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, checkerboard cake with a whimsical design, and this layer cake filled with sprinkles.

What about classic vanilla cake draped in vanilla buttercream? I already have homemade vanilla cupcakes covered. But in all its crowning glory (and after plenty recipe testing catastrophes), I present you with cake perfection:

This is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had.

Vanilla cake with 3 layers

What Makes it the Best Vanilla Cake?

Let’s count the ways!

  1. Soft, light crumb from cake flour
  2. Fluffy from extra egg whites
  3. Buttery and cakey from creamed butter
  4. Stick-to-your-fork moist from eggs & buttermilk
  5. Extra flavor from pure vanilla extract

Not to mention its versatility: This vanilla cake batter is strong enough for shaped cakes, tiered cakes, and holds up beautifully under fondant. Use this batter for vanilla cupcakes, bundt cake, or even piñata cake. It’s classy enough for a wedding celebration, but unassuming enough for a big family dinner.

Vanilla cake slice

Behind the Vanilla Cake Recipe

After years of cake successes and flops, I’m confident in this homemade vanilla cake. During my recipe testing, I combined my white cake recipe and naked cake recipe. These are two reader favorites and I knew they’d be the best starting point. At first there were too many eggs and I quickly learned sifting cake flour was NOT doing any favors.

You need the following POWER INGREDIENTS:

  1. Cake Flour: No way around this! 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.
  2. Eggs & 2 additional egg whites: 3 whole eggs provide structure, moisture, and richness. 2 extra egg whites keep the cake light and airy. I don’t recommend using 4 whole eggs; stick to the 3 egg & 2 egg white combination.
  3. Baking Powder & Baking Soda: Use both. Remember why? Using enough baking powder to give these layers height gave the cake a bitter aftertaste. Baking soda allows us to use less baking powder.
  4. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is an acidic ingredient and baking soda requires an acid to work. Plus buttermilk yields an EXTRA moist cake crumb. See recipe note about the alternative.

For more prominent vanilla flavor, use homemade vanilla extract. (What a fun DIY gift!) This vanilla cake batter is moderately thick and fits perfectly in 3 9-inch cake pans.

Vanilla cake batter

Do you know how to level a cake? Let me help. It’s really easy. You can use a fancy cake leveler, but I use a serrated knife. Carefully slice off the tippy top of the cooled cake layers, creating a flat surface. Leveling cakes doesn’t require a ruler, talent, or any mathematical equations. Instead, just use your eyes, hands, and a knife.

Leveling the cake layers promises a straight and sturdy layer cake.

How to level a layer cake

Vanilla frosting on vanilla cake

How Much Frosting Between Cake Layers?

I always eyeball the amount of frosting between cake layers, but I measured when I decorated the pictured cake. The vanilla buttercream recipe below yields about 6 cups of frosting. I recommend you use about 1.5 heaping cups of buttercream between each cake layer and reserve the last 3 cups for outside the cake.

Cake Decoration Inspiration: For a simple look, stick with vanilla buttercream, fresh berries, and mint sprigs. You can also decorate with chocolate buttercream (I recommend this amount), rainbow sprinkles, or even beautiful buttercream flowers.

Top of a vanilla cake

Homemade Vanilla Cake Success Tips

Learn from my mistakes and bake the best cake on the 1st try!

  1. Follow the recipe closely. Use each power ingredient listed.
  2. Use room temperature ingredients. The batter mixes together evenly when all the cake ingredients are roughly the same temperature. This also reduces the risk of over-mixing and over-baking. Set out your ingredients 1 hour before beginning. Read here for more information.
  3. Line your cake pans with parchment. Place your cake pans on a large sheet of parchment paper. Trace the bottom of the cake pan with a pencil. Cut parchment paper into rounds. Grease the pan and the parchment paper. Parchment paper rounds guarantee seamless removal from the pan because the cake slides right out.
  4. Cool cake layers completely. I’ve tried taking shortcuts by assembling a layer cake with semi-warm cake layers. Well, the frosting completely melts and causes the entire cake to collapse. Make sure each layer is cool– refrigerate or freeze the layers if you need to!
  5. Refrigerate decorated cake. After frosting the cake, place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. This is optional, but it sets the frosting and cake layers. You’ll get beautifully clean slices because the crumbs are cool and tight.

Great read: Check out Tessa’s Top 10 Best Layer Cake Tips.

Vanilla cake

Finding the perfect vanilla cake recipe requires a celebration. Luckily we have cake!!!

More Classic Cake Recipes

And here is my perfected vanilla cupcakes recipe.

Print
Vanilla cake

Best Vanilla Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: 12 servings
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

With its outstanding vanilla flavor, pillowy soft crumb, and creamy vanilla buttercream, this is truly the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had. Make sure you read through the recipe and recipe notes before beginning.


Ingredients

  • 3 and 2/3 cups (420g) cake flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 2 additional egg whites, at room temperature*
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract (yes, Tbsp!)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 6 cups (720g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the 3 eggs, 2 egg whites, and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 2 minutes. (Mixture will look curdled as a result of the egg liquid and solid butter combining.) Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients just until combined. With the mixer still running on low, pour in the buttermilk and mix just until combined. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
  4. Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Weigh them to ensure accuracy, if desired. Bake for around 23-26 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  5. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more milk if frosting is too thick, or an extra pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
  6. Assemble and decorate: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I use and recommend an icing spatula to apply the frosting.
  7. Refrigerate cake for at least 1 hour before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
  2. 9×13 Inch Cake: I recommend using my white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake. See recipe notes for the 9×13 inch version.
  3. 2 Layer Cake: I recommend using my 2 layer white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake.
  4. Bundt Cake: This vanilla cake batter will fit into a 10-cup or larger bundt pan. I’m unsure of the exact bake time (likely around an hour), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same oven temperature.
  5. Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19-21 minutes. Yields about 3 dozen. Or try my vanilla cupcakes recipe.
  6. Cake Flour: To prevent a dry-tasting cake, make sure you are spooning and leveling the flour or weighing it. For the best results, I strongly recommend cake flour. You can find it in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it. If you cannot get your hands on cake flour, you can make a DIY version from all-purpose flour and cornstarch as instructed in these recipe notes. The cake will not be as light and fluffy.
  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

653 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,

    I have made several of you cakes and they have been a big hit. I do have a question about the frosting. The recipe asks for so much confectioner’s sugar that I don’t know if I can do it. What happens to the frosting if I use less than the amount listed or even half the amount? Does it affect the consistency, spread-ability or the stiffness of the frosting? Just want to know what happens if I use much less than listed.

    Thanks so much for all the great recipes.

    1. Hi Nina! I agree, it’s a lot of sugar in the frosting. But this yields a lot of frosting! American buttercream is, by nature, very sweet. Reducing the confectioners’ sugar will leave you with a greasy buttercream as there won’t be enough dry ingredients to soak up the fat in the butter and milk/cream. How about using a swiss meringue buttercream instead? Or you can replace some of the sugar with unsweetened cocoa powder to yield a chocolate frosting.

  2. Yet another amazing looking cake recipe of yours to add to my list! I just was comparing this recipe with the New Favorite White Layer Cake and I see that this one has more flour but less leavening ingredients. How does that work? Is it because of the extra egg whites?

    1. Hi Melissa! This is a great question and I’m happy to share my mindset when recipe testing the cake. You usually need around 1 teaspoon of baking powder for 1 cup of flour. That would require almost 4 tsps of baking powder in this cake and will result in a bitter aftertaste. Nearly 4x more powerful than baking powder, baking soda picks up the slack. Both cakes (this vanilla cake and the white cake) actually have the same amount of leavening (since BS is stronger than BP), but this one does call for more flour. However, cake flour is lighter than all-purpose and without sour cream (like in the white cake), the crumb isn’t weighed down as much thus requiring less leavening to lift the crumb. 🙂

  3. Hi,
    Do I need to spoon in and level the flour for this recipe?
    Looking forward to trying this recipe out this weekend!! Thank you

  4. Hi Sally. I have a question about vanilla. Do you prefer using a vanilla extract? If yes what brand or brands do you buy? What would you say about vanilla bean paste? Any experience using this one? Thank you

    1. Hi Oksana! To keep some uniformity in all my baking and recipe testing, I always use pure vanilla extract. I rely on McCormick brand (not sponsored, truly a fan!). I buy it in bulk when I can. Vanilla bean paste is wonderful as well, but it’s not as readily available to most. Most vanilla bean pastes come with substitution instructions– you usually use about half the amount when subbing in for vanilla extract.

  5. I have a question for you. What do you do with all of your test batches (cakes, cookies, pies, etc)? I have always been curious what you do with all of it. I would love to bake more but am not sure what to do with it all. Any creative suggestions other than my husband and I or co-workers?

    1. Hi Brenda! If they are truly disasters, like when the center of one cake tasted like scrambled eggs, I toss it out. I freeze most of it or share with anyone who’s willing to take it. Leftover cake is wonderful for cake pops (which can be frozen for a special event later) or trifles.

  6. Hi Sally!
    I have never used cake flour before because I couldn’t find it in my local store so I just used your tip on using corn starch. I’m looking online now to see what store has cake flour and I know this is a silly question, but is it unbleached?

  7. Thank. You sally for the vanilla cake recipe.matter of fact i will keep all of them.i thank you so much.i love different recipe s.when i make it i will let you know how it came out.

  8. I just LOVE how fluffy these cake layers look. Reminds me of our sponge cake a bit but ingredients are different. I’m definitely looking forward to try this cake. I’m a cake person and it definitely caught my eye! 🙂

  9. You were not kidding. Just took the cakes out of the oven and they are soooooo good!! (I skimmed some off to try.)
    I actually was about to make another recipe of yours and then this one popped up on IG yesterday… And so happy it did.

  10. Hey, Sally:)
    I am making a naked cake soon, would this recipe be good to use or is your specific naked cake recipe more suited to that purpose?

  11. Sally, what product do you use to grease cake pans? I know of several methods (butter, Pam, flour/Crisco combo, etc) but would like to know what you think works best.

  12. Hav u ever used egg substitutes? My husband does not eat eggs and I have so far successfully made your triple chocolate cake without eggs but recipies that call for egg whites….i am not sure what may be a good substitute and dare I say I am a little tired of making chocolate cake over and over again

    1. Hi Kelly, I don’t have any first hand experience replacing the egg whites. I’m not sure of another product that you would be able to whip to get the same airy texture for this particular cake.

  13. hi Sally, I followed this recipe exactly but the cakes turned out thick and dense and really solid. I don’t know what I did wrong :/ bit of shame really because I made your sugar plum fairy cupcakes last week and they were so nice and I thought this cake might have a similar texture.

  14. Hi Sally! Happy New Year!
    I was wondering if this recipe is the same as previously posted, or did you make any changes to this cake?
    Thank you!

  15. I love this vanilla cake! It is sturdy and is perfect for when I need a firm cake. I was worried that 1T of vanilla would be overpowering but it was perfect. I didn’t have buttercream or whole milk to make buttercream with so I took 3T of heavy whipping cream and as much 2% milk to make 1.5 cups and then I added 1.5t of fresh squeezed lemon juice and let it sit for 5 minutes. Voila – whole milk buttermilk. Worked perfect. Thanks for another great recipe Sally!

  16. Would this recipe work as a rainbow cake if I did half the amount of batter in each layer? I want to make a rainbow cake for my daughter’s birthday.

  17. This cake is stunning in its simplicity Sally! You’re so classy – I love it 🙂 What’s your ultimate favorite white or yellow/vanilla cupcake recipe? Do you mind listing all your white/vanilla cakes and how they differ from each other? I’m considering making cupcakes for a bday party I’m hosting … want to keep the cake non-flavored but topped with different flavored frostings. Thank you!!

  18. Sally,
    When you use the print function on this page the recipe that prints does not match what you have on the blog. The printed recipe calls for 3 cups of cake flour and 1 cup of buttermilk. I didn’t check the rest because I’m out of time. Hopefully what is on the blog is accurate because that is the recipe I’m going with.

  19. Hi Sally! I’ve been asked to make a milk free cake. Is there any dairy free alternative to buttermilk that would work? Thanks so much!
    Christine

    1. Hi Christine! Sure is. You can use a nondairy milk. Make sure you are adding the vinegar or lemon juice as noted in the recipe notes.

  20. I made this cake yesterday and it was a lot of fun. I used 8 inch pans, so the bake time was about 6 minutes longer. I just used a thermometer and took it out when it reached 205. They layers are nice and tall, even after a quick shave to level them. I did struggle a little bit with the icing. It just wouldn’t get smooth for me. Guessing I must have mis-measured the powdered sugar. The cake turned out so pretty and everyone has loved it!

    1. Hi Symone! For a 9×13 inch cake, see my recipe note. For a larger sheet cake such as 12×17 inches, this batter should be plenty.

1 2 3 4 11

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

With kitchen-tested quality recipes and step-by-step tutorials, my goal is to give you the confidence to bake and cook from scratch.

Recipes You’ll Love

Archives

Categories

Sally's Baking Challenge

Join the community on the 1st of every month as we tackle a new challenge recipe.

View More

Sally's Cookie Palooza

A tradition since 2013, every December we countdown to Christmas with 10 new cookie recipes in a row!

View More

Sally's Pie Week

The first week of every November is all about Thanksgiving Pies.

View More

My Cookbooks

About Sally

Welcome to my Kitchen!

I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally

×