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. If needed, you can use this cake flour substitute.
  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. I 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.


Ingredients

  • 3 and 2/3 cups (420gcake flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon 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
  • 6 cups (720gconfectioners’ 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. If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, you can make a homemade cake flour substitute.
  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

963 Comments

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  1. Most vanilla cakes I’ve ever made and tasted were pretty mediocre, so I can’t wait to try this one!!!! No doubt it will be a major step-up….:D:D:D

    1. I hope you love it! Let me know what you think 🙂

  2. P.S. Your decoration is GORGEOUS!!

  3. Looks beautiful and delicious! Unfortunately I just found out I’m diabetic…totally bummed.

    1. Thanks Kristin 🙂 Thinking of you!

  4. This cake looks amazing. Have you every tried a Ogura Sponge Cake soft like a cloud. I add a vanilla paste to up the flavor.

  5. Ooooh it looks sooo yummy!! You totally read my mind re point 2 & 3 of the recipe notes as I’m thinking of either baking a 2 layer cake or cupcakes, perfect! I cannot wait to get started! Thank you Sally 🙂 this year I am going to be a true baking goddess 🙂

    1. YAY! I can’t wait to hear what you think 🙂 Happy baking!

  6. What a delicious looking cake. Your pictures are stunning and would make anyone want to bake this cake!

  7. I don’t reall t fancy vanilla, but this cake looks absolutely delectable. I’ll have to have a crack at baking this. Thank you for another cake recipe, Sally!

  8. I loovveeeeee all of your recipes and so my family since I have made many of them . Such as the blueberry lemon cake , the strawberry one and so on . Thanks so much for replying and for being amazing .

  9. I can’t wait to make this! Thanks Sally!

  10. This cake looks soooo yummy. I adore vanilla cakes. I really want to try it but I love to make 6″cakes. I looked over the recipe and I think it will be easy to half everything…except for the eggs. You suggested NOT using all whole eggs so maybe if I combine the 3 eggs and 2 whites …beat and measure then just add half? What do you think??Any advice is much appreciated.

    1. Nancy, for the BEST 6 inch vanilla cake– use my vanilla cupcakes recipe. This amount of batter transfers perfectly into 3 6-inch cake pans. It’s my go-to 6 inch vanilla cake.

      1. Cynthia Tucker says:

        Hi, I just bought some super cute 6 inch pans and was wondering if you would use the cupcake baking time as well?

      2. 6 inch pans are larger than a cupcake so the bake time will likely be longer!

  11. I can’t wait to try this! About making level cake layers, I invested in cake strips and they’ve made such a difference in my baking. Using cake strips my cakes bake evenly and there is no doming so I never have to cut them to make them level before frosting. Totally worth the investment! My cake strips are Wilton and I ordered them from Amazon, but there are plenty of online tutorials that show how you can make your own.

    1. Great tip! Thanks Ro 🙂

  12. Exciting! I am definitely going to try this one! Thanks for sticking with it through your “fails” until you found the right formula!! I think you are my favorite “chemist.”

    1. LOL! Thanks Judy! I hope you love this one!! 🙂

  13. Looks gorgeous, but I’d expect nothing less! Have you ever thought about posting a different type of buttercream besides American? This may be an excellent Monthly challenge for you at some point! Last Easter, I made your lemon cake but I use a Swiss Meringue buttercream instead (I got the recipe from SugarHero– if you have some time, she has an excellent post regarding all the different buttercreams) Since then I really haven’t gone back to American. To me you cannot beat the texture and taste of a Swiss or Italian buttercream and it is SO MUCH EASIER to work with when frosting a layer cake! Not dogging you at all though– I’ve tried several of your frostings and they are amazing! Just some food (or frosting) for thought!

    1. Angela, it’s like you read my mind. Stay tuned for future baking challenges!

  14. Perfect. I can make this cake TODAY!

  15. Sally,
    My French oven is smaller than a traditional American oven and I cannot fit 3 pans in the oven. Can one wait to go in after the others are out? If not, I will make it in a Bundt pan as all of my friends over here are CRAZY for bundt cakes!

  16. Let me know what you think if you try it! 🙂

  17. Hi Nicole! Yes, I always recommend spooning and leveling if you do not use a kitchen scale.

  18. No other changes necessary. I recommend about 2/3 cup of sprinkles. Nonpareils (the little balls) bleed their color, so I recommend avoiding those!

  19. So sweet! Yes, you can definitely turn this vanilla cake into a sprinkle cake. I recommend folding in about 2/3 cup of sprinkles. Nonpareils (the little balls) bleed their color, so I recommend avoiding those.

  20. Hi Nina! I agree, it’s a lot of sugar in the frosting. But this yields a lot of frosting! American buttercream is, by nature, very sweet. Reducing the confectioners’ sugar will leave you with a greasy buttercream as there won’t be enough dry ingredients to soak up the fat in the butter and milk/cream. How about using a swiss meringue buttercream instead? Or you can replace some of the sugar with unsweetened cocoa powder to yield a chocolate frosting.

  21. Oh Sally thank you !!

  22. Thank you for your reply.

  23. Hi Sally!
    I have never used cake flour before because I couldn’t find it in my local store so I just used your tip on using corn starch. I’m looking online now to see what store has cake flour and I know this is a silly question, but is it unbleached?

    1. Hi Janet! Cake flour is available bleached or unbleached. Bleached is more commonly found.

  24. Thank. You sally for the vanilla cake recipe.matter of fact i will keep all of them.i thank you so much.i love different recipe s.when i make it i will let you know how it came out.

    1. Happy baking!

  25. I just LOVE how fluffy these cake layers look. Reminds me of our sponge cake a bit but ingredients are different. I’m definitely looking forward to try this cake. I’m a cake person and it definitely caught my eye! 🙂

    1. I hope you enjoy this recipe! Would love to hear what you think after you try it 🙂

  26. I recommend at least 1/2 cup. I haven’t tested this though, so I’m unsure EXACTLY how the taste and texture will be!

  27. 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.

    1. What perfect timing!! Thanks for the positive feedback 🙂

  28. Katie Browne says:

    Hey, Sally:)
    I am making a naked cake soon, would this recipe be good to use or is your specific naked cake recipe more suited to that purpose?

    1. You can absolutely use this recipe for a naked cake! Enjoy!

  29. I hope you love this recipe, Maggie!

  30. Sally, what product do you use to grease cake pans? I know of several methods (butter, Pam, flour/Crisco combo, etc) but would like to know what you think works best.

    1. Hi Kelli! I usually use butter os nonstick baking spray (the kind with flour in it), such as Pam.

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