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

1111 Comments

  1. You were not kidding. Just took the cakes out of the oven and they are soooooo good!! (I skimmed some off to try.)
    I actually was about to make another recipe of yours and then this one popped up on IG yesterday… And so happy it did.

  2. Hi Sally! Can I use 8 in cake pans for this recipe? Thanks!

    1. Yes, your layers will just be a bit taller 🙂

  3. Colleen Shumaker says:

    Would this recipe work as a rainbow cake if I did half the amount of batter in each layer? I want to make a rainbow cake for my daughter’s birthday.

    1. Hi Colleen! Yes, you can divide this batter up to make a multiple layer rainbow cake.

  4. I made this cake yesterday and it was a lot of fun. I used 8 inch pans, so the bake time was about 6 minutes longer. I just used a thermometer and took it out when it reached 205. They layers are nice and tall, even after a quick shave to level them. I did struggle a little bit with the icing. It just wouldn’t get smooth for me. Guessing I must have mis-measured the powdered sugar. The cake turned out so pretty and everyone has loved it!

  5. I made this on the weekend for my daughter’s 1st birthday and it was DELICIOUS! Thank you for the wonderful recipe.
    Emma (in Australia)
    PS – how do I stop the icing from looking too yellow instead of the lovely white in your photos?

    1. Hi Emma! I’m so glad you enjoyed this vanilla cake recipe, thank you so much for taking the time to leave a review on the recipe. I used regular vanilla extract. Perhaps it’s the lighting in the photo? My vanilla buttercream is never crisp white, but if you want a whiter vanilla buttercream, I recommend using clear vanilla extract.

  6. Hi Sally! You were right! This was the best vanilla cake I have ever had! I made this over the weekend and it was amazing. It was not only delicious, but a very pretty cake! Perfect birthday cake! Thank you for this recipe, everyone loved it.

  7. I made it today and taste really good but when I cut the cake, see some big air bubbles. I used whisk attachment on my KA stand mixer 300watts and turned on speed #8 when it says high speed.Is it too high?
    Also On this picture, did you use a hand mixer? Thanks.

    1. I use my stand mixer. Air bubbles are completely normal and make for a wonderfully fluffy cake… though it could mean that the egg whites were over-mixed. I would lower your speed down to speed #5 next time.

  8. Hi Sally, This looks amazing but I have a silly question. When making a layer cake, can you put more then one cake pan in the oven at one time? Thank you in advance.

    1. Sure can! I bake 3 layers at 1 time.

  9. Hi Sally! I was wondering what would be the best way to incorporate raspberry jam in the layers.

    1. Hi Christine, I would spread a thin layer of frosting and then a layer of jam between the cakes. Yum!

  10. I made this cake last week and it was a hit! And I also get so many requests to bake your banana cake, it’s SO GOOD! I was just wondering if you think swapping almond flavor for the vanilla in this recipe would be good? I love almond cake and haven’t found a recipe I love as much as your cake recipes 🙂

    1. Hi Stephanie! I’m so glad you tried and loved this vanilla cake. You can definitely add some almond extract. For lots of almond flavor, I recommend using 2 teaspoons almond extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  11. Hi Sally,
    Could I use vanilla bean paste instead of extract in the cake?

    1. Hi Amber! 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.

  12. Hi Sally!
    First let me say, you are a ROCK STAR! Your recipes are so well tested and I am so impressed by what a hard worker you are…not an easy task working full time and being a full time mama :). I am an avid baker (and evidently according to family and friends, pretty damn good) and your blog is by far my favorite.
    I made this cake yesterday and tested it out on coworkers…so far one comment…’icing was outstanding and the cake was really good…a little dry, though’…what did I do wrong? I’ve not always had luck with homemade vanilla cake…chocolate, I’ve got. Any ideas of what I could have done to make it dry?

    1. Hi Melanie! Thank you so much and I’m glad you tried this cake! Make sure you are spooning and leveling the cake flour. Fluff it up a bit in the container/bag, then spoon and level into your measuring cup(s). Don’t scoop. Better yet, weigh the flour. If you still find the cake tastes a little dry, try replacing 1 egg yolk with 1 full egg (for a total of 4 eggs + 1 egg white). 🙂

  13. Hi Sally!
    I am planning to make this cake for my birthday in a few weeks!! I was wanting to pipe buttercream flowers on this cake but wasn’t sure if this would be enough frosting to add that? If not, how much and what should I add?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Mel! If you’re planning on piping a lot of flowers, I would make extra frosting. An extra 1/2 cup of softened unsalted butter, 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar, and 2 Tablespoons of milk/cream should be plenty.

  14. If I wanted to make this cake into a zebra cake, should I just double the chocolate batter ingredients that you use in your 6 inch zebra cake with strawberry frosting? Thanks!

    1. Hi Courtney! For best results in both taste and texture, I recommend using my 3 layer 9-inch Zebra Cake recipe.

  15. Sally, this cake was delicious! I made it for my daughter’s birthday party. I couldn’t stop eating the scraps from when I leveled the layers. Love all your recipes, thank you!

  16. Excellent cake and frosting! Was a much more tender light crumb than other cake recipes. Vanilla flavor really came through. I made slightly less frosting reducing the butter by 1/2 cup. Added a smigden of cream cheese I had leftover which cut the sweetness. Being such a big cake I cut a circle in center and wedges around the outside. Results in more servings.
    Overall a big success for my son’s 35th birthday.

  17. Made this into cupcakes – came out perfect! I will be experimenting with additions in the future!

  18. I plan on trying out this recipe, about how tall do the cakes rise?

    1. Hi Sarah! About 1.5 – 2 inches.

  19. Hi Sally,
    I am going to put chocolate chips into this cake, can you tell me how much I should use?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Mia! I say 1-2 cups would be great. Start with 1 and 1/2 and add more if you think the batter needs it.

  20. Outstanding recipe, seriously. I hate when I come across recipes that claim to be the best (fill in the blank), you follow it to a tee , and then end up being sorely disappointed. This definitely wasn’t the issue here. This cake is moist and pillowy soft. I’m super impressed and will use it as my base going forward. Thank you!

  21. Hey Sally! I am hoping to make this recipe, but turn it into a raspberry almond cupcake (almond cupcake with raspberry frosting). How much almond extract would you suggest adding to the batter? And the same question for how much in the way of freeze dried raspberries for the frosting? Thank you!

    1. Hi Jamie! Sounds absolutely delicious. I recommend at least 1 teaspoon of almond extract to this batter, maybe even 1 and 1/2. Give it a little taste with your finger and see if you’d like more after adding 1 teaspoon. Use my strawberry buttercream recipe and replace with freeze-dried raspberries. You may need to double the frosting recipe to make sure there is enough for each cupcake. Let me know how they turn out!

  22. I’ve been looking for a good vanilla cake recipe and this recipe was not good, it was GREAT!!! My granddaughter, who usually only eats the frosting off cakes, ate her whole piece not just the frosting. This cake brought back memories of my mom’s homemade cakes. So yummy. When I first read this recipe, I thought of cutting it in half but am glad I didn’t as it made 3 beautiful cake layers. Definite keeper and is now my go to cake recipe.

  23. Hi! Do you think this would be a good recipe to use for an 11×15 sheet cake? If so, how should I adjust the ratios? Thank you!

    1. Hi Katie! This amount of batter, as written, should fit nicely into that size sheet pan. I’m unsure how to reduce down the batter to properly fit. Make the batter as written and if you have extras, make a few cupcakes on the side. 🙂

  24. I really want to make this in a 9×13 pan. I know you recommend using the white cake, but will this one not come out all in a 9×13?

    Thanks so much for all your delicious recipes! I love everything I have made so far!!

    1. Hi Mary! This recipe works in a 9×13 pan, but there is too much batter. You can use extra batter for a few cupcakes on the side. To make it easier, I recommend the white cake recipe so you have the exact amount of batter you need. Let me know which you end up trying!

  25. Hi Sally! This was a big hit last night! I got a request to make a 1/2 sheet cake, would this recipe work, it should I use your white cake? That’s a 16×12″ pan. I noticed you suggested your white cake recipe for a 9×13. Also, would doubling the recipe be enough to fill that size pan? Thanks again for a wonderful recipe!

    1. Hi Leesa! I’m so glad that you enjoyed this vanilla cake recipe!

      For your question about pan sizes. Are you looking for a cake that will fit into a 16×12 inch cake pan? Because this should be fine OR my white cake recipe would work as well for a slightly thinner sheet cake.

  26. Sally, I made this cake for my sister-in-law’s birthday which was a few days before Valentine’s Day. I substituted strawberry buttercream for the frosting between the layers and strawberry whipped creamed for the outside frosting so the cake wouldn’t be too sweet and heavy. I decorated the top with chocolate dipped strawberries. The cake was delicious with a soft and tender crumb. The 3 layers made for an impressive birthday cake. Thank you for the recipe.

  27. This was truly delicious. The crumb was so tender and thanks to the significant quantity of butter, it was rich and indulgent. Thank you for sharing another brilliant recipe. Love your work!!

  28. Hi! I was wondering if I could freeze the layers for a couple of hours and then frost the cake while the layers are cold and then wait to serve when the cake is at room temp?

    1. Yes, if you wish to frost the cake cold you can do this. Just make sure the layers are wrapped very well before freezing!

  29. Corinne Arnold says:

    I made this cake my orchid society meeting . I had people coming over to me and exclaiming how much they loved it. It was really good. I definitely will make this again

  30. This is hands down the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had! And trust me…I’ve had a LOT of vanilla cakes over the years! It’s fluffy, soft, moist and full of vanilla flavor. THANK YOU, SALLY!!

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