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 (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: cake, vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, baking, birthday cake

Vanilla cake slice on white plate

1178 Comments

  1. This is hands-down the best recipe I have ever tried. It has been my go-to for 2+ years now. They were the highlight of my sister’s baby shower, my dad’s birthday and I’m back here to bake my son’s 3rd birthday cake tonight. Thank you for sharing this! Sometimes I swap the unsalted butter with salted…I’m bad, I know!! 🙂

  2. Hi. If we want to use liquid egg whites in a cake (the one from a carton) in recipes like this one that call for additional egg whites or only egg whites but no whipping. Would it make a difference in the texture? Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Hallie, When you don’t need to whip them, you can use carton egg whites if needed.

  3. Hi, I would like to make this cake in a 9×13 cake pan that is shaped like a book. How long do you think it should be baked in the oven? I plan to fill it about half way. The highest part of the pan is 2 inches. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mon, For a 9×13 Inch Cake we recommend using our white cake batter instead. See recipe note for details.

  4. Bekah Ackerman says:

    It is so good my daughter loved it for her birthday. We aded a little too much batter so we cut off the top, is that fine?

  5. I just tried this for the first time tonight. By the time the middle was cooked, the outside edges were a bit burnt. Any tips?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Aaron, Are you using conventional oven settings? If using convection/fan settings the general rule of thumb is to lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F. But either way you can cover the top of your pans with aluminum foil part way through the bake time if you notice the tops browning before the center is finished baking.

      1. Aaron Fallon says:

        Hmm… the tops didn’t brown — just the sides and bottom. They were burnt while the middle and top were still wet. Maybe I had the oven up to high?

  6. Hi! I have made your petit four recipe with the cream cheese pound cake and it was lovely! But I want to try them again and use this vanilla cake recipe instead of the pound cake. I will be dividing the batter so that I don’t need to cut it in half and just bake multiple thin sheet cakes. Any suggestions or substitutions that I should consider for this recipe so that it’ll hold up for a petit four?

    Thanks so much! I love all of your cake recipes and I’m so excited to make it!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Shannon, Pound cake has an ideal texture for petit fours because it won’t squish when you layer or cut the tiny cakes. You can certainly try using this vanilla cake recipe instead and bake it in thinner layers, but we haven’t tested it that way so we are unsure of the bake time you will need. Just be sure that the cake is sufficiently chilled before cutting. Let us know how it turns out!

  7. Mike Sutter says:

    This didn’t taste bad, but I had a couple of issues with the recipe.

    The batter was decently thick and fluffy as it went into the cake pans to the point where I had to spread it around in the pan before putting it in the oven. The actual cakes ended up shrinking down from where the batter was, rather than rising. Not sure why that happened. The end result was that the cake’s texture, while soft and fluffy, wasn’t quite as airy or light as I would have hoped. Dense and a little drier than I would have liked. Also, the edges of the cake had slightly crispy raised edges. I baked these as written in Fat Daddio 9″ aluminum pans, which I haven’t had any issue with since I started using them.

    The frosting tasted great, but wasn’t nearly enough to go between layers and cover the 3 layers. I also tend to go for a heaping cup between layers rather than a full cup and a half, and even that was not enough to adequately cover the finished cake. I had to go back and make more. Turned out fine in the end, but a little frustrating.

    Overall not a bad cake, but I don’t think I’ll go for this particular recipe again. A little disappointing as most of the recipes on this blog are super consistent and foolproof.

  8. Ilen Wuech says:

    Hi! Can I use this recipe in a 2 layered 8” cake? Thanks in advance !

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Ilen, for a two layer cake, we recommend using our 2 layer white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake. Bake time will be slightly longer to account for the extra batter in your 8 inch pans. Or, if you decide to use this recipe, fill your 2 pans half way and use the leftover batter for a few cupcakes. Let us know how it turns out for you!

  9. Can I use vanilla bean paste instead of extract?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Cat, vanilla bean paste is a wonderful replacement for the vanilla extract. Most vanilla bean pastes come with substitution instructions– you usually use about half the amount when subbing in for vanilla extract.

  10. Hi Sally, I love your recipes and I would really love to try this particular one. I love making tall 6″ cakes. I have 4 cake pans that are 3″ deep. Would this recipe suit? And also, how would that change baking time. Thanks in advance!!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Una, for a 6 inch cake, we’d recommend using our 6 inch vanilla cake recipe instead. It yields the perfect amount for 3 layers. Hope you enjoy it!

  11. Would once recipe fill a half sheet pan and what would the baking time be?

  12. Stephanie Burns says:

    Hi! How can I make this recipe for a 3 layer 10 inch cake? Love it!!!! Want to make it for a baby shower cake 10inches.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Stephanie! Here is everything you need to know about converting recipes to different Cake Pan Sizes. Happy baking!

  13. Will this recipe work for 3 8×3 pans?

  14. Hello!
    I tried this out last week to sample it and my son absoloutly loved it. I would like to use this recipe to make a tiered birthday cake. If I was to do a 6″ three layer, 8″ three layer and 10″ three layer, would doubling this recipe be enough? I’m all ears to suggested baking times and ammounts of batter per pan to if you feel the urge to share <3

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Samantha, you can use our handy Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions guide to help scale this recipe — keeping in mind, we recommend making the batches separately rather than doubling or tripling. You might also find our Homemade Wedding Cake post helpful for more tips and tricks on making stacked cakes!

  15. I used this for my daughters party and it was amazing ! I’m back to use it for my sons and I was going to use 3 8” pans. How do you think that will do?! Otherwise I only have three 9inx 2 in. What do you recommend ?! Thank you!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jaclyn, You can use 8 inch round pans for slightly thicker layers with no changes to the recipe. You may need an extra minute or two of bake time since they layers will be thicker – use a toothpick to test for doneness. Or, you can use the 9 inch pans as written. Enjoy!

  16. Jim Nixon says:

    I made the cake for my wife for mother’s day I added a pound of raspberries. It came out very moist. I’m very satisfied with the results. I didn’t make any changes to the original recipe.

  17. Lynn Gillis says:

    This is the best vanilla cake and buttercream icing that I’ve ever baked. However, just wondering if i can cut both recipes in half as it makes quite a bit of cupcakes and icing?
    I know you have vanilla cupcake recipes but i really love this one.
    Thank you

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lynn, absolutely! Simply halve each recipe.

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