients are important.
- Want chocolate frosting instead? I recommend the recipe/amount of chocolate frosting I use for Piñata Cake.
- Sprinkle Cake: To make a sprinkle cake, fold about 3/4 cup (135g) of sprinkles into the cake batter. Avoid nonpareils (the little balls), which tend to bleed their color. Or try this confetti birthday cake, which is quite similar to this recipe.
Keywords: vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, birthday cake
Reader Comments & Reviews
Sally, this is the absolute best, most perfect vanilla cake! I have been searching for the right recipe for weeks. I am a home baker and sell my cakes to friends and friends of friends, for fun. I had someone order a vanilla cake, but I didn’t feel like the recipes I have used are up to my standards. I tried 3 other recipes before I got to yours and the cake is due for delivery on Monday. Tried yours out today and I am so relieved! This cake is definitely up to my standards and I don’t think I’ll ever use another vanilla recipe. I made three 8 inch layers and had enough batter left for 6 cupcakes and it works perfectly for cupcakes too! Thanks so much for sharing your talent and delicious recipes! I have a great chocolate cake recipe – perfectly light and moist but doesn’t do so great for cupcakes – they don’t seem to want to rise, so that is my next quest! Let me know if you have any suggestions. Thank you again!
Planning on making this for an upcoming family birthday! Do I need to alter it in any way if I added roasted strawberries to the batter? Thinking of just folding them in at the end
We haven’t tested it that way, so can’t say for sure. If you try it, let us know how it turns out!
Going to make this recipe tomorrow with my granddaughter. Can I use three 8″ pans instead? Perhaps put some leftover batter in a smaller pan to bake for a preview taste?8
Hi Joan, you can use this recipe with 8 inch cake pans for slightly thicker layers in a three layer cake. You may need an extra minute or two of bake time since they layers will be thicker – use a toothpick to test for doneness.
The cake was delicious but it sank in the middle. Directions followed; cake was done when toothpick inserted. But I live at 5900 feet. Do I need to make adjustments for altitude? Could this be the culprit in the sinking?
Hi Kathy, yes, it definitely could! We have no experience baking at high altitude, but some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html
Hi, I wanted to make this recipe into four layers, could I use 4 8-inch pans instead of three 9-inch?
Hi Shreya, you can certainly use this recipe to make a 4 layer 8-inch cake. The layers will be a little thinner so reduce the bake time. If interested, we do have a 4 layer cake recipe- our pinata cake!piñata cakee! It’s just as delicious and makes a little more batter than this vanilla cake.
I’ve made this recipe as a 9-inch round cake 3 times (following everything exactly, and even by weight), and it always felt too dense – almost undercooked, even if I increased the baking time. However, today I used the recipe to make cupcakes instead and they are the perfect cupcakes! This will be my go to for cupcakes. I’ll try the big cake version again one day, in a different oven perhaps. Thanks Sally 🙂
Can all purpose flour be used instead of cake flour?
Hi Marlene, the cake will be denser and heavier using all-purpose flour. See recipe notes for details!
how can I alter this recipe for single layer cake
Hi Margie! We would use this recipe for a one layer cake instead of trying to adapt this one (you can leave out the sprinkles).
I was disappointed in this cake. I followed the recipe exactly and it came out so dense and heavy. it did have good flavor but it was so heavy in texture. Not what I expected
Hi Gloria, overly dense cakes are usually the result of over mixing the batter and/or using too much flour. These posts will be helpful to review: How to Prevent a Dry and Dense Cake, How to Properly Measure Baking Ingredients, and Tips for Baking Cakes. Let us know if you have any other questions — we’re happy to help you troubleshoot further!
I just made this cake and it was delicious the only thing I found was that it wasn’t enough icing to cover the cake the way yours looks in the picture. I also immersion blended some freeze dried raspberries into the frosting milk and it was soooo good.