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.

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

590 Comments

  1. Thanks for the instructions on how to level a cake. I use a different approach but yours seems pretty awesome. I certainly do love vanilla cakes! I’m even planning on making them this weekend for my kids. Thanks Sally for putting this up.

  2. Sally, I love all of your recipes to start off!
    I made this cake and I messed up when I was frosting it. I leveled the cake and as I was frosting the cake, the cake started crumbling and the frosting wouldn’t stay. I ended up getting the cake really cold it the freezer so I could pu the icing on. What did I do wrong? Should I have flipped the cake over after I leveled it and used the opposite side?

  3. Excellent cake and frosting! Was a much more tender light crumb than other cake recipes. Vanilla flavor really came through. I made slightly less frosting reducing the butter by 1/2 cup. Added a smigden of cream cheese I had leftover which cut the sweetness. Being such a big cake I cut a circle in center and wedges around the outside. Results in more servings.
    Overall a big success for my son’s 35th birthday.

      1. Thanks, Sally,
        The cake turned out wonderfully with the chocolate chips in it. I used the recipe for my dad’s birthday and everyone loved it

  4. Outstanding recipe, seriously. I hate when I come across recipes that claim to be the best (fill in the blank), you follow it to a tee , and then end up being sorely disappointed. This definitely wasn’t the issue here. This cake is moist and pillowy soft. I’m super impressed and will use it as my base going forward. Thank you!

  5. I made this for cupcakes and it was delicious!!
    May I ask some questions about beating ingredients?? has been bothering me so…
    When your recipe (not only this recipe but others too)says, use hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high….
    I think the power is very different between hand mixer and stand mixer on high speed. for example: mixing with stand mixer on High 8 ( 10 is highest) 3 minutes and mixing with a hand mixer on High 8 3 minutes makes different result?? Do I over mix when I use stand mixer on high?? Do I mix longer when I use had mixer? I am not sure but think there is a different between paddle and whisk too. When you make your recipes, which one do you use? Hand mixer or Stand mixer? Paddle or whisk??
    Sorry for asking so many questions. English is my second language so hope you understand what i mean.. Thank you

    1. Hi Koffee! This is a great question and I’m happy to help. I find that my cakes and cupcakes have similar results if I use my paddle (flat beater) or whisk attachment. I like using my whisk attachment when there is am ample amount of batter to really ensure there are no lumps left behind. Again, you can use either with the same results in the final cake crumb. Beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until creamed, not matter if you are using the hand or stand mixer. This will take about 2-3 minutes. It will not make a big difference in the final cake if they’re beaten for an extra 30-60 seconds.

  6. Hey Sally! I am hoping to make this recipe, but turn it into a raspberry almond cupcake (almond cupcake with raspberry frosting). How much almond extract would you suggest adding to the batter? And the same question for how much in the way of freeze dried raspberries for the frosting? Thank you!

    1. Hi Jamie! Sounds absolutely delicious. I recommend at least 1 teaspoon of almond extract to this batter, maybe even 1 and 1/2. Give it a little taste with your finger and see if you’d like more after adding 1 teaspoon. Use my strawberry buttercream recipe and replace with freeze-dried raspberries. You may need to double the frosting recipe to make sure there is enough for each cupcake. Let me know how they turn out!

  7. Hey Sally, so I was going to make your confetti cupcakes, but my niece changed her mind and wants a cake. I want to do a 3 layer cake using 6in pans. Will this recipe work or do you recommend I change anything? I know there will be batter left, I was just going to make a few cupcakes with it for extra decoration. 🙂

  8. Can I add sprinkles to make this into a funfetti cake? I know there is already a funfetti cake recipe on your website, but I’ve tried it and it doesn’t blow me away (sorry!).

  9. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for amazing recipes all the time!

    I’d love to try this recipe for my daughter’s 5th birthday together with your cupcake recipes. Will this work for 6 layer rainbow cake if I divide them into 6 tins instead of 3? I might need more frosting I guess?

    Thank you 🙂

  10. I haven’t made a homemade cake in 15 years and think I’ve only done it maybe twice. This was easy and so tasty! Served it at a family dinner and everyone loved it. The frosting was too sweet for me, so I added more cream and milk (I started with cream, but then added some milk) and a little extra salt and it was perfect. My husband said it tasted like homemade ice cream in cake form.

  11. Hi! Love your recipes!

    I am wanting to make a layer cake but with ice cream in between the layers instead of icing. Would you recommend this cake or the white cake recipe?

  12. Does it make a difference using whole milk buttermilk or the standard reduced fat buttermilk you typically find in stores? I prefer using the whole milk version, but want to know if it would throw this recipe off. Thank you!

  13. I’ve been looking for a good vanilla cake recipe and this recipe was not good, it was GREAT!!! My granddaughter, who usually only eats the frosting off cakes, ate her whole piece not just the frosting. This cake brought back memories of my mom’s homemade cakes. So yummy. When I first read this recipe, I thought of cutting it in half but am glad I didn’t as it made 3 beautiful cake layers. Definite keeper and is now my go to cake recipe.

  14. Hello, I am making this cake with your strawberry frosting for the filling and regular vanilla buttercream for decorating. Were your pans 2 inches tall ? Thank you!:)

  15. Hi! Do you think this would be a good recipe to use for an 11×15 sheet cake? If so, how should I adjust the ratios? Thank you!

    1. Hi Katie! This amount of batter, as written, should fit nicely into that size sheet pan. I’m unsure how to reduce down the batter to properly fit. Make the batter as written and if you have extras, make a few cupcakes on the side. 🙂

  16. Do you think this would work to make a tiered cake in 4, 6, and 8 inch pans? The pan set says you can do one box cake mix between the 3 of them. I would probably make a second batch to make each layer double height. Or do you think one of your other white/yellow/vanilla cakes would be better suited to that? I realize for the smaller pans I would have to watch closely for doneness. I plan to use your strawberry buttercream frosting. For my daughter’s bday. I might color the batter to make it rainbow inside, too—each layer a different color. We’ll see how ambitious I feel on baking day next week!

  17. Hi Sally! I’m very intrigued by this recipe and I can’t wait to try it; what would the correct proportions be in order to minimize the recipe?

  18. I really want to make this in a 9×13 pan. I know you recommend using the white cake, but will this one not come out all in a 9×13?

    Thanks so much for all your delicious recipes! I love everything I have made so far!!

    1. Hi Mary! This recipe works in a 9×13 pan, but there is too much batter. You can use extra batter for a few cupcakes on the side. To make it easier, I recommend the white cake recipe so you have the exact amount of batter you need. Let me know which you end up trying!

  19. How well does this cake freeze? For some reason, I find that vanilla cakes just don’t stay very moist at all, especially after freezing.

    1. This cake freezes very well. To prevent cakes from drying out when freezing, I recommend wrapping each layer while they are still very slightly warm (almost completely cool) in 1 layer of plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil.

  20. Hi Sally,
    I’m making a naked cake. Do you think this recipe would hold up for a naked cake or do you recommend using the naked cake recipe?

  21. Hi Sally – I want to use this recipe to make a rainbow layer cake for my son’s St. Patrick’s Day themed birthday party. If I use gel food coloring for the layers, do I need to make any other tweaks? Thank you!

    1. Nope, not at all! I made a rainbow cake with this batter (5 layers) the other week. Bake time was about 20 minutes. I used (and recommend) gel food coloring. Have fun baking!

  22. Hi Sally! This was a big hit last night! I got a request to make a 1/2 sheet cake, would this recipe work, it should I use your white cake? That’s a 16×12″ pan. I noticed you suggested your white cake recipe for a 9×13. Also, would doubling the recipe be enough to fill that size pan? Thanks again for a wonderful recipe!

    1. Hi Leesa! I’m so glad that you enjoyed this vanilla cake recipe!

      For your question about pan sizes. Are you looking for a cake that will fit into a 16×12 inch cake pan? Because this should be fine OR my white cake recipe would work as well for a slightly thinner sheet cake.

  23. Sally, I made this cake for my sister-in-law’s birthday which was a few days before Valentine’s Day. I substituted strawberry buttercream for the frosting between the layers and strawberry whipped creamed for the outside frosting so the cake wouldn’t be too sweet and heavy. I decorated the top with chocolate dipped strawberries. The cake was delicious with a soft and tender crumb. The 3 layers made for an impressive birthday cake. Thank you for the recipe.

  24. This was truly delicious. The crumb was so tender and thanks to the significant quantity of butter, it was rich and indulgent. Thank you for sharing another brilliant recipe. Love your work!!

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