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 (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

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 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 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

1019 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,
    Thank you for the recipe and great instructions. I’m making a princess cake for my daughters birthday. I did a practice run last night and the cake came out well.

    I’m making the cake again today and decorating it. Can you advise how to store a complete frosted and fondant covered cake for a party early tomorrow morning? It will sit for 18 hours or so before cutting.

    Also, any tip for combining the cake layers with an ice cream layer? This would be for a different cake than the princess one?

    Thank you so much.

    1. A fondant covered cake will be just fine at room temperature until tomorrow!
      I would advise against adding an ice-cream layer if you are using fondant. But if you are using buttercream for that cake then go for it!! I would soften the ice cream a bit, spread it between the layers and then freeze the entire cake before frosting it. YUM!

  2. I. Am. Unbelievably. Happy. With. This. Recipe. The instructions were amazing and the cake turned out FABULOUSLY. Tasted store bought and I am THRILLED!! THANK YOU!

  3. Hi Sally, I have a question. Why do you suggest to make your white cake recipe if you’re making a 9×13 cake instead of using this vanilla cake recipe? Thank you!

      1. Thank you so much for your response! I just found out I need to make a half sheet cake using a 12×18 pan. Should I just double the sheet cake recipe? Again, thank you for your time:)

    1. Sue, did you end up doubling the cake batter? I, too, need to make a 12 x 18 cake and am wondering if I can use this recipe – or do I need to find one more suited to the size cake I need. Thanks!

      1. I actually doubled the best vanilla cake recipe and had enough batter to make a one layer 6 inch cake. The cake is super moist and delicious!!

  4. I made this cake for my daughter’s bday and it was in the fridge for 2 days. It was perfect when it came out of the oven, but when we took it out for the actual bday, it tasted a little dry. What should I do differently next time to make sure it is moist when eating it?

    1. Hi Mandy! Happy to help. Brushing the cakes with a little simple syrup when they’re still warm will lock in more moisture.

      1. Refrigerating cakes and cupcakes will dry them out. If needing to make ahead of time, bake the layers, allow to cool in pan, then cover the pans with two layers of plastic wrap and freeze. The day of or the day before needed, remove layers from freezer, remove plastic wrap, and let thaw for about an hour. Then frost as desired, cover with a cake cover or place in bakery box after an hour or so, and allow to remain at room temperature until time to serve.

    2. Hey! Simple syrup is actually equal parts water and sugar that you heat until it is smooth (where you can feel the sugar anymore) there are videos on it too if that’s easier

  5. Hi, I would like to try this recipe today. I have vanilla extract and 2 vanilla beans. I would like to use the vanilla bean instead of the extract. Would that work? And would I just scrape out the vanilla beans and add it to the batter? And should I use one or two beans? Thank you!

    1. Hi Kimberly! You can use the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean. 2 vanilla beans would be a little too much. I would still add about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

  6. I did a trial run of this recipe as I want to use it for my Granddaughter’s tall rainbow funfetti pinata cake and I need a structually sound vanilla cake. I have baked for years and have made a countless number of cakes. The method in this recipe made me a little hesitant at first, however I have used your recipes before and trusted this would work. I followed all the instructions yet my cake was an utter disaster. It rose quite a bit while baking, then deflated quite a bit after cooling. I iced it to try out the rainbow icing technique (using your recipe for vanilla buttercream which I adore!) and then put it in the fridge so we could taste it the next day. I let it sit out for the required time before eating it. It was like eating lead! The cake was so heavy and dense and I could see the streaks (of what appears to be raw cake batter)throughout it. It was so bad I couldn’t serve it to anyone. I don’t believe I over mixed it and that is usually the cause, however I do have a professional series Kitchen Aid mixer so perhaps I should have lowered the speed while mxing the butter and eggs? Your method of adding all the eggs at once and then all the dry, then wet ingredients is unusual. It is normally alternated and eggs added one at a time, etc. What do you think went wrong? It sounds like a lovely recipe.

    1. I understand how frustrating sinking cakes can be! There are several reasons besides over-mixing that can cause a cake to sink. Often it’s from too much leavening agent added. This can cause your cake to rise too much very quickly and then collapse. It can also be simply that the cake wasn’t baked long enough and the center is still raw.

  7. Hi this sounds amazing! I want to make this cake but only have self rising cake flour is it ok? or it changes. Thank you

  8. Hi Sally,

    This cake looks delicious and your recipes are so detailed 🙂 I am planning to make my daughter’s 1st birthday smash cake. Can I use this recipe for 6″ 2 deep pans?

    1. Hi Dee, This is way too much batter for a 6 inch cake. However, I recently wrote a special post on 6 inch cakes which I think will be very helpful for you! Here it is: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/6-inch-cake-recipes/

  9. I made this cake for my daughter’s second birthday and did a two tier cake (just doubled the ingredients) had enough batter to fill 2 doz cupcakes too…turned out amazing!!

  10. I could literally just eat this batter with a spoon. I used half a tbsp. regular vanilla and half double-strength ( I was worried a full tbsp of double strength would be overkill) and it’s amazingly delicious. Another keeper!

  11. I used this recipe to make confetti cupcakes for my nephew’s first birthday and they were amazing! I added confetti Quins to the batter, but I’ve also had success using the rainbow jimmies. I just prefer the colors of the confetti. I have made Sally’s funfetti cake before, and I love that one, too. But this recipe was a bit better in my opinion. The crumb was lighter and softer. And they were still super moist 24 hours after baking. I paired them with her vanilla buttercream. I love that this is a big recipe! It made 36 cupcakes. I found that my cupcakes were done at 18 minutes. And they didn’t have much of a dome- which is nice for decorating. Thank you Sally for another amazing recipe!!!!

  12. Hey Sally, I wanna know if the butter milk is necessary ? Cause can’t find anywhere and I don’t have anything to make the butter milk?? Is it a step I can miss or do I need to add it ?? Because this is the best recipe I have found.. So I just wanted to know.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, You can use whole milk mixed with 1 teaspoon of white vinegar OR fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk.

  13. Hi there, how should I change the measurements for an 8inch round pan? (I’m also thinking that I could maybe stick to your measurements and use the remainder for a 4inch smash cake!). It’s for my daughters First Birthday.
    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Lorna, Happy first birthday to your daughter! You don’t have to change anything for 8 inch pans – the layers will be a little taller. Or you can absolutely make her a tiny smash cake with some extra batter!

      1. Do you need to increase the baking time when using 8″ pans and/or lower the oven temp slightly?
        Many thanks.
        K

  14. WOWWW this cake is good. I needed to make a 2 tiered cake ( 3 8” layers and 3 6” layers) so I did 3/2 of the recipe.

    I completely blanked out and mixed my sugar with the dry ingredients so I ended up having to mix cubes of softened butter into my dry ingredients (apparently this is an actual method called reverse creaming). Then being the ditz I am, I put cold milk which curdled my batter, so I had to put my bowl in some hot water to warm it up then mix it again in my stand mixer. Yet…

    IT STILL TURNED OUT AMAZING, LIGHT, AND TENDER. Like WHA?!? This will definitely be my go to vanilla cake recipe from now on.

  15. Hi sally! I love all your recipes they are fantastic. I will be making this cake for my daughters birthday I was wondering if I could tint the layers of this cake to make a rainbow cake. I’m worried about over mixing the cake batter. Will it be ok? Can I make the cake Friday decorate Saturday and serve Sunday? Thank you!

    1. Hi Joann, I recommend using gel food coloring to make this into a rainbow cake! You don’t need to add as much (as the liquid drops) to get brighter colors so it won’t change the texture. Enjoy!

  16. I would like to make this cake a day ahead. Even frost it. Then place in refrigerator overnight. Will there be a problem with that? Your instructions suggest separate cake and icing. Then putting it together.
    It seems cakes often get moisture if made the day before.
    Thanks!

    1. You can cover and refrigerate the assembled cake. Simply take it out and bring it back to room temperature before serving. Enjoy!

  17. Hi Sally! This recipe sounds really good, but before I try it, I’d like to know how you make buttermilk, which is part of this recipe. Or do you use store-bought buttermilk?

  18. Hi! I need to make a 12 x 18 sheet cake and was wanting to use this recipe. I saw your comment about it making a thin one and if you wanted a thicker one making the recipe twice. Is this correct or would there be another recipe you recommend? If I make the batter twice do I combine it before I put it in the pan or just pour the 2 batters in the pan? Thank you!

    1. Hi Julie! You can use 1.5 or 2x this amount of batter for a thicker 12×18 sheet cake. Make sure your pan is deep enough. You can combine the batters after you make them separately.

  19. Hi Sally, this recipe looks amazing and I want to try it for my husband’s birthday this week! I have a question; will it hold fondant well and do you think I can place another smaller cake on top ( 2 tiered cake)?
    If so, will brushing my cake with syrup affect this? Thanks a million!

    1. Yes, you can use fondant with this recipe. I haven’t tried to stack this cake but with the proper supports it should be ok. I hope he has a great birthday!

      1. Thank you so much for the super amazing recipe! The cake was phenomenal! Thank you!
        Any chocolate cake recipe that will work well with fondant for my daughter’s bday?

  20. Hi Sally,
    I have not tried this cake yet but I have a question. I made the perfect cream cheese pound cake and also another recipe from some that I had and they both called for cake flour. I didn’t like the texture of the cakes with the cake flour at all. Do you have to use cake flour or is it ok to just use all purpose flour?

      1. Thank you for your reply! I think I will try that as I am just not liking this cake flour at all. It’s not the recipe, it’s the flour that I’m
        not liking. I tried two different recipes with the cake flour, finally threw the rest of that flour in the trash. Lol

  21. I have a question for you….if I need to make ahead, would be 5 days before eating, do you suggest freezing for that amount of time, or just keeping refrigerated? My plan was to make cake and freeze, then refrigerate frosting so it is ready to go day of party and frost then?? Do you think that is best option? Thanks so much!

    1. Yes, for 5 days freezing is the best option! You can also make your frosting ahead of time, just give it a good stir before using it on the cake. Enjoy!

  22. Hi

    Can I use 2 x 9 inch tins rather than 3? My ovens tiny and will only take 2 cake tins and I’ve now brought all the ingredients 🙂

    1. There is simply too much batter for only 2 pans. You can bake only 2 at a time and leave the remaining batter covered lightly at room temperature until a pan is ready or you can try my white cake recipe instead.

  23. Hi Sally ! Thank you for sharing your amazing recipes ! I was wondering if whipping those egg whites until stiff peaks form and folding them at the end would make a difference ? 🙂

  24. Could you provide the number of cups of batter this recipe makes?
    I am using various shapes pans and need the number of cups of batter to calculate the amount of batter needed.
    I need 9 cups.
    It looks delish..

  25. Hi. I’m making a 6 color rainbow inside cake. Do you recommend doubling the recipe for the 6 layers, or can I divide each of the 3 layers in half?

    1. Hi Ashley – either could work depending on how tall you want the finished cake to be!! If you decide to double it I recommend making the batter twice instead of doubling it so that you aren’t working with too much batter at once which can lead to a dense cake. Enjoy!

      1. Thanks for responding! I ended up doubling the recipe by doing what you suggested. Making the batter in 2 sessions. I have to say, this is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had. I got so many compliments on it. The cake scraps from leveling made fantastic cake pops!

  26. Best vanilla cake ever. My husband, who knows nothing about baking, said the texture was amazing. Super moist and flavorful. Perfection.

  27. I’m planning on using this recipe for a 2 layer 8 inch strawberry shortcake cake filled with whipped cream and strawberries. Will it hold up well? Should I just use the other recipe you suggested?

    1. Hi Mia, You can use this and either freeze the third layer for another time or make some cupcakes out of the extra batter. You can also use my white cake recipe which will give you 2 layers: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/new-favorite-white-layer-cake/
      Either one will be great with whipped cream and strawberries. Enjoy!

  28. Do you think I could use this recipe as a base for your checkerboard cake and bake into 4 pans? I was reading the comments on the other recipes and want to use this one but not sure if that will work. Thanks!

    1. Yes, you can! But keep in mind that if you divide this into 4 layers they will be thinner than the layers in the checkerboard cake.

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