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, checkerboard cake with a whimsical design, and this layer cake filled with sprinkles.

What about classic vanilla cake draped in vanilla buttercream? I already have homemade vanilla cupcakes covered. But 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: No way around this! 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.

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 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.
  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 cannot get your hands on cake flour, you can make a DIY version from all-purpose flour and cornstarch as instructed in these recipe notes. The cake will not be as light and fluffy.
  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

651 Comments

    1. I haven’t made this recipe yet, but if this recipe usually makes a 9 x 13, you should be able to double it to make a 1/2 sheet cake. The baking time may increase a bit, so be prepared to check it at the prescribed time, and adjust accordingly.

    2. Has anyone ever made a yellow/vanilla cake but decorated 1/2 with vanilla buttercream and 1/2 with chocolate? I looked for pictures and didn’t find any. Any thoughts? Trying to make 1 cake for 2 sides of the family, er, me and the wife. Thought about giving this a try.

    3. I make it as a half sheet cake (12″ x 18″ pan) by doubling Sally’s recipe, baking at 325 for 50-65 minutes (depends on the oven; check with a toothpick). Turns out great!

  1. Do you think this cake would take well to food coloring? I wanted to make a blue ombre cake and need 3 different layers of blue. Or would your white cake recipe be best for that? Also, fo you have a blue velvet cake recipe (I wanted one chocolate layer too) TIA

  2. Hello! This might be a bit of a stupid question. I’m going to make this for my boyfriend soon, and I was wondering if the vanilla extract had to be 100% pure, the only one at my grocery store has a lot of added sugar.
    Thank you 🙂 can’t wait to bake this!

  3. Hi Sally,
    I have a very small kitchen and oven and therefore no space for multiple cake pans. What happens if I bake the layers after each other?

      1. It isn’t the amount of cake pans on hand, it is the room to bake them in the oven all at once.

  4. Hi Sally!
    I was wondering if I could use the buttermilk from Walmart (the cultured kind) or do I get the churned buttermilk? Thanks!

  5. I an giving this a four for flavor. I had an issue. The cake came out almost cornbread texture. It was moist and delish but don’t know why the texture. Any guesses?

  6. Can I substitute almond extract, and if so, how much do I add? I’d like a subtle flavor so would 1/2 tbs vanilla & 1/2 tbs almond work? Thanks!

    1. Hi Regina! Yes. If using almond extract, I still recommend a touch of vanilla as well. Those amounts would be 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons almond extract.

  7. Oh my gosh! Just WONDERFUL! This recipe took me two tries because the texture was very dense the first time. I figured I had overdeveloped the gluten so tried gently folding in the dry mixture with a rubber spatula instead of using the hand mixer and VOILA! Perfection. I baked the cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday and it was a hit!!

  8. Need to provide my wife with a dairy free option. Think I can simply substitute margarine for butter and almond milk for buttermilk? TIA!

    1. Hi Duncan! This is a dairy heavy cake, so it might not be the best option. I don’t suggest margarine– solid coconut oil would be a better choice. How about this chocolate cake instead? You can use dairy free milk instead of buttermilk.

  9. Hi sally, I’m new to baking so i thought of starting with a vanilla cake. But i wanted to make a small one on a trial basis. Does the recipe work of i just take exactly half quantities of the ingredients? And in that case should i reduce the amount of vanilla extract and baking soda and baking powder? Sorry it’s a silly question seeing there are all amazing bakers here but I’m really inspired by your notes. Thank you.

    1. Hi Vaidehi! You can certainly halve all of these ingredients (each one) for a smaller cake. Or you can try my smaller 6 inch vanilla cake recipe. You can leave out the sprinkles and apply a simple layer of vanilla frosting. (Skip the fancy buttercream flowers!)

  10. Hi Sally,

    I just made this over the weekend and it was a hit!

    I have a question though — how would you suggest I adapt this recipe for a 3-layer 6 inch cake as opposed to 9 inch? My thoughts are you would cut the recipe by 1/3. Do I have that right? What would you suggest I do about the eggs?

  11. most definitely the best vanilla cake!!!!!!!!! thanks, done by the recipe was delicious

  12. I would like to make a six layer rainbow cake. It seems by your comments it would be sturdy enough to stack that many layers. I am not sure I need 6 full layers though. Do you think I would have enough batter to make 6 layers?

      1. Thank you Sally! How high is this cake when done? Wondering what size my finished cake would be breaking this recipe into 6 layers.

  13. Hi Sally,
    Do you think adding in fresh raspberries (coated in flour so they do not sink), would work to make a vanilla raspberry cake?

  14. This recipe is delicious and not difficult to follow!! Very most cake. Melt-in-your-mouth frosting! This will be a regular in our home. Thank you.

  15. Hi Sally,

    I want to use this recipe for my daughters 1st birthday cake, however I want to tier the cake with three different sizes (they will be iced to look like donuts) so your standard size cake on the bottom layer, smaller in the middle and then smaller again on top. Would I be able to use the recipe as is and just adjust the cooking time ?

    1. Hi Amy! Sounds like a very cute 1st birthday cake! You can use this recipe as written, yes. The smaller cakes will take less time in the oven. Same oven temperature.

  16. This really was the best vanilla cake I ever had. My son requested one for his birthday. He also wanted strawberries in it, so I sliced them thin and put them between each layer of cake on top of the frosting. It was amazing. Typically, I like to do a test run of new recipes prior to serving to guests. The great thing is that you,Sally, have never let me down. Thank you so much for sharing your talents with us!

  17. What alternatives are there for cake flour? Is is like 00 flour or just a mix of plain and self- raising? (i’m in australia for context).

    Also I’m wanting to make this in a log tin as i’m looking to make the number 1. Would you suggest a much shorter baking time?

    1. Hi Kate! I have no experience baking cakes with 00 flour. However, I’ve read that it is very similar to Swans Down cake flour. Which is typically the brand of cake flour I use. The bake time depends on the thickness of the cake. It may be shorter or longer depending on the measurements of your cake pan. Keep your eye on it and test it with a toothpick. Insert the toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. Same oven temperature.

  18. This recipe was quite easy to understand and follow, only thing that went wrong was the outer crust that always foems on the outside of the cake wanted to fall off. First try and I nailed this, its light fluffy and melts in your mouth. I made this cake for the instuctor of my cooking camp, he has a very refined pallette and has won a speacial edition of chopped, He loved it (his names John Tokos). I am 12 and completted it alone. Love your recipe (as always).

  19. I am barely starting to bake , what do you mean by cake flour ? Is it the cake mix from a box ? Sorry im confused & i really want to
    Make this vanilla cake

  20. This recipe is excellent. The cakes turned out to be tender, delicious and so fluffy. Definitely a keeper!
    I can’t post a picture or would have posted how golden and fluffy the cake was. Baked for a family birthday and was all polished off.

    1. Have to add I made my own cake flour according the recipe of 1 Cup of flour minus 2 tbsp and adding 2 tbsp corn flour.

  21. Want to try this recipe, but would like to make enough for at least 20 guests, my question is I have to large round cake pans, can I make a full recipe for each cake pan, it measures approximately 13 1/4 x 4 1/2

    1. Hi Cecilia! Is the cake pan 13.25 inches long and 9 inches wide? Is it 4 and 1/2 inches deep? Sorry if I’m misreading your measurements. You may have a little more batter than needed if you make the batter twice, but you can always use extra batter for a few cupcakes on the side!

    1. Hi Linda! You could mix a little jam with the frosting you will use for the layers or simply spread on a thin layer of jam when assembling the cake. I usually mix jam with a little buttercream so the filling layer is thicker, but still has all that wonderful jam flavor.

  22. Hi Sally,

    I would like to put fresh peaches in the frosting or in the cake itself for my daughter’s 1st birthday party. Is that okay for this recipe and if so, do you reccomend a certain amount? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jill! You can definitely chop up a couple peaches and add them to the batter. The bake time may be a little longer for the layers.

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