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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. Hello! Will it work to make this a strawberry ombre cake for Mothers Day? I was hoping to use the “not too sweet whipped” frosting recipe…perhaps add small diced strawberry? Too much? 🙂

    1. Hi Stephanie, for a strawberry flavored cake, we’d recommend following our strawberry cake recipe instead. Strawberries can be a tricky ingredient since they add so much moisture to a recipe, so it’s better to follow that recipe specifically formulated for using strawberries. However you could just use gel food coloring to make an ombre batter — same for the not-so-sweet frosting, if you want an ombre decorated cake. Let us know what you try!

      1. Yes, I meant using this recipe and making an ombré cake with food coloring. I was wondering if I added chopped strawberries to the “not too sweet whipped frosting” recipe for the layers would be problematic? I’m going to use pinks for the ombré coloring.

  2. Hello! I’m loving this recipe and would like to try it for a 1/4 sheet cake. Will this recipe make 7 cups of batter? Should I double it? Will that effect the outcome?

    1. I’ve baked the sponges and just realised I forgot to put the buttermilk in! Will the cake be just as nice?!

      1. Hi Taylor, your cake will not be as moist without the buttermilk. If you choose not to serve the cake, you can always crumble it up and use it on ice cream!

  3. I love this cake, but my daughter has requested strawberry frosting for her birthday cake this weekend so I’m going to try making your strawberry buttercream. Would making 1.5 times the strawberry buttercream recipe be enough for this 3 layer cake or do I need to double the frosting recipe? Thank you!

    1. Hi Rachel, if you’re looking for a cake recipe that can be adapted for half chocolate batter, we recommend following our zebra cake recipe instead. Hope this helps!

  4. Hello! Is there any way that I could turn this into a 2 layer cake recipe? This is my go to vanilla cake recipe but I want to just make 2 layers this time but Im not sure how
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Moonie, 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.

    2. Just made this with two 8 inch pans yesterday. The bake time increased by 10 minutes but otherwise it was spot on. I made a “practice cake” with the leftover batter in a small loaf pan for my daughter to practice decorating. Fun times.

  5. I just made this with my niece and the cake was delicious, however the layers turned out very dense and did not have a nice light crumb. Wondering if this could be because the oven was set to convection bake?

    1. Hi RP, Convection ovens are fantastic for cooking and roasting. If you have the choice, we recommend conventional settings when baking cakes, breads, etc. The flow of air from convection heat can cause baked goods to rise and bake unevenly and it also pulls moisture out of the oven. If you do use convection settings for baking, lower your temperature by 25 degrees F and keep in mind that things may still take less time to bake.

      1. Hii! I’m in loveee with your recipes. Thank you so much for such detailed recipes. I’m from India and want to make a nice Alphonso mango cream cake so need nice vanilla cake for layers. Is this the perfect recipe for that ?

  6. This is a very tasty cake!! I was worried about the consistency of the batter. It reminded me of pancake mix. But it turned out amazing and tasted great. A big hit. The frosting was so delicious too. It was like a whipped frosting texture, nice and airy! I’m going to have a look through your recipes for one that is smoother for a different decorating style. You’re my go to site for years and never disappoint!! Thank you!

  7. Hi. I want to make this cake, but I only have 2x 9inch pans. I still want to do 3 layers though. How would you go about it? Devide before mixing dry and wet ingredients together?

    1. Hi Lynette, you can make the batter as instructed, fill your two pans, and then leave the remaining batter covered at room temperature while the other two layers are baking. Hope you enjoy the cake!

  8. Hello! I made this cake and it tasted delicious except it had a slightly gritty texture. Do you know why this may have happened, or is that normal?

    1. Hi Marie! It sounds like perhaps your butter and sugar were not fully creamed together. This post on 10 baking tips for perfect cakes will also be helpful for ensuring best texture in your finished cakes. Thank you for giving this recipe a try!

      1. Ok, thanks for the tips! My butter sat out more than 1-2hours and was slightly warm.. could that have been why? And what should the butter/sugar mixture look like after it is fully creamed?

  9. I surprised my wife for her birthday with this cake just yesterday, my daughter helped frost it. It’s an amazing recipe with easy to follow instructions, and it turned out awesome. I didn’t have 9 inch pans, but I used two 8 inch. So, after 23 minutes I checked it every two minutes till the toothpick came out clear. I love to cook and grill, but I’ve never really been good at baking. This recipe is clear and direct, and I very much appreciate having this to guide me through a delicious “scratch” cake that everyone enjoyed.

    1. We’re so happy to hear that you enjoyed this recipe for your wife’s birthday, Brad! Thank you so much for giving it a try.

  10. My friend asked me for a vanilla cake for her birthday and I want to try your recipe. She asked if I could add some crumbled oreos into the batter and into the buttercream. Would that work? Thank you!

  11. Question- I need to make this cake without dairy if possible. Normally, if I don’t have buttermilk, I add 1 tbsp vinegar to 1 cup milk. Can I add vinegar to oatmilk in lieu of buttermilk for this recipe? other suggestions? thanks!

    1. Hi Julie, we haven’t tried a DIY buttermilk with non-dairy milk so we’re unsure of the results. Let us know if you give it a try!

  12. You deliver on every recipe! Thank you so much as this is wonderful!

    What egg ratio would you use if using medium sized eggs? I have chickens and am trying to learn how to adjust accordingly.

    1. Hi Natasha! Do you have a kitchen scale? A large whole egg weighs about 57g (or 50g out of the shell), and a large egg white is usually about 30 grams. You can use these weights to determine how many of your eggs you’ll need to reach the correct amount for this recipe. Happy baking!

  13. I made this recipe for work and it got rave reviews!!! I love your recipes they never disappoint.

  14. Hello, I want to make a smash cake for my daughters first birthday. Would you recommend this recipe? Or can you suggest another?

    1. Hi Mabel, this would make a great smash cake in its 6-inch cake form. Happy birthday to your daughter!

  15. Hi there, really great recipe, I made it as a birthday cake with sprinkles inside! I particularly loved the video, which made it so easy to follow for a nonbaker like myself!
    I did wonder if you could help me with something? As I began preparing the dry ingredients I accidentally added the sugar to them! I restarted the process and did it correctly but now I have a mix of cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar left over that I am not sure what to do with!
    Any suggestions??

    1. Hi Christie, we’re so glad you enjoyed this vanilla cake! Creaming the butter and sugar separately from the dry ingredients is a key step in the recipe, so we’re unsure of how you could use that exact mixture with those exact measurements. Thank you again for giving this recipe a try!

  16. If weighing how much cake batter goes into each pan how much on a scale is it? And do you recommend using 3 separate pans and baking at the same time or do you bake one later at a time?

    1. Hi Jamimee! We haven’t weighed this cake batter, just try to get three equal amounts of batter in each pan. We usually bake all three layers at once on one rack in the oven. But if your oven isn’t large enough, you can bake them in succession, leaving the other pan(s) of batter sitting covered at room temperature.

      1. Thank you! And another question, if I decided to make your version for the single layer sheet cake will it still taste the same?

    1. Hi Jaimee, we prefer to use unbleached flour when possible, but either will work!

  17. Hi, do you know if I could make this recipe using an egg substitute, flaxseed?

    1. Hi Simran, We haven’t tested this recipe with any egg substitutes. Let us know if you try anything.

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