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,
    I would like to bake this cake for my son’s birthday, but he has a phosphorus restriction. I would need to use cream of tartar/baking soda as a sub for the baking powder and rice milk with vinegar for the buttermilk. Do you think that will work for this cake?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Angie, I know rice milk with vinegar will work, but haven’t tested with a cream of tartar/baking soda substitution. Let me know what you try.

  2. In the picture the icing isn’t very smooth and for my cake I would prefer it to be smooth. I just wondering you did that on purpose or the actual icing doesn’t get very smooth? I’m looking forward to making this cake.

  3. I’m a HUGE fan. I love your recipes!!!! I tried this vanilla cake with your tuxedo cake to make a checkerboard cake and I found the density of the cakes to differ quite a bit. This vanilla one was more dense and firm than the tuxedo cake which was more moist and airy. I chose these two because they are both 9”, 3 layer cakes and I liked the espresso/coffee/sour cream elements of the tuxedo cake. If I were to try a different combination of chocolate vanilla cakes to make a checkerboard cake which two would you recommend? The cake was of course still delicious just trickier to put together at different densities. Or perhaps I made a mistake on the vanilla cake and it should be a similar density? Worth a second try?

    1. Hi Kali! Two options: you can create a denser cake from the Tuxedo Cake batter. Replace the buttermilk with more sour cream and reduce the hot coffee to 1/3 cup. Or you can try to lighten up this crumb– I have several helpful tips in my How to Prevent a Dry or Dense Cake post. Give it a quick read!

  4. Hi Sally,
    Have you tried using this recipe for a sphere or half sphere cake? If so, what would be the recommended bake time?

    1. Hi Emily! I haven’t tried it. With any adjustments, bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

  5. I just made cupcakes with this recipe and the bottoms are kind of greasy. Any idea what I might have done wrong? Other than that they are awesome!! It’s my first time making homemade cupcakes and your recipe&blog made sure I did not fail.

    1. Hi Lesley! It sounds like the cupcakes could have been under-baked. Also, try using foil liners. I never experience greasy cupcake bottoms no matter which recipe I use.

      1. Thanks for your feedback! The cupcakes were fully cooked, but I’m starting to think I might have under mixed the batter at some point. The ingredients might not have incorporated as well as they should have.. Either way, it’s not stopping me from trying again 🙂 I love all your recipes!

  6. Hi Sally!
    If I am concerned that my over is somewhat uneven and putting all three pans it once on the same rack would mean they all cook slightly differently, would it be OK to make all the batter and bake them off one at a time? Or does leaving the “ready to go” batter sitting in their pans risk more of an issue? Thoughts?

      1. Ah great advice ill do that and just watch a bit more carefully to assure proper “doneness”
        Thanks!

    1. Hi Sarah, I have not tested this cake with a vegan buttery stick instead of butter so I’m uncertain of the results. You should be able to make a non-dairy buttermilk using either lemon juice or vinegar with soy or almond milk. Let me know if you try it.

  7. Do you think it will be fluffier if i sift the flour before measuring it? I want to try your tecipe for wedding cake of a friend of mine and i want her to try it. Thank you for your future input.

    1. Hi Helen! You can sift the cake flour before spooning and leveling it to measure. However, I fear the cake may taste a little wet since sifting isn’t necessary for this particular cake batter. If this will be your bottom tier for the homemade wedding cake, you’ll want it to be pretty sturdy– so I recommend making it as written.

  8. I recently used this recipe to make a candy pinata cake for my granddaughers birthday. I made four 8″ layers from it, and used gel food coloring to tint each layer (light pink, rose pink, pinkish-purple, purple), but otherwise made it exactly as written. Everyone loved it! I only got a small taste (from the cutouts of the second and third layers as I assembled it) but I thought it was delicious – a really soft and light crumb but sturdy at the same time. I’ve learned that cake flour almost always give a better product in regard to vanilla cake/cupcakes – it just improves the texture so much. I am by no means a professional but learned that through trial and error. Anyway, one guest raved to me that her husband loved this cake, and he is not normally a “cake person”! I find your recipes to be consistently successful – thank you! Can you recommend a chocolate cake with a similar crumb/texture that would work well for a layered pinata cake? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Rebecca! I’m so happy to read this, thank you so much for taking the time to report back to me! I saw this question of yours on the chocolate mousse cake and answered there!

    1. Hi Hannah, The bake time will be about the same. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done.

  9. Hi sally.
    Thank you for sharing your recipe.
    I made it on Saturday and it was lovely.
    There’s just one thing I’m hoping that you could help me with.
    I baked the cake at the right temperature for about 40 minutes. I put a skewer through the middle to test if it was done and it was. However, when you slice into the cake, I hope I can describe this properly, there were different textures.
    It was like an eighth of one of the layers looked uncooked whilst the rest of it looked normal.
    I hope I’m describing it properly. It was just rather odd.
    Do you have any idea of what I did or what I didn’t do?

    1. Hi Princess, I’m glad that you enjoyed the recipe! Did you test all three layers with a toothpick/skewer? Layers can bake at slightly different speeds when we don’t have the exact amount of batter in each pan (almost all the time!) or when ovens have hot spots. I usually end up having to cook one layer a minute or two longer than the others.

    1. Hi Marisa, You don’t need to make any changes. Your layers will be slightly taller but oven temperature and bake time will remain the same.

  10. Hi Sally,
    Question: could i add cocoa powder to some of the batter for a marbled cake? I’ve made the marbled cake from your recipes before and everyone loved it but they seem to love the vanilla cake for its freshness.
    Also, could i bake it tomorrow? I won’t be serving it till Saturday but would like to work on icing and fondant day by day. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Laila, Simply adding a dry and bitter ingredient to the vanilla batter will dry out the cake. You can see in my Zebra Cake that I had to add a little sugar and milk with the cocoa powder. I recommend you use that recipe and you can certainly layer it more like a marble cake if you don’t want the zebra pattern.

  11. Hello from London (UK), I was hoping to add some white chocolate chips to the batter, do you think doing so would affect the texture of the cake in any way? -Or would they all just sink to the bottom of each layer (perhaps cover in flour first)? Also my cake making is still very much in its infancy, so butter cream will be replaced by bought fondant, rolled out… *on the wrapper it says either to lay over buttercream or appricot jam. What do you think -might jam work with this sponge (perhaps with whisked double cream underneath)? Thanks

    1. Hi Jasmine, You should be able to fold in chocolate chips to the cake batter at the very end just before baking. I don’t have much experience covering cakes with fondant as I actually find it more difficult to work with than buttercream 🙂

  12. I love this recipe. I’m making one for a friend’s birthday today and coconut is her favorite. Can I add coconut to the batter? Say about a cup? Thanks for all your great recipes! You inspire me daily

  13. This cake looks amazing. I would like to make it for my husbands birthday today but I only have one 10×2.75” cake pan. Can I make one taller cake and cut it in half for the filling?

    1. Hi Amber, I fear it will be too much batter to put the entire thing in one 10 inch pan. You can certainly make the full recipe, fill your pan only 2/3 full and then use any leftover batter to make some cupcakes to freeze for later or enjoy with the cake.

  14. Somehow I always manage to ruin the unruinable when it’s about baking, but this recipe IS FAILPROOF! I had messed a previous cake I tried making (came out raw and stiff in the middle), so I tried this recipe as a last resort before just quitting and buying one at the store. To add to the pain, I didn’t have any 9” pans, so I tried using a 1/4 sheet pan instead and I prayed to all saints for it to work lol. The cake came out PERFECT, I almost cried. Fluffy, soft, and really tasty, and even the pan size worked perfectly. Stars must have aligned that night or something. This one is a keeper, you saved my life!

  15. Hi Sally,
    I have made this cake before and it was fantastic and am wanting to make it again for my sons birthday. However we have recently found out my husband is celiac so i was wondering if this could be made with gluten free flour? Thanks, Bec

    1. Hi Bec, I have not tested this recipe with gluten free flour so I’m unsure how it would compare to the original. Let me know if you try it!

  16. Hi Sally,

    Can’t wait to try this recipe– is there some way I can use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract? Or would that be inadvisable?

    1. Hi Dugan, I still recommend using some vanilla extract even if you add vanilla bean. I recommend scraping the seeds from 1/2 or 1 whole vanilla bean, then using 1 or 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.

    1. HI Dugan, It depends on how many and the size of the flowers you wish to make! If you are just doing a few, or a simple border, you should have enough icing as written.

  17. Would this cake be sturdy enough to hold up to being lightly soaked with kahlua and then filled with swiss meringue buttercream and salted caramel?

  18. This cake is amazing! The only change I made was I added 2tbs of vanilla extract to bump up the flavor and this is now my holy grail vanilla cake recipe. Thanks so much Sally!

  19. Hi! I just made this cake but I fear I added too much batter to the pans. They’ve risen to almost 3” tall and are exceeding the bake time. I’ve set them in for another ten minutes or so. The centres have domed up as well. How thick do you usually pour the batter? About an inch for the 9” pan? I may have either botched the recipe or poured too much!

    1. Hi Angie, You can either scale up this cake to make a larger quantity of this cake batter. Or for the easiest (i.e. less math!) method I recommend using my 2 layer white cake batter instead, and make it twice for 4 total layers. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake.

  20. Hi, can you make this batter in advance, say the day before and keep it in the fridge overnight? -Would it be okay the next day to pour and bake, or would it split, separate?

    Thanks!

    1. No, I don’t recommend making any cake batter in advance. Once it’s mixed the leaveners are activated and should be baked right away for your cake to rise.

  21. I have a 10 inch round cake pan, would it work using the same quantities on this recipe or would I need to increase the quantities? I would like to do a two or three layer cake for my sons birthday party.

  22. I’ve used this recipe several times. As cupcakes and as a layed cakes. I also used it with a cinnamon swirl for a cinnamon caramel praline cake. Deeelicious!! I always get compliments on how light and fluffy it is. I used 8″ cake pans and I just had to bake a little longer. Best vanilla cake recipe ever. Thanks, Sally!!

  23. I have been on a quest for about 10 years to make a great, bakery-style homemade cake. I’ve come close, but never hit the mark. I made this cake today and it was PERFECT!!! I bought fresh baking powder to make sure that would not be an issue. I used Watkins baking pure vanilla. So perfectly delicious. I am so happy and can’t wait to make this for my daughter’s birthday party in 2 weeks. I need to add food coloring to the layers, so I’m hoping that can be added with the buttermilk? Thanks for this great recipe!

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