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.

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 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

810 Comments

  1. Hi Sally! I’m doing 3 – 8″ round cakes because I would like the end result to be a taller cake. Any other recipe notes to do that or just cook for a little longer? Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Stephanie! Simply divide this batter between your 3 pans. I find a food scale works to ensure each layer has the same amount of batter. The bake time won’t be much longer, only a couple minutes. That’s about it!

  2. Hi Sally,
    I was curious about doubling this recipe to fit a 12×18 pan. Would that be the correct way to do this? And are there any other things I should know? We are making the cake for my dad’s retirement party! I really want to do a good job.
    Thank you so much

    1. Hi Amber! This batter, as written, is enough for a thin 12×18 inch sheet cake. If you want a thicker cake, make the batter twice instead of doubling. Doubling risks over-mixing or under-mixing.

  3. Hi Sally!

    Just found this recipe on Pinterest and am hoping to make it for my daughter’s birthday next week, however, we live in Colorado. Any ideas on how I might adjust for high altitude? We are at 7,000 feet. Thank you! Looks delicious! Jenn

  4. Hi sally!
    I am from india and i found your recipe really interesting. I had a question on cake flour. We don’t get it here, so is there any substitute for it??

  5. Such a terrific recipe and truly delicious cake! Made it for a wedding shower and it was a hit. Now excited to make it again for my grandson’s first birthday, but with sprinkles added to the batter. I will be Making it again and again! Thanks for a great recipe!

  6. Hi Sally!
    I made this cake for my nephews bday. The icing was really sweet. I’m making it for another relative tomorrow and I think I’m going to cut down on the confectioners sugar. I give this cake a 5. It was really good and everyone thought it was cake mix. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Dear Sally,
    I plan to bake this cake for my twins’ 1st birthday celebration. I have 3 x 10inch pans. Would it be ok to bake the cake in them? Would they still produce 3 decent looking layers for the cake?

    Also, if I make the cake like 2 or 3 days in advance is it ok? I am thinking of baking and frosting and keeping all ready so on the day of celebrations I just got to take it out thaw and cut. Any suggestions for doing this? How to store and how to thaw? And most importantly will the cake taste ok?

    How many hours before the event should I take the cake out and leave it? It will be kept in an air-conditioned room.

    I also plan to add a layer of fondant to cover the whole cake. If its fondant covered, would the refrigeration / storing / thawing methods change? And would the fondant affect the taste of the cake?

    Appreciate your help so so so much! Thank you!

    1. Hi Nas! Happy to help. 1) You can use 3 10-inch cake pans, but the layers will be thinner than pictured. 2) If making 2-3 days in advance– for best taste and texture, I recommend wrapping the baked and cooled layers tightly and freezing them for 2-3 days. Thaw at room temperature before decorating. I do this all the time and the texture & flavor are both still excellent. 3) I would say at least 4 hours prior to serving. 4) Fondant works! No changes necessary.

  8. Hi Sally,

    How would I half this recipe? I’m am wanting to make into cupcakes? Do you already have it halved by chance?

  9. What cake flour brand do you use? Also, why do you not use sour cream for this recipe and you do for your 2 layer cake recipe?

    I’m preparing this for a baseball cake and debating on rather to do 2 or 3 layer.

    1. Hi Kelly! I use buttermilk in this recipe instead of a sour cream/milk combination like some of my other cake recipes. I love Swans Down cake flour.

  10. Hi Sally,

    If I were to bake the same recipe in a Wilton 3D sports ball pan set, what would be the baking time and oven temperature be? It’s for my son’s birthday and he wants me to bake him a baseball cake.
    Thank you!
    Sowmiya

    1. Hi Sowmiya! I’m unsure of the exact baking time as it depends on the thickness of the cake. Same oven temperature. Keep your eye on it and use a toothpick to test for doneness. 🙂

  11. I am planning on baking a y’all layered cake using 6” round cake pans. Should I half this recipe? I’m not sure if halving it would be enough.

    Thank you,

    Rebecca

  12. Hi Rebecca, I’m planning to make a three layer cake for my granddaughter’s baptism using 12 ” pan. Do you think the amount of batter will be about right for three 12″ layers if I make two batches of this batter using this recipe for three 9″ layers?

    1. Hi Gigi! Two batches of this batter may be too much for the 3 layer 12-inch cake. Instead I recommend 1.5x the recipe. Or make 2 batches, then use extra batter for cupcakes on the side. 🙂

  13. I have 2 – 10″ springform cake pans, I was planning on cutting them each in half to make a 4 layer cake. Will the proportions of this recipe still work? Thanks!

  14. Hi Sally,
    Thank you for the wonderful recipe. I tried your 6 inch cake recipe and it came out amazing!!! I loved the idea of using cake flour. I am planning to try this recipe for my daughter’s birthday cake. Can I use the exact recipe for 2 8″ cake pans and 1 6″ cake pan? Or can I use the exact recipe and divide it among 3 8 inch cake pans? I don’t have a 9 inch cake pan 🙁

    1. Hi Hridya! The best option would be to use this recipe for 3 8 inch cake pans. The bake time will be a little longer since the cakes will be thicker.

    2. Hi there,
      I am going to make this for my husbands birthday. Can the unfrosted cakes be kept in the fridge over night or is room temperature best? I was planning on frosting the next day. This looks really good, I am excited!

  15. Love this recipe, have made it multiple times.

    What are your thoughts on freezing layers? I’m trying to get stuff done in advance of my son’s birthday but I don’t want to sacrifice quality for convenience!

    1. Hi Lizzy! You can freeze the baked and cooled cake layers. See recipe notes. I usually wrap each in plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil.

  16. Hi Sally,
    Can you tell me the height in inches of this cake? I’d like to torte each 3 layers, about 1/2 inch each. Would each of these 9″ cakes have enough height for me to accomplish this? Thanks. PS I’m a fan of your strawberry cake, it’s a birthday tradition in my family now.

    1. Hi JoAnne! Somehow I missed this question last week. I don’t know exactly how tall this cake is– I usually don’t measure the height. I know they’re each a little taller than 1/2 inch though.

  17. Hi Sally! What is the difference between this cake and your Favorite White Layer Cake? I love your Favorite White Layer Cake and wasn’t sure if there is a major difference between the two. Baking for my daughters birthday and a little hesitant to change it up from the white layer cake. Thanks!

  18. Hi Sally! I’m so excited to make this for a birthday! When it says “buttermilk,” should I be using whole buttermilk or low-fat buttermilk? My grocery store sells both, I’m not familiar with either one and opinions online seem to vary by cook & recipe.

  19. Hi I’m lactose intolarent so is there a way to alter the mix for lactose free stuff I have lactose free milk also how much ingredients would I need for a 9*4 cake tin also could you do it all in grams instead of cups please
    thank you

  20. Hi Sally,

    I would love to try this but prefer not to use eggs. Do you have an eggless version? I usually sub eggs with flaxmeal, but because you are using eggs and egg whites, I am not sure how much flaxmeal to sub for that.

    Thanks 🙂

  21. Hi there,

    I just tried making this cake (as a demo for my daughters first birthday in 2 weeks) I used a 6 in pan, 2 in deep. I baked it at 350 for over 45 minutes, it looked done but when I took it out and flipped it over the middle poured out and was obviously raw. I am doing something wrong or do the 2 in deep pans need significantly more baking time? Could I have filled the pan too high? it was bubbling over.

    1. I’m concerned the cake was raw after 45 minutes in the oven. There must have been too much batter in your pan. I recommend filling the pans only halfway. 6 inch cakes will need less time than the 9 inch cakes instructed.

      1. Oh that must be it. Such an obvious mistake, I think I filled it almost too the top, there was maybe a quarter inch space left on top.

  22. Thank you for sharing the recipe. The cake itself smelled and tasted amazing but I thought it was a bit “heavy”. The frosting was a bit too “buttery” for my taste. But everyone has their own preference. The cake was still good though. I loved how you explained the purpose of each ingredient. Great job!

  23. I was going to make a bundt cake, my oven is small and will one fit tow 9 inch cake pans but not side by side. Will this change the taste. Would I frost just the top of the bundt or the whole cake.
    Thank You
    Sue

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