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.

slice of vanilla cake being served from a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting on white cake stand

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.

slice of 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 on white plate

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 in a glass bowl

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.

2 images of how to level a layer cake and stacked level cake layers on a white plate

2 images of vanilla frosting in a glass bowl and spreading 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 with raspberries

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 slice on white plate

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 slice on white plate

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 (420gcake flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups (400ggranulated 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 (345gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 6 cups (720gconfectioners’ 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 you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a DIY sour milk substitute. Add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1 and 1/2 cups. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
  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 slice on white plate

963 Comments

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  1. Just made this cake for my wife’s birthday. Currently in the refrigeration process for an hour. But damn! I tasted the frosting and a small piece of cake when it was done… AMAZING! I started following you after looking up your everything bagels recipe. Keep it up please!

  2. Just made this cake for my wife’s birthday. Currently in the refrigeration process for an hour. But dang! I tasted the frosting and a small piece of cake when it was done… AMAZING! I started following you after looking up your everything bagels recipe. Keep it up please!

  3. This is hands down the BEST vanilla cake recipe I have found! I usually default to chocolate cakes, or any other flavor really, because I don’t really like white or vanilla cake. But this is absolutely delicious! I will be making this many many more times! Thank you!

  4. Sally you make good cakes. I have made this cake, your pistachio cake and your carrot cake. Thank you for your blog. Best cakes I’ve ever made.

  5. Terry Coble says:

    This was wonderful, I use to have an Organic Bakery and have now switched my mainstay vanilla cake recipe for this one. I made this frosting but added the freeze dried strawberries to the frosting. See Sally’s recipe for 6 Inch Zebra Cake with Strawberry Frosting for that recipe. I also filled the cake with strawberries and a whipped cream/cream cheese filling.
    I wish I could upload a piture.

    1. Hi Terry, I’m thrilled you enjoyed this cake so much! I’d love to see a photo – feel free to tag me if you post it on social media or email it to me at [email protected]

  6. Hi Sally! This cake is super yummy, but how do you keep it from drying out when you put it in the refrigerator? Every time I make a cake that has to be refrigerated it ends up drying out and not tasting as good as it was when it first came out of the oven. I keep it stored in a cake container too. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Hi Kristy, It’s possible that your cake container isn’t airtight. You can wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap before placing it in your container and then let it come back to room temperature before serving. You can also use a simple syrup on your baked cake layers to ensure that your cake is extra moist if you wish.

  7. Thank you for your recipe

  8. I made this cake a couple weeks ago, and it’s the first cake my family has ever eaten to the finish! Am wondering if I can add sprinkles to this recipe to make it funfetti for my son’s upcoming birthday? Need the cake to only be two layers. Thanks!

    1. Hi Kelly, I’m glad this cake was such a hit with your family! 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. If you need a two layer cake I recommend using my 2 layer white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake.

      1. Sally,
        Why does your two layer cake call for twice as much baking powder at this recipe, your three layer cake?
        Jeff

      2. Great question! The white cake is a fluffier cake. There’s also more baking soda here, which helps compensate.

  9. This looks amazing and I’m gonna make it today, as tomorrow’s our nephew’s 15th birthday. Thing is I only have 7 inch (18cm) pans available and since it’s only the three of us I don’t want the cake to be any bigger than that either. How should I go about it and how much of each ingredient should I use in that case? Thank you in advance, Alex x

    1. Hi Alexandra, without reducing and testing the recipe in smaller pans, I can’t give a definite answer. However, you can use my Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions post as a guide or make the batter as is, fill the pans about halfway, and use extra batter for a few cupcakes on the side.

  10. I turned this recipe into cupcakes. Cut the ingredients in half and it made 14 cupcakes. The texture and flavor were outstanding. Thank you for this recipe. I frosted half with your lemon frosting and the others I did a peanut butter fudge / chocolate glaze. Big hit!

  11. I just wanted to say Hi & Thank You, very much,
    for testing all of your recipes,
    and for so carefully explaining how to bake successfully .
    I’ve always found baking to be very finicky, and even when I am careful’
    a Lot of times, things don’t come out as they should. Tho’ I have enough success
    to keep me wanting to really understand how to do it correctly. You are so Clear !
    And inspiring.

  12. It was indeed pillowy soft which really surprised me. Ive tried many vanilla recipes and this has the best texture and taste (i did add a teaspoon more vanilla flavoring as i didnt have extract). I paired it with a frostimg recipe i usually use and it was amazing. Thank you.

  13. Hey Sally!!
    I just had a quick question, how much frosting does this recipe make?

    1. Hi Alexa, This makes about 3.5 cups of frosting.

  14. Made this cake for my 40th birthday today and it was a hit. I added sour cream to make it more moist. I didn’t have buttermilk so I substituted with evaporated milk. Also paired the cake with chocolate buttercream frosting and it was soooo yummy! Thank you so much.

  15. I keep coming back to this recipe. It’s the best I have tried and I get great results everytime. My kids could actually finish the whole batter as they start asking to taste before we even finish mixing. Thumbs up from me

    1. I’m thrilled it’s been such a hit in your house, Ella!

  16. Hello! We’re making a 6 inch rainbow cake for my daughters 3rd birthday – would this recipe yield enough batter for six 6 inch cake pans? Also wondering if you have any tips for dying the batter. I know some batters are finicky with over mixing…

    1. Hi Casey, It should be fine to divide between six 6-inch pans, I’m unsure of the exact bake time you would need. And yes you can color the batter before baking. I use and recommend gel food colors as you don’t have to add as much to get brighter colors.

  17. Could this be made into 6 layers? Would I adjust the baking time to less since the layers would be thinner? And would there be enough frosting you think if I went to 6 layers or should I increase the frosting size?

    1. Hi Christina, You could bake 6 very thin layers – the bake time would be less but I’m unsure of exactly how long. Or bake three layers as written and cut each in half after they have cooled. You would need to increase the amount of frosting.
      You might also be interested in my 9 layer Smith Island Cake!

  18. I have been baking for nearly 30 years, since I was a little girl, and this is BY FAR my favorite vanilla cake recipe of all time. It’s basically foolproof as long as you whip the butter, eggs and sugar super fluffy, have all your ingredients at room temp, etc. One half of the recipe is perfect for 6 thin 6-inch layers – I’ve been making rainbow cakes every week during the virus situation for all the local birthday kids and they come out perfectly every time. I use a kitchen scale to weight the cake batter into six bowls for the dye – it’s about 150 grams per bowl most batches. So many vanilla cakes are either so moist they just collapse when you try to frost them, or taste like cornbread, for lack of a better description. I HAVE found that the texture is better with true buttermilk vs. acid+milk but the latter works okay if there’s a buttermilk shortage like we had for a while.

  19. Love, love, love this easy recipe! I used a slightly larger pan and butter flavored shortening (didn’t have enough real butter) and it was spectacular! Brushed it with coffee and covered it with whipped cream/ marscapone/powdered sugar to be like tiramisu. My family and I liked it better than the real thing!

  20. Hi Sally can I add chocolate chips to this recipe or to the funfetti cake recipe?

  21. Dana Browning says:

    I never post comments. This cake is the last vanilla cake recipe I will ever use. The buttercream is perfect, the flavor is perfect. My whole family enjoyed this supremely. Thank you so much for contributing. I look forward to trying other recipes of yours.

  22. Hi Sally 🙂 I’m planning on making this cake tonight and was wondering if I need to cover it tightly when I refrigerate it for an hour after assembling? Or can it stay uncovered for that time period ? Thank you so much!

    1. I usually keep it uncovered, but if you have a cake carrier that fits this cake (and in the refrigerator, you can store it in that! (See my 10 Baking Tips for Perfect Cakes to read more about why I love cake carriers!)

  23. I want to try this recipe, but only have two 9-inch cake pans. Would it be okay to let some of the batter sit while I bake the first two layers, and then bake the third?

    1. Hi Ella, You can cover the remaining batter at room temperature while the first two layers bake. Or if you would like to make a two layer cake I recommend using my White Cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake.

  24. mrs.merrell says:

    This is my new go-to recipe. It is my favorite for so many reasons:
    I love that the icing pairs so well with the cake.
    I love the cake batter is so thick and not runny!
    I love the taste of it!
    I love the info beside the vanilla in the ingredient list as well as the info in parentheses in the directions. They were on point to what was going through my head!
    I love how easy it was to follow.
    I will forever line my pans with parchment paper because of this recipe.
    Every step was perfect.
    Thank you for this!

  25. This recipe works really well. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Awesome vanilla cake. I am definitely going to use this again in the future. I make a lot of cakes for people and parties, but very rarely vanilla. This cake would make me want to make vanilla cake more often.
    I followed exactly and because I did not have cake flour I made it as described. Turned out perfect. Will absolutely be using this recipe again in the future

  27. Allina Reier says:

    Hi Sally,
    Thank you for literally the worlds best vanilla cake. Wow! I’ve made it a few times now, one for my brothers wedding cake! To say its loved is an understatement. I wanted to ask you about adding raspberries to the batter. My daughters birthday is coming up and she loves raspberries and I thought it could look cute, as well as taste yummy. Will you let me know if this would mess up the consistency or if there is a way to make it work?

    Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Allina! I’m so glad to hear you enjoy this vanilla cake recipe. Toss 1-1 and 1/2 cups of fresh raspberries with 1 Tablespoon of flour and gently fold into the batter. The bake time may be a little longer.

      1. Thank you Sally, can you please help me understand what you mean by “Toss 1-1” I understand 1/2 C raspberries with 1 Tbsp of flour. Does that just mean for every 1/2 C add the 1 Tbsp? Sorry to be a bother!!! 🙂

      2. Sorry, Allina. Toss anywhere between 1 and 1.5 cups of raspberries with 1 tablespoon of flour!

  28. I always have trouble to make a fluffy white cake when using butter ( instead of liquid fat), but this time, it turns out pretty good. I think extra egg white makes big difference in the result. I have been your fun for 4,5 years now, have most of good results in baking your receipts. Thanks! Diana

  29. Love your website. Especially thank you for including weight of ingredients because Australian measures are different to US.

  30. Hi Sally!

    I made this cake today and it was delicious! My family loved it! I was wondering if this recipe is big enough to use in a 12 by 18 in sheet pan?

    1. I’m so happy your family loved it, Shelby! I haven’t tested this batter in that size pan but you can visit my post on Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions for help determining how much batter you would need.

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