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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 vanilla 6 inch 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 more about why room temperature ingredients are important.
  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 rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
  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 10-12 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 more about why room temperature ingredients are important.
  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 (135g) of sprinkles into the cake batter. Avoid nonpareils (the little balls), which tend to bleed their color. Or try this confetti birthday cake, which is quite similar to this recipe.

Keywords: vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, birthday cake

Vanilla cake slice on white plate

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Hello, Sally
    Would it be possible to use a vanilla paste instead of the regular vanilla? If ever, how much should I use?
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Dayver, Yes, absolutely! Simply use the same amount of vanilla paste.

    2. I need a dairy free gluten feee cake recipe what do you suggest for substitute’s? Thanks

      1. Hi Roxi, we’re not experts at dairy free or gluten free baking. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe since it may not work properly), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for those restrictions. There’s a lot of great resources out there!

  2. I live in Colorado. Above 5000 ft. I tried the high altitude adjustment and it worked perfectly. Finally a cake that doesn’t fall. Best cake I’ve ever made from scratch. Thanks so much.

    1. I also live above 5000 ft. What is the high altitude adjustment you used? I don’t see it listed.

  3. Hi Sally!!
    This is my go-to cake recipe. I can make it in my sleep! I need to serve more people this time and am making a 14 inch round cake by doubling this recipe, so 8 cups per layer. How should I adjust the baking time and temperature?
    Thanks so much for another absolutely perfect recipe!

    1. Hi Amy, we’re unsure of the exact bake time for a pan that size, but it will be longer. Keep a close eye on the layers and use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same temperature, though!

  4. If I’m making cupcakes instead of a three layer cake do I line each cupcake holder with parchment paper , or do I just grease each cup?

    1. Hi Ronni, we recommend using cupcake liners–no need to grease them.

  5. Hi Sally. Going to make your vanilla cake with your chocolate buttercream frosting. When you call for salt in your recipes, are you using Kosher salt or table salt? If Kosher, do you use Morton or Diamond Crystal as Morton Kosher has a saltier taste than DC. Many thanks! Eve

    1. Hi Eve, Sally uses regular table salt in most of her baking, unless stated otherwise.

  6. OMG, this the best cake I’ve ever made from scratch, thank you Sally for the recipe.. Todays my birthday and I baked this cake myself, it turned out greattt! It’s delicious. I can’t wait to make more recipes.

  7. Hi sally
    I want to use raspberries in the batter.. any changes or tips for adding berries to the batter?

    1. Hi Rhonda! We recommend 1 – 1.5 cups raspberries. Coating them in a tough of flour before incorporating will help keep them from sinking. Enjoy!

  8. Is there a dairy-free substitute you would recommend for the buttermilk in the cake portion that wouldn’t alter the taste/texture too much?

    1. Hi Pam, you can try making the DIY buttermilk (explained in the recipe Notes) with a non-dairy milk, but the cake will not be as moist or rich.

  9. Hi Sally!

    What would you recommend for baking a two layer 10 inch round cake?
    Also, do you think the swiss meringue buttercream would pair well with this?

      1. Thank you so much!

        Do you have any tips or tricks on what to do if you overbake your cake and it is dry?

  10. Hey Sally,
    The cake looks delicious & am so excited to give it a try.
    Would this recipe work for a soccer ball cake?
    Also could you please suggest what would be the pan conversions for half round pan. I read “cake pan & conversions” but could not find anything for a half round pan.

    Please advice.
    Thank you so much 🙂

    1. Hi Shilpa, We have not tested this recipe in a 3D ball cake pan but it should work. The amount of batter would depend on the diameter of the cake pan, but when in doubt, you can fill it 2/3 full and use any leftover batter for some cupcakes on the side!

  11. Hi! I am planning on making this cake in 8 inch round pans. Do you recommend I 1.5 the recipe, and/or do you have any advice on how much to put per pan if I am using 8in instead of 9?

    1. Hi Morgan! You can use this recipe with 8 inch cake pans for slightly thicker layers in a three layer cake. You may need an extra minute or two of bake time since they layers will be thicker – use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  12. I made cupcakes from this recipe, along with the frosting and they were just what I craved: light, fluffy, moist vanilla cupcakes and frosting! Baked 19 minutes at 350 and were perfect. Delicious!

  13. Hello Sally!
    Thank you for this amazing recipe!
    My goodness this cake is so delicious! It’s my go to recipe! This cake is ever so tender and the flavor is outstanding! I made a strawberry compote and added that between the layers! PERFECTION! I also made cupcakes the second time around. I was able to get around 48-50 cupcakes! The strawberry compote was great inside the cupcakes as well, topped with buttercream frosting! A really big hit last weekend at my nieces baby shower. Thanks again!

  14. In the process of making this cake now. I put a 1 tsp of baking soda instead of 3/4 of a tsp.I realized it after I mixed all the dry together. Do you think that’ll make a difference?

    1. Hi Jeanene, Did you decide to go ahead and bake the cake? If there is too much baking soda, it can cause a bitter aftertaste in baked goods. If the cake is already baked we recommend leveling off the tops of the layers after they cool and you can taste the part you slice off before frosting and serving.

    1. Hi Janae, You will want to use 1.5 eggs. Our general rule for halving an egg is to crack it open, beat the yolk and white together with a fork, measure the volume (should be a few Tbsp), then use half.

      1. Hi Sally, must the egg whites be beaten and then folded in? For the vanilla cake. Thanks so much.

      2. Hi Lynn, we don’t find it necessary for this recipe. You can mix them in with the full eggs and vanilla extract in step 3.

  15. I’m not sure if I did some wrong or not but this cake turned out horrible. The frosting was good but the cake tasted almost like corn bread. I have reviewed the recipe several times and I followed it exActly.

  16. Hello Sally. My cake tastes good but it’s got lots of crumbs,like is breaking with with every little touch. What could I have done wrong?

    1. Hi Zee! Does it seem quite dry? It could simply be over-baked. How did you measure the flour? Make sure to spoon and level (instead of scooping) to avoid packing in too much flour into your measuring cups – or use a kitchen scale. You can read more about properly measuring baking ingredients in this post. Hope these tips help!

  17. I have baked cakes for years with no issues. Now, I have made dozens of cakes in my new home, a gas stove-oven and I cannot make a successful cake. I like the tip about measuring the flour but is there a temp change for gas? Or something else re: gas?

    1. I would lower your oven temperature by 25F, so try these cakes at 325°F (163°C).

    1. Hi Nour, 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 for 5 layers, but it will be less since the layers are thinner. Let us know what you try!

  18. Great recipe, fluffy and moist.
    I made 1 -1/5 times this recipe for a 12×12 sheet cake. I used diy cake strips , foil and wet tea towels, to prevent it from doming and needing to be flattened. I had to cook it for 55 min but it turned out wonderfully.

    Thanks for a great recipe.

  19. I’ve made 2 attempts at this cake now for my sons birthday and both cakes have failed they are cracked on top and very heavy and dense instead of light and fluffy! I followed the recipe exactly I don’t know what I’m doing wrong! I’ve never had any cake disasters in the past and now I’ve had 2 in 2 days

  20. Sally hi! I’ve made This recipe a lot and want to bake it for nephews birthday. How many cupcakes does this make and would it be possible to add cocoa powder to make them chocolate? I don’t want to do two batters and do both chocolate and vanilla.

    1. Hi Mo, this recipe yields about 3 dozen cupcakes. See recipe Notes for more details. We don’t recommend adding cocoa powder to this batter, but you could use our zebra cake for a vanilla and chocolate batter.

  21. Hi Sally – Love your recipes. Do you sieve the cake flour for this vanilla cake or your vanilla cupcakes? Thank you, Fiona

      1. Thank you. Also, how should I adapt things (maybe just cook time?) for an 8 inch cake tin? My brain is scrambled trying to work it out even with your guide!

      2. Hi Fiona, You can use this recipe with 8 inch cake pans for slightly thicker layers in a three layer cake. You may need an extra minute or two of bake time since they layers will be thicker – use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  22. I only have two cake pans (9 inch). Is it possible to cook two layers, cool them and then wash one of the pans to make the third or will the batter not hold up that long?

    1. Hi Jenn, that is fine! Keep the leftover batter at room temperature covered with a clean kitchen towel while the other layers are baking.

  23. HOLLY MOTHER OF ALL CAKES!!!! This is a WINNER! Moistness, flavour, and the buttercream so perfect. Followed all your wonderful, insightful, and clear instructions with ease. This cake is absolute of all cakes!

  24. Hi! I’m wondering if I could add lemon flavoring or Strawberry flavoring in lieu of the vanilla? I’ve made this before and I LOVED LOVED it – the texture, everything! What/how do you recommend I change the flavoring?

    1. Hi Bree, We haven’t tested lemon with this specific recipe (here is our lemon cake if you’re interested!) You can try replacing some of the vanilla extract for lemon extract and add some lemon zest and poppyseeds to this batter. Let us know what you try!

  25. My son wanted to make a fluffy vanilla cake for his birthday. I did a search “best vanilla cake recipe ever,” and landed on yours. I bought all the ingredients and he made the cake. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. Even the raw batter was wonderfully different. Thank you so much!

  26. I’ve made this several times. It is lovely. Any thoughts or advice on using raspberry filling between layers in place of frosting. I’m looking for something different for my daughters’s birthday. Thank you.

    1. Hi Joy, We are so happy that you enjoy this cake! We would spread a thin layer of frosting and then a layer of raspberry filling between the cakes. You may even want to create a ring of buttercream around the edges so that the raspberry filling doesn’t squeeze out between the layers. Let us know how it goes!

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