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

661 Comments

  1. This cake looks amazing!! I was wondering if you have ever made a homemade caramel cake? It’s my favorite cake and I didn’t see it on your blog, but could definitely give you recipe inspiration!

      1. Oh my gosh I can’t wait- such perfect timing! I can’t wait to make it and share it with you! I know it will taste amazing because all of your recipes do! For the past week, my mom and I have been eating icecream with your homemade caramel sauce as well as dipping our apples in the caramel sauce as well! So, I can’t wait to make this recipe and see how awesome it is! I have made caramel cake before but I know it won’t be as good as yours! I can’t wait to eat it with a tall glass of milk!

  2. I made this on the weekend for my daughter’s 1st birthday and it was DELICIOUS! Thank you for the wonderful recipe.
    Emma (in Australia)
    PS – how do I stop the icing from looking too yellow instead of the lovely white in your photos?

    1. Hi Emma! I’m so glad you enjoyed this vanilla cake recipe, thank you so much for taking the time to leave a review on the recipe. I used regular vanilla extract. Perhaps it’s the lighting in the photo? My vanilla buttercream is never crisp white, but if you want a whiter vanilla buttercream, I recommend using clear vanilla extract.

  3. Hi Sally! You were right! This was the best vanilla cake I have ever had! I made this over the weekend and it was amazing. It was not only delicious, but a very pretty cake! Perfect birthday cake! Thank you for this recipe, everyone loved it.

  4. I appreciate all the details here. I’ve wondered about the whole cake flour vs. all purpose flour thing. Do you know what kind of flower is generally in a boxed cake mix? I love using buttermilk, I think it makes the difference. Now I know why I like the combo of baking powder and baking soda. Will be pinning and trying:)

    1. Hi Seana! I’m unsure what major brands use in their cake mixes, but there are a hefty amount of preservatives. For a super soft homemade vanilla cake, I recommend cake flour.

  5. I made it today and taste really good but when I cut the cake, see some big air bubbles. I used whisk attachment on my KA stand mixer 300watts and turned on speed #8 when it says high speed.Is it too high?
    Also On this picture, did you use a hand mixer? Thanks.

    1. I use my stand mixer. Air bubbles are completely normal and make for a wonderfully fluffy cake… though it could mean that the egg whites were over-mixed. I would lower your speed down to speed #5 next time.

  6. Hi Sally!
    I would really love to try this cake. Any recommendations for cutting the recipe in half? I love your white cake (it’s my go to), but I would love to test out a smaller version of this one.

    1. Hi Amy! Yes, you can cut this cake recipe in half. Though I haven’t tested it, I recommend using 2 egg whites and 1 egg. Let me know what you try!

      1. Hi I tried 2 egg whites and 1 egg and made cupcakes and they turned out great! I got 13 cupcakes I use slightly larger baking cups. I love your recipes all of them work so well.

  7. Hi Sally!
    Happy New Year! I’m going to make this cake but I want to make ahead and freeze. Would you recommend slicing off the tops before I freeze the pieces?

  8. Hi Sally, This looks amazing but I have a silly question. When making a layer cake, can you put more then one cake pan in the oven at one time? Thank you in advance.

      1. If they all fit on one level then yes! If they don’t fit then you can rotate them half way through the bake time.

  9. The cake is simply yummy! I did reduce sugar by 15% as people in this part of the world like cakes less sweet! Other than that, I followed everything to the T. It’s very soft and can eaten on its own without any frosting.

  10. I made this cake last week and it was a hit! And I also get so many requests to bake your banana cake, it’s SO GOOD! I was just wondering if you think swapping almond flavor for the vanilla in this recipe would be good? I love almond cake and haven’t found a recipe I love as much as your cake recipes 🙂

    1. Hi Stephanie! I’m so glad you tried and loved this vanilla cake. You can definitely add some almond extract. For lots of almond flavor, I recommend using 2 teaspoons almond extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  11. Hi Sally – looks great. Will this cake pair well with strawberry frosting between layers while still having the vanilla frosting around the cake? thanks

  12. I made this tonight and thought I carefully measured everything. However the cake turned out too greasy and had almost a pound cake texture.

    My butter was out on the counter about and hour and a half and was soft enough. The rest of wet ingredients were also room temperature.

    Any ideas what I need to do differently? I’m 100% certain it is my error as my family have liked eveything I’ve made from your site.

    1. Hi Sophie! I’m guessing that there was too much flour or the butter wasn’t creamed enough. When a cake is too dense, there is either too much flour or there wasn’t enough air whipped into the batter. I recommend creaming the butter and sugar for 1-2 extra minutes. Make sure the butter is a little soft and cool to touch– not melted in the slightest. Also, make sure you are spooning and leveling the cake flour.

  13. Question: saw that you added 1 T. Of light corn syrup to the chocolate frosting for the piñata cake which adds shine/sheen. I’m thinking that will work for this vanilla frosting? Just want to make this presentation a little “extra” for my son’s 35th birthday .

    1. Hi Cheryl! The corn syrup isn’t really a necessary addition to vanilla frosting. Since the frosting is already white, you won’t really notice a difference. That being said, however, it will give the frosting a *slightly* silkier texture. Add it if you’d like!

    1. Hi Amber! 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.

  14. Sally,
    I love your recipes. Your Red Velvet Cake introduced me to your website in 2015. Since then, I have become a much better baker and have fallen in love with baking.
    I recently purchased a new oven. I am still very new to baking and do not know much about the science portion. My oven comes with an auto-convection setting. When you bake, do you use convection or the conventional baking setting? I really want to try this cake, but I am not sure which setting to use on my new oven.

    1. Hi Natalie! My oven is the same, but I always bake on the conventional setting. I prefer this because it is universal to most and I can provide the most accurate bake time/temperature to readers. In fact, I even choose the conventional setting when I’m not recipe testing (just baking for fun) because I find I always get the most uniform results that way. That being said, however, I typically bake on my convection setting for savory items like french fries, roasting vegetables, fish, chicken, etc. They cook quicker and have a nice crisp from the fan-forced heat. I hope this helps!

      1. Thank you very much! This helps me so much! I received an amazing deal on the oven by just being at the right place at the right time. The oven came with so many features that I have been a bit overwhelmed. I would have not chosen so many features, but it will be exciting to use them! Thank you for the guidance!

  15. Hello Sally! How does this recipe compare to the yellow butter cake from your Pinata Cake recipe, in terms of taste and texture?

  16. Hi Sally!
    First let me say, you are a ROCK STAR! Your recipes are so well tested and I am so impressed by what a hard worker you are…not an easy task working full time and being a full time mama :). I am an avid baker (and evidently according to family and friends, pretty damn good) and your blog is by far my favorite.
    I made this cake yesterday and tested it out on coworkers…so far one comment…’icing was outstanding and the cake was really good…a little dry, though’…what did I do wrong? I’ve not always had luck with homemade vanilla cake…chocolate, I’ve got. Any ideas of what I could have done to make it dry?

    1. Hi Melanie! Thank you so much and I’m glad you tried this cake! Make sure you are spooning and leveling the cake flour. Fluff it up a bit in the container/bag, then spoon and level into your measuring cup(s). Don’t scoop. Better yet, weigh the flour. If you still find the cake tastes a little dry, try replacing 1 egg yolk with 1 full egg (for a total of 4 eggs + 1 egg white). 🙂

  17. Hi Sally!
    I am planning to make this cake for my birthday in a few weeks!! I was wanting to pipe buttercream flowers on this cake but wasn’t sure if this would be enough frosting to add that? If not, how much and what should I add?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Mel! If you’re planning on piping a lot of flowers, I would make extra frosting. An extra 1/2 cup of softened unsalted butter, 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar, and 2 Tablespoons of milk/cream should be plenty.

  18. If I wanted to make this cake into a zebra cake, should I just double the chocolate batter ingredients that you use in your 6 inch zebra cake with strawberry frosting? Thanks!

  19. Hi Sally,
    I made this cake last week for my granddaughters’ birthday cake. I baked it in a ball pan (and I also had enough batter for 6 cupcakes). It froze and defrosted well:)! I made a teapot cake for a teapot themed birthday party we had for two of our granddaughters. The cake really held up under the buttercream and fondant. It was delicious!! I am going to be make a “book” cake for our grandson’s Harry Potter themed party next month and will be using this cake recipe again!! Thank you again. I love all your recipes:)!!

  20. I made these last night! I am very happy with the taste, but not the texture. They had no crumb to them, and was more like angel food cake. Any ideas why? Thanks!

  21. I am a huge fan of your blog Sally 🙂 What a lovely blog you have, excellent recipes, unmatched photos & a crisp space. I love coming here every single time.

  22. Would it be ok to add sprinkles to make it a funetti cake? Your funfetti cake on your blog is dense than I like. Thanks!

  23. I only have 10-inch tins. Would love to attempt this cake as a 3-layer cake but don’t want to buy new tins especially. Would making 1.5 times the quantity work split across 3 10-inch tins, with a slightly longer baking time?

  24. Sally, this cake was delicious! I made it for my daughter’s birthday party. I couldn’t stop eating the scraps from when I leveled the layers. Love all your recipes, thank you!

  25. I love your recipes and just got one of your cookbooks for Christmas!! I wanted to try your strawberry cake but saw that it makes batter for two layers. I wanted to make a three layer cake and was wondering if it would work to add the strawberry purée from your strawberry cake to this recipe to make it more of a 3 layer strawberry cake. Do you think that would work?

    1. Hi Megan! It should, but I’m weary about the extra liquid. I think it should be ok with the addition of the reduced strawberry puree without any other changes to the recipe. Let me know how it turns out.

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