The Best Vanilla Cake I’ve Ever Had

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 9 inch vanilla cake draped in vanilla buttercream? I already have homemade vanilla cupcakes and a 6 inch vanilla cake covered. 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: Use both. Remember why? 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 this amount), 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
  • Yield: 12-14 servings
  • 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

  • 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: cake, vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, baking, birthday cake

Vanilla cake slice on white plate

1419 Comments

  1. Joshua Haynes says:

    Salley,
    I’ve been fighting density issues, so I tested something the other day, using the 1.5 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 salt. It turned out great, fluffy and a little moist. Could this be a difference in baking location? I’m in Northern Georgia, not sure where you are but I’ve heard of such odd things with altitude and humidity causing rising issues.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Joshua, you’re correct — altitude and humidity can definitely play a role in how baked goods come out. If you’re having trouble with dense cakes in particular, you might find this post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes helpful to review before your next cake. Hope you find it helpful!

  2. How far ahead can I bake the cake. I have a function on a Fri, however I don’t have any time before Tue to bake it. (I will be frosting and decorating it on Wed afternoon.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Janet, you can cover your decorated cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

      1. Thank you so much, I am looking forward to trying this cake!

  3. This is my go-to cake recipe…. It is so moist, soft and delicious!!! I’m planning to use it as the base for my daughter’s next birthday which is a Disney Frozen theme. I just plan to add light blue and violet gel to color the layers and icing, and add blackberry jam as a filling. I thought about possibly adding lemon flavor too…I just didn’t want to go with a lemon cake recipe as I worry the yellow color would change the colors I’m planning. So I’m wondering if you think I could sub lemon extract for the vanilla, or would you recommend only subbing a portion of the vanilla for lemon extract, or best not to even attempt?

    Thanks so much for this amazing sight…it is my favorite source of tips, recipes and inspiration to keep my house full of happy bellies!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Stephanie, sounds like a beautiful cake you have planned! We haven’t tried it, but you can certainly replace some of the vanilla extract with lemon extract (don’t leave the vanilla out entirely). Let us know how it goes, and happy birthday to your daughter!

  4. idk what i did wrong but it was kinda dry

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Asia, dry cakes are usually the result of over baking, even if just by a minute or two. We also share some other helpful tips in this blog post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes — hope this helps for next time!

  5. Heidi Sydorko says:

    Hi Sally, this is my go to vanilla cake recipe, I love it! I thought I saw somewhere that it could be made in three 8″ pans. Do you have a recommendation on baking time for that? I just want a taller cake! Thanks so much!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Heidi! You can absolutely use your 8 inch pans for thicker layers. We’re unsure of the exact bake time, but it should be just a few minutes longer to account for the thicker layers.

      1. Perfect, thanks so much!

  6. I tried this recipe and the cake came out perfectly! But with the icing I’m noticing it lacks a vanilla taste and I’m getting a very buttery taste from it. Did I do something wrong?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Steven, for next time, you can try slightly increasing the vanilla for more of a vanilla taste. How was the texture? If not too thick already, you could also add more confectioners’ sugar to help thicken and sweeten the frosting a bit. Hope this helps!

  7. Dawn Thompson says:

    Hi Lexi! I am planning to make this lovely 3-layer cake soon and was wondering if instead of “carving” off a bit from the top layer to get rid of the little mound in the center, I could use 3 Bake Even baking strips around the pans? They are intended to help create flat layers. Thank you!
    Dawn

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Dawn! Yes, you can definitely use baking strips if you prefer.

  8. Can I make this into chocolate cake by adding cocoa? If so how much? Thanks!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Natty, cocoa powder can be a finicky ingredient so it would take quite a bit of recipe testing to figure out the right amount. We recommend our triple chocolate cake instead — same great texture and moisture as this vanilla cake!

  9. Leigh Ann Cotter says:

    I love baking and trying new recipes, I made this just for fun this weekend, and this cake is DELICIOUS! I made it exactly as the recipe states (except I used 8-inch pans b/c that is what I have, I did have to cook a little longer with the pan change) and served it with some fresh raspberries. If you are looking for a go-to vanilla cake, this is it; nice crumb, excellent vanilla flavor, and the frosting is an easy buttercream, that goes perfectly with the cake.

  10. This is my go-to vanilla cake recipe! Can I add melted bittersweet chocolate to a portion of the batter to make marble cake? I know you have another recipe for it, but I need A LOT of batter and this one makes more so I was hoping to use it instead!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Junior, we’d recommend following our zebra cake instead — simply use a toothpick of knife to help create a marbled look there instead of the zebra stripes. Let us know if you give it a try!

  11. Kathryn Covello says:

    Hi Sally, question- I only have 3, 8inch cake pans. Can you I use these instead of 9″ and possible have a bit of batter left over? If so, should I adjust temp and/or time?

    Thank you!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kathryn, you can absolutely use your 8 inch pans for thicker layers. We’re unsure of the exact bake time, but it should be just a few minutes longer to account for the thicker layers.

  12. How much flour do I put it doesn’t say

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lucia, you need 3 and 2/3 cups (433g) cake flour for this recipe – first ingredient on the list. Enjoy!

  13. very good recipe !!! i like it

  14. Hey Sally,
    Great recipe! If I want to use vanilla bean paste, how much would I use?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Liz, vanilla bean paste is a wonderful replacement for the vanilla extract. Most vanilla bean pastes come with substitution instructions– you usually use about half the amount when subbing in for vanilla extract.

  15. Hi Sally, I need to make a 10”
    Layer cake. Would I double this recipe or do you have a recipe for a 10” vanilla or yellow cake? I’m making a 2 tier 8” and 10” cake. Thanks for any insight.

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Janis! Here is everything you need to know about converting recipes to different Cake Pan Sizes. Happy baking!

      1. Thanks so much!!

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