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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 vanilla layer cake draped in vanilla buttercream? I already have homemade vanilla cupcakes and a 6 inch vanilla cake covered and 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.
  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: Remember the differences in baking powder vs baking soda and why we use both in some recipes? 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. We 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 the same amount from this piñata cake), 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 (includes cooling)
  • Yield: 1214 servings 1x
  • 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. This recipe yields approximately 8 cups of batter which is helpful if you need this batter for different cake pans and conversions.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 and 2/3 cups (433g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons 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
  • 5 and 1/2 cups (650g) 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. Usually a homemade cake flour substitute works, but this recipe uses far too much cake flour and the homemade substitute is not ideal.
  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: vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, birthday cake

Vanilla cake slice on white plate

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Hi Sally! I live near Denver at 6000 feet and I need help converting this recipe for high altitude. I made it exactly as written and it was delicious but a bit dry. Usually I have to modify cakes by adding more liquid and adjusting the flour, but having your measurements would be really helpful, thanks!!!

    1. Hi Holly! We wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. We know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  2. I’m not sure if the gram measurements are correct but I’ve done this twice now and the cake has come out dense again and looks undercooked. The second time round I bet the egg whites separately and had to bake for 45 minutes until the knife came out clean and it still looks undercooked. I’m thinking perhaps US ovens are different and that this recipe is not for those in Europe.

    1. Hi Michelle! I’ve lived in Germany for many years and have had my share of trouble adapting recipes! In general, the wheat in Europe doesn’t absorb as much moisture as in the US (different varietals) so adding more flour can help. This is of course a trial and error process… start with a couple a tablespoons until the consistency improves. Good luck!

  3. Could I tint these layers? Looking to make a Frozen cake for my 3 year olds birthday and thought it would be fun to have the layers different colors

    1. Hi Mary, You can certainly add food coloring to the batter. Enjoy!

  4. Hi Sally
    I was reading up on freezing cakes and wanted to see if you could use the vaccumed seal bags without aluminum foil

    1. We haven’t tested vacuum sealing cakes, but let us know if you do!

    2. I would try freezing the cake first, then vacuum sealing it. I experimented on some store-bought mini cakes and they seemed to hold their shape pretty well using this technique. They did squish a little, though. I think its a great idea, the vacuum sealing helps preserve the quality!

    1. Hi Layla! We don’t usually include nutrition information as it can vary between different brands of the same ingredients. Plus, many recipes have ingredient substitutions or optional ingredients listed. However, there are many handy online calculators where you can plug in and customize your exact ingredients/brands. Readers have found this one especially helpful: https://www.verywellfit.com/recipe-nutrition-analyzer-4157076

    1. Hi Lauren, we’re unsure of the exact bake time, but it will be much less. Be sure to only fill your pans about half way. Enjoy!

  5. I added chocolate chips and used chocolate buttercream, and it was amazing! FIVE STARS ALWAYS! I made this as a birthday cake and it was really good. Everyone gave it a 10/10 and I was really happy with it. Very light and soft, and the vanilla flavor is very bold. Another good recipe as always (I use Sally’s recipes a lot!).

  6. Best cake recipe! Made this cake again this weekend and it was perfect. Thanks so much! 5 stars!!

    1. Did you use your vanilla cake for the Snickerdoodle cake? I’m going to make this cake for dessert after we eat are Christmas Dinner.

  7. Hi there! I made this cake tonight and everyone LOVED the flavour, it was moist and delicious. However I noticed when I levelled the layers that they had holes in the cakes. All 3 layers had this inconsistent texture. Would you know why this happened? Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Annie! Small bubbles in cakes are normal, but if you have larger bubbles or holes in your cakes it could be from any number of reasons. Some common causes of air bubbles are over-mixing the batter, not having all of your ingredients at room temperature, using too much leaveners, or adding the eggs all at once instead of one at a time. Hope this helps for next time!

      1. Thanks so much for your insight, I think I over beat the batter.
        Thank you !!

  8. Hi Sally,
    I’m in Australia and I think our cake flour must be heavier than yours. 3 & 2/3 cups of cake flour is equating to 548g. Would you suggest using the grams you suggest (433g) or the cups? Thank you

  9. Hi Sally, can i divide batter in two 9inch pans, and cut the layers on two after baking? Thanks

    1. Hi Jelena, for a 2 layer cake, we strongly recommend using our 2 layer white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake. You can then try cutting the layers from that recipe.

  10. Awesome recipe! The cake was moist and the icing was incredible! I wouldn’t change a thing.

  11. Hi! I made a previous comment on how much batter to make for a 7″x2.5′” cake pan and 5″x1.75″ cake pan. I’ve figured that for three layers of each size, all I need to do is double this recipe which makes my life a lot easier! I was wondering if you or anyone else could be able to recommend to me how long I should bake each of the sizes of cakes for? Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Mathu, we’re unsure of the exact bake times, but it will be less than the times mentioned in this post. Keep a close eye on the layers and use a toothpick to test for doneness.

    1. Hi Candy, we don’t recommend that. The leaveners are activated once mixed, and the cakes will not bake up the same way if the batter isn’t used right away. Here is a helpful post on how to freeze cake layers if you’d like to make your layers ahead of time.

  12. Hi! I tried making this recipe and loved it.

    I was wondering if I could use this as a base vanilla cake and add flavor to it? Like extract, how many teaspoon would you recommend? Thank you!

    1. Hi Lisa, We are so happy you enjoy this cake! You can definitely add other extracts to it without making any other changes. You will still want to use some of the vanilla extract. How much really depends on what flavors you are using as some are much stronger than others – start with a small amount and adjust if needed!

  13. Hiya, can I use this exact recipe for a doll cake I will be using the wilton domed cake tin for this? Thanks.

    1. We haven’t tested this batter in that mold but don’t see why it would be an issue!

      1. Hiya, thanks so much for such a quick response. I will give it a try for my twins birthday cakes tomorrow. One last question will this cake be OK for lots of fondant to go on as I will be putting on quite a bit for the dress? Thanks.

    1. Hi Christy, you can absolutely make a rainbow cake — we have many times! We typically split the batter among 5 pans for thinner layers. If you wanted, you could make the recipe twice for 6, regular sized layers (the cake would be quite large). We’re unsure of the exact bake time, but it will be less since the layers are thinner. Let us know what you try!

      1. Thank you for the quick reply. I’ll be doing this week. Would I use 5 8 inch or 9 inch pans?

  14. Would this cake be good with lemon buttercream & raspberry filling? If so, do I frost the inside layer then add the filling or filing first? Thanks

    1. Hi Amy, that would be delicious! We recommend a thin layer of frosting first, then creating a ring of frosting around the edges with the filling inside the ring. This will ensure it doesn’t squeeze out the sides.

    1. Hi Alex, absolutely — to make a sprinkle cake, fold about 3/4 cup (120g) of sprinkles into the cake batter.

    1. Hi Christy! You can absolutely make a rainbow cake — we have many times! We typically split the batter among 5 pans for thinner layers. If you wanted, you could make the recipe twice for 6, regular sized layers (the cake would be quite large). Either the 8 inch or 9 inch pans should work. We’re unsure of the exact bake time, but it will be less since the layers are thinner. Let us know what you try!

  15. Why do you recommend a different recipe for a 9×13 pan? What will be different if this recipe is made with a 9×13 pan?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Amy, mostly for structure purposes. We find sheet cakes (in some instances) have a tendency to become quite dense. We really like this vanilla sheet cake recipe though. It uses the reverse creaming method. Best cake crumb!

  16. Can this recipe be used for prune cake batter? I’m looking for a recipe that’s not too dense which I can mix chopped prunes to.

    1. Hi April, we haven’t tried adding chopped prunes to this batter so we’re unsure of the result. If you do decide to give it a try, let us know how it goes.

  17. Really good cake and easy to make, I do have a quick question …

    I am eating it on Friday (possibly Saturday) and I made it today (Wednesday), I am a college student so I have it currently saran-wrapped inside a big halloween bucket and hoping for the best. Any suggestions? I did not have time to make it Thursday or Friday so I had to do it Wednesday (today). But overall really easy and delicious recipe.

  18. Sally: My adult son requested this as a sheet cake with your cream cheese icing recipe. I was surprised with his request as my specialities are Hummingbird and Ooey Gooey Butter Cakes. It was such a hit at Thanksgiving with rave reviews from everyone! I added a fresh raspberry to each cake square. So beautiful and luxuriously delicious!

  19. Made this cake for my husbands birthday and I only had heavy cream so I used half heavy cream and half water with lemon for the buttermilk and it turned out wonderful. I used frozen blackberries we picked from the summer to make a jam that I used in between all the layers and it took this cake to another level! I followed the recipe for the frosting and realized I didn’t have enough powdered sugar but I did have a little bit of cream cheese which I threw in to the frosting and my husband and his friend commented that it was one of the best cakes they have ever had. Will be using this recipe again!

  20. Really looking forward to making this cake soon! I’m looking to make a 6″ round (4-5 layers) and I normally use a spring form cake tin. Do you have any recommendations for baking using this size and type of tin?
    Thanks

  21. Hi Sally. In the comments about your years of cake successes and flops, you noted “…and I quickly learned sifting cake flour was NOT doing any favors.” So do we sift the cake flour for this recipe (prior to spooning and leveling)? I realize measuring by grams is the best but unfortunately I don’t have a way to do that right now. Thanks.

    1. Hi Sandra, we do not sift the cake flour for this recipe. (Only sift if you see the word “sifted” alongside an ingredient in a recipe). Hope this helps!

  22. This is my Go-To cake recipe for birthdays. I have used it as the base for all kinds of fillings and frostings. It’s so delicious I can’t resist snacking on the cake scraps after leveling the layers.

    Sally, of you ever publish a cake cookbook please include this recipe in its entirety! And please publish a cake cookbook!

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