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, 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.

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: 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.

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 can’t get your hands on cake flour, you can make a homemade cake flour substitute.
  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

793 Comments

  1. I made this cake for my son’s 16th birthday, and it was wonderful! I made a few changes – personal preference and high altitude. I always drop the sugar in recipes by 1/4 – 1/2 cup depending on the baked good. At an altitude of @6000 ft. I decreased the sugar by 1/3 cup, increased the cake flour by 2 Tbls., increased the buttermilk (I used a sour cream and whole milk substitute- no buttermilk at my local store) by 2 Tbls., and decreased the baking powder by 1/4 tsp. I also upped the vanilla by 1 tsp. (It seems that extracts aren’t as strong in baking at a higher altitude). I made a barely sweetened raspberry purée layered under the buttercream of the bottom two layers. I only used 4 cups of powdered sugar in the buttercream (and even that was a bit much for me) and added around a 1/2 tsp of salt. My son (and the other partakers) said it was the perfect cake! Thank you, Sally!

    P.S. I’m one of those people who normally doesn’t like the comments with tons of changes to the recipe posted, but I thought it might help for other readers who live at a higher altitude.

  2. Hi! I was wondering if I could freeze the layers for a couple of hours and then frost the cake while the layers are cold and then wait to serve when the cake is at room temp?

  3. Do you know if kefir (which I usually have on hand for smoothies, in order to get the probiotics and fruit in my day) could be a substitute for the buttermilk called for in this recipe?

  4. I made this cake my orchid society meeting . I had people coming over to me and exclaiming how much they loved it. It was really good. I definitely will make this again

  5. This is hands down the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had! And trust me…I’ve had a LOT of vanilla cakes over the years! It’s fluffy, soft, moist and full of vanilla flavor. THANK YOU, SALLY!!

  6. Hey Sally, have you got any ideas on how I could make a neopolitan cake? Could I half your strawberry cake and chocolate cake recipes and then half the one of the white cake recipes? Or, I could always use leftovers to make neopolitan cupcakes…with strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate swirled frosting of course! Thanks 🙂

  7. This cake is outstanding. It is so delicious and vanilla-y. I made it for my younger son’s birthday to rave reviews, and I’m making it again today for my older son’s birthday.

  8. Hello, I am wanting to make this vanilla cake for my son’s first birthday. I have a few questions. This recipe is fro 3 9 in layer cake correct and I think you said you used a 2 in deep pans right? I wanted to do your vanilla buttercream frosting as week but would like to do the filling a bit different. Do you have any other frosting recipes you recommend pairing with this cake for the filling? Thank you!

      1. Thank you so much for getting back! I read in the comments for the strawberry butter cream that it crusts as it sits? Will this be the case as well when used as a filling? Thank you!

  9. Thank you for this recipe! It was my very first time to make a successful cake! So excited that I feel like I can make my kids’ birthday cakes now. Our whole family loved it. Loved the crumb texture!

  10. I saw you on insta story show this recipe. I’ve made it- It’s amazing . What type of egg separator were you using? I looked on amazon and didn’t see any that resembled yours. Thank you.

  11. Hi Sally, do you think this recipe or your 2-layer white/vanilla cake could be made gluten-free? Thinking of substituting all-purpose flour for gluten-free all-purpose flour and then following your instructions to make cake flour from there… also would halving this recipe make 2 8”-inch layers? I plan to make a 4-layer 8” cake alternating blueberry and vanilla layers. Thanks!! Very excited to try this recipe!

  12. I wish I could give this cake a million stars! Amazing. I made this for my husbands birthday. We and our guests could not take every bite without an OMG expression. We were melting out of our seats.

  13. Hi Sally! i am planning to make your vanilla cake two days from now for school anniversary. Can i use a rectangular baking pan instead of the round one? What size can you recommend for this? Thanks!

  14. My cakes are cooling as I type this! Love all of your recipes and know to always go to your site first for any baking endeavors! I’m curious, if I’m making a naked cake should I plan on 2/3rds of the icing recipe? My cake will also have a raspberry filling, thanks!

    1. Thanks Jessica! Yes, if you want to go lighter on the frosting, I recommend 2/3rds of the written recipe amount.

  15. Hi! I’m really interested in making this cake however, I was only planning on making a two layer 8 inch cake. Should I half the recipe? Thank you! I’m going to dye one layer yellow and the other orange then cut out circles to make a checkerboard cake!

  16. I just finished baking my cake and my layers ended up only getting to be 1 inch high :/. My batter was also much thicker than your batter showed in the video. I used room temperature ingredients, cake flour and all the tips provided. I was afraid of over mixing the batter after adding the flour and then the buttermilk. Where did I failed?

  17. Hi Sally – I wanted to make a 6 layer cake out of this for a rainbow theme. Wondering if I could take the cake amount of each layer and cut it in half to bake 6 thin layers? Or, do you think it would be better to make it in a 6 inch pan so the layers will be a bit taller? Just wondering if the batter would still work in a smaller pan size

    Thank you!!

      1. Thank you! I forgot to ask, is this the best cake to dye and layer? Or should I try to funfetti one?

        Thanks again, love all the recipes!

  18. Hi Sally,
    I’ve been using your recipes with lots of success and I love your website! I am making a three-layer ombre cake but would like to use my 8-inch pans to get a taller cake. Do you think I’d need to change anything besides the baking time?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Liz! This recipe translates nicely into 8 inch cake pans. No need to change the recipe, just adjust the bake time. They’ll need longer in the oven, of course.

  19. It really is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had! Light, moist and fluffy! I totally missed that it should have been baked in 3 9 inch pans, though. Not sure how! But it still came out delicious! I will totally use your parchment trick next time, i had a bit of trouble getting the cakes out if the pan. This will be my go to vanilla cake recipe from now on!

  20. Hi sally, I want to make this vanilla cake for my hubby’s birthday but he is not a fan of sweet stuff, Can I use half the sugar measurement? Thanks for this beautiful recipe. I’m sure sticking with this.

    1. Why dont you just search for a gluten free recipe to begin with.
      I mean, wouldn’t that be easier.
      Then you would know how it comes out.
      This recipe takes 4 hours and a lot of expensive ingredients to take a chance on.
      This obviously is not weight watchers recipes.

  21. Hi Sally,
    I absolutely loved making this cake I made this one and your chocolate cake for my little brother’s checker board cake and they worked out great. Super soft and moist.

  22. Hi sally, I know the bake time will change but can I make an 8 inch 3 layer cake with this recipe or will it overflow in the tin. How high up the tin should each cake batter be before baking

  23. THIS recipe is great! I normally use sprite in my cakes, do you think I can substitute it for the buttermilk it would still turn out looking so good?

    1. Hi Danieza! No, cream is much too thick. The best substitution is the whole milk substitute I mention in the recipe note.

  24. The most delicious Vanilla Cake I have ever made and eaten. I didn’t change a thing about it. I made this cake last Thursday, cooled and froze it until Saturday. Took it out of freezer and waited about 30 minutes and trimmed off the tops then frosted. Everyone loved it. Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe. Absolutely delicious!

  25. Hello Sally,

    I just love ur recipes and your Cookie Book. I just have one problem that happens so often to me. When I put my cake on the wire rack to cool, it shrinks immediately half the size.
    Do you have any idea why that happened and how to avoid it?

    Greetings from Germany

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