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.

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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. I have a bit of an odd question! I’m hoping to make a “chocolate chip cookie cake” for a friend – my intention was to take your vanilla cake recipe, replace the white sugar with brown, and the butter with browned butter (and throw in some mini chocolate chips, edible cookie dough between the layers, and hope that the visuals assist in making the flavour be more cookie-esque). Would the replacement of white sugar for brown cause a problem with the texture of this recipe?

  2. Made this for my nieces first birthday – Best vanilla cake I’ve ever had, and had some many compliments! I couldn’t find any baking flour and ran out of cornflour so I couldn’t make any myself, but the crumb was still super fluffy!
    Thank you.

  3. This continues to be just the BEST vanilla cake ever! People go wild over this simple cake…texture and taste are perfection. Definitely my go-to cake recipe!

  4. Hi!
    I’m wanting to bake this cake for my daughter’s birthday. I know you mention the batter is moderately thick, do you think it would allow me to make a rainbow cake using just one pan instead of needing to use more to create the layers, do you think the colors would mix?
    The cake looks delicious! I really want to try the recipe.

    1. Hi Ali, For a rainbow cake I would try to bake each color as a separate layer. If you mix them all into one pan it would end up being more of a tie dye cake – which could be really pretty too!

      1. Hello! I’ve made this cake before and it’s amazing. Would it be possible to adapt this recipe to a lemon flavor and a an almond flavor? Would it translate well, and how would I do it? Just replace the vanilla with lemon/almond extract? Please let me know! Thank you!

      2. Hi Laura! I haven’t tested either, but I recommend my lemon cake. (Or you can replace some of the vanilla extract for lemon extract and add some lemon zest.) For an almond cake, you can replace some of the vanilla extract with almond extract.

  5. This is soooooooooooo amazing. I just took it out of the oven and my oh my, its so fluffy and tastes amazing.
    Thank ypu for sharing. It really is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had and baked

  6. I made this for my daughter’ first birthday and it was a hit! Now my friend is asking for this cake for her baby shower. I would like to make a two tiered cake if it with a 6” and 8” cake pans. Could you refer me to the proper measurements?
    It is absolutely delicious, fluffy, and my family still talks about it months later.

  7. I curious to try this for cake pops! Would you recommend? (It would only be for cake pops) Or would it loose it’s pillowy texture in the process?
    I’m intrigued by this recipe and the reviews have convinced me! 😀

  8. Dear Sally,I would like to prepare this delicious cake for my son’s birthday, but it will be 22 children! how can I do? do you have a useful suggestion?

  9. I made this cake for my birthday – it was really yummy! Looked super good too.
    Only thing is that the icing is quite sweet, so could do with a flavour or lemon juice or something.
    My icing also turned out airy (like with holes) and a texture similar to whipped cream. It didn’t as smooth as yours. How to fix or did I over beat?
    Highly recommend this recipe for a go-to vanilla cake.

    1. Thanks Aimee! American vanilla buttercream is very sweet, you’re right! Here’s how you can “pop” air bubbles in frosting next time: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/vanilla-buttercream/

  10. Hi Sally! I’ve made this cake a few times and struggle tremendously with “tunneling” or the holes in the cake. I know that this could be from overmixing or the ingredients not being properly incorporated, but I am so careful not to overmix. Could it be from the eggs being beaten too long? Would appreciate any tips/tricks!
    Thank you!!!

  11. This sounds amazing. I would like to make this for my grand daughters 3rd birthday party but want to make it in 6 inch pans. How many 6 inch pans do I use for this batter and how long should I bake it for?
    Thanks

  12. I just made your vanilla cake for my daughters 26th birthday and It is amazing!!!!! I love the texture and flavor of the cake, I used a French buttercream and it was perfect! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe!

  13. Would there be a difference in texture or taste if I baked in two pans instead of 3 and added a few more minutes to the baking time?

    1. This recipe produces too much batter for only two pans. For a 2 layer cake see my white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/new-favorite-white-layer-cake/

  14. I absolutely love your cake recipes 🙂 I made pistachio cake before couple times and it was great! I’m actually baking this cake now but wondering if i have to bake it with fan or not?

    Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad you have been enjoying different recipes! I don’t use forced fan heat (convection setting) when baking my cakes. All of my recipes are written for conventional ovens. I hope you love this cake!

  15. Hello! I’m making this cake today, but I would prefer to use less butter than in the recipe. Could I use 1/2 cup veg oil and 1 cup butter instead and still get a nice moist flavorful cake? What do you recommend? Thanks!

  16. Hi Sally, I was wondering for this recipe (and for all recipes in that cake) if a recipe calls for 3 eggs, and you want to half the recipe would you recommend using two eggs, or one egg and one egg yolk?

  17. Hello, Sally. I am making this cake for my Mother for her 41st birthday, I plan to make it blue and purple ombré, should I separate the icing in half and then dye the two half’s separately or put both dye in?

    1. If you want each layer to be a different color divide the batter into 3 bowls and color them each accordingly, and then pour into your pans and bake. Enjoy!

  18. Hi there, I just found your recipe and am very excited to make it for my sons 1st birthday in a couple of days. I only have one pan. Will the batter be ok if I leave it to stand on the side whilst I cook the 3 layers separately?

  19. I made this cake for my sons first birthday and it was amazing. I doubled the recipe and coloured each of the six layers to make a rainbow cake and it looked great and I had so many comments on how delicious it was too. Thanks for the recipe!

  20. I made this for my daughter’s birthday. It was so good! I used chocolate cream cheese inside and vanilla buttercream on the outside.

      1. I used whole wheat pastry flour and made a cream cheese frosting! Wow… Absolutely delicious. The recipe is gold and will be made again!

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