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.

Vanilla cake with vanilla frosting

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.

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, 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

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

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 to level a layer cake

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

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

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
Vanilla cake

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 (420g) cake flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon 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*

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 6 cups (720g) 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 3 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 needed, you can use whole milk mixed with 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk.
  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

890 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,
    I used your recipe for my niece’s birthday cake. I usually stay away from vanilla as I find them dry and bland, so I searched for the best vanilla cake recipe and came across this, and I must say you are right!!! It is the best, I am now a vanilla convert, along with your buttercream recipe which was also delicious. The cake went down a treat with the Kids and the adults 🙂
    Thank you
    Sarah xx

  2. Hi Sally! This cake looks amazing! I was just wondering if you have a recipe for a good vanilla cake that doesn’t use cake flour? I’ve tried the diy cake flour without success. Just can’t get cake flour. Thanks!!

    Shannon

  3. hi Sally
    I made the 3 layer vanilla cake and followed the recipe exactly. I used cake flour and did everything that you suggested. While the flavour was very delicious the texture was very dense and not at all fluffy. What could have happened ? Please advise. Thank you.

    1. Hi Linda! A few things can lead to a dense tasting cake. Over-creaming the butter and sugar, over-mixing the complete batter, over-measuring the flour, or even over-baking the cake. My #1 tip is to spoon and level the flour.

  4. Most definitely the best!!
    Made it with fresh raspberries in the buttercream to die for and not sickly sweet.

  5. Hi Sally! I love this recipe! It’s perfect! I was wondering can it be used to do mini cupcakes? If so how full would you recommend filling the liners and how long to bake? I just got the Wilton 24 ct mini cupcake pan and I’m excited to use it! Thanks so much!

    Gesina

    1. Hi Gesina! So glad you enjoy this vanilla cake, thank you! Fill the mini cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Mini cupcakes usually take around 11-13 minutes to bake at 350F.

  6. Hi Sally

    To cover with fondant, would one need to use dowels to support the weight of the fondant?

    regards

    Assunta

    1. It depends on how much fondant you’re planning to use. Just a coating and this cake would be OK without cake dowels.

  7. Hello Sally!!!

    This recipe is wonderful! I just love it
    Do you think it could work as a base for the tres leches cake? I don’t know if it is too light to hold that wet mixture without falling apart

  8. Hi! I was wondering if this would be enough batter to do a 3 layer 8in cake and 12 cupcakes. Also how long would I bake the 8in cakes.
    I have made this cake several times and it is wonderful and my go to vanilla cake!

    1. Hi Samantha! You should have enough batter for cupcakes, but I don’t think it would yield 1 dozen in addition to the cake. The 8 inch cakes would take about the same time, maybe a minute or so longer.

  9. When I made this the batter was EXTREMELY thick. So I recommend boiling a cup of water and pouring it in with the batter slowly. This makes the cake so much more moist and not dry. (I used the entire 1 cup and it came it BEAUTIFULLY)

    ❤️❤️❤️

  10. Do you have any idea how much batter this is compared to a box cake? I have a (shaped) cake pan that I am going to use to make my son’s bday cake, and the insert on the pan says it uses a standard 2 layer boxed mix. From the recipe it seems like I’d probably use 2/3 of the recipe for the pan, but figured I would check with the expert. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Shari! This recipe yields *about* 8 cups of batter. I actually don’t know how much batter a typical box cake mix yields. Many brands have changed their proportions over the years!

      1. Perfect, thank you! The Wilton website says 4 to 5.5 cups of batter per box, so 2/3 of this recipe should be great (maybe with a couple tasting cupcakes for the baker) 🙂

  11. This recipe looks delicious! I want to make a strawberry buttercream with it. I have a recipe that I use, but it doesn’t make much frosting. Is there a way I could add strawberry puree to your buttercream recipe by putting less milk? Thank you!

  12. Made this cake last night and it is fabulous!! I always worry about a too sweet cake…this is not! I did add 1/2 tsp salt to the icing as it did seems rather sweet. Thank you!

  13. Hello! My daughter has requested a cotton candy cake for her birthday. I was going to swap out the vanilla extract with cotton candy flavoring. Do you think that would be ok? Also, will the frosting yield enough to also pipe some swirls/roses? Thank you!

    1. Hi Marla! 1 Tablespoon of cotton candy flavoring might be too much, so I recommend using 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of that flavoring.

      1. Thanks for the speedy reply! And so sorry I missed the note! I’ll have a happy birthday girl tomorrow!! 🙂

  14. Sally – if I’m going to make this for our son’s wedding using 1 each of 10″, 8″ and 6″ pans, would you recommend doubling or tripling the recipe and how long to bake each one for? Any other modifications?

    1. Hi Heidi! One recipe should be enough for those size cakes. But will each size have layers? If so and you need more batter, I recommend making the batter twice instead of doubling. I’m unsure of the exact bake times, but you can use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  15. Hi Sally, I’m just getting ready to make this cake but I only have ap flour and self raising cake and pastry flour. Would the self raising cake and pastry flour be ok to use? It has baking powder and salt already added. Let me know!

    1. Hi Hannah! I do not recommend using self rising flour in this cake recipe. The all-purpose flour works. See my recipe note about that substitution.

  16. Hi Sally
    I made this cake last night as a test for a wedding cake I’m making for my brother. And oh my word it was a hit!!! It was delicious and moist and everything I hoped it would be. It was gone before I could even take a picture.
    Thank you so much! ❤️

  17. Sally
    I made this cake yesterday for my son’s high school graduation.
    Fantastic all around. The cake was light, moist and just delicious.
    I bake quite a bit but do not often use a Cake Flour. I will now be using it a lot more often!

  18. Hi, I used this recipe to bake my daughter’s first birthday cake. I used Premium Gold flax and ancient grains all purpose flour and ener-g egg replacer. We don’t eat eggs and my husband is gluten intolerant. I have been baking gluten free cakes with oil but baked with butter for the first time. It came out pretty good. I followed the recipe but had to bake it longer because of gluten free flour. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Hi Sally,
    I am looking to use this recipe to make a 16” x 2” round cake today. Does this recipe provide enough batter to do so? I’ve used this recipe for normal size cakes and it is delicious, just not an oversized one yet.

    Thank you

  20. Hi Sally,
    I have made this cake several times, all we’re delicious! I am now needing to make it but for a 16” x 2” pan. Will the recipe as is accommodate the pan?

    Thank you!!

  21. I am needing batter for a 9×13 pan PLUS 1- 9 inch round (going to attempt to make it look like a bunny after I cut it up). I know you have a sheet cake recipe but I really would love to use this vanilla recipe. Do you think this recipe could stretch out over the two pans? Am I asking for a disaster? :/

  22. Hi Sally! Absolutely love this cake recipe and use it constantly. I’ve been asked to make a pride cake. Would this work well? I’m worried about overmixing it to add colors in each bowl for the rainbow. I’ve also seen it done where you add the buttermilk to each bowl with the color, THEN add the mixture of dry and wet to each rainbow color bowl. I know you’re supposed to alternate buttermilk and flour – would this order still work for the recipe? So appreciate your help!!! xo

    1. Hi Elyse! No need to change the order of mixing or anything. Divide the batter between several bowls and tint with desired colors. That’s how I usually make colored layered cakes, including with this vanilla cake batter. Have fun!

      1. Thank you!!! I’ll make sure to tag @sallysbakeblog so you can see final result. So appreciate the prompt response!

  23. Sally, I am planning on using this vanilla cake recipe to make two loaf pan cakes. They will then be carved and frosted into two gerbil cakes. (Wish me luck!)
    1. Do you recommend using this “Best vanilla cake recipe” or the white cake recipe instead?
    2. Is this 3 layer recipe sufficient for the 2 loaf pans, or excessive?

    Thank you! Ellen

    1. Hi Ellen! This cake would be ideal. It will fit into 2 loaf pans and you may actually have enough for 3 loaf pans.

  24. Hi Sally,
    I am planning on making a naked cake for my nephews birthday and am trying to decide on which recipe to use. Would this one work or would you recommend using your vanilla naked cake recipe?
    thank you

  25. Hi is the temperature for a fan oven? We work in degrees C but reduce by 20 degrees for a fan oven. So am I baking at 175degs or 155?

  26. You are absolutely right: this is the best vanilla cake ever. I really don’t like cakes, but I bake a lot and never I eat cakes! Today I make this for a friend of my son and I cannot stop to eat all the part I cut to level the cake! Thank you for sharing the recipe!!!!

    1. Hi Jenni! For absolutely best results in taste and texture, make the two batches of batter separately– don’t double all at once. Happy baking!

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