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

829 Comments

  1. *time sensitive please *
    Hello Sally, I love your website and I’ve been using it for years! 🙂
    I’m planning to make a big sheet cake, 11×15, for my daughter’s fifth birthday party on Saturday, and I want to use this recipe. I see in the notes that you recommend using your white cake recipe for a sheet cake, but I have buttermilk on hand, and I don’t have yogurt or plain milk on hand. So I would way rather use this recipe 🙂
    But is that a really bad idea? Is there a reason this recipe won’t work for a sheet cake? If you think it would turn out bad for a big sheet cake, then I’ll go to the store and get the other ingredients, but it would be much easier to use this recipe, thoughts?

    1. Hi Rasha! The reason I recommend my white cake is because it is the perfect amount of batter for a sheet cake, both 9×13 inch and 11×15 inch. You can use this batter too, of course, but you will have a little leftover. You can use any extras to make a few cupcakes on the side.

      1. Thank you!!
        So would I double it to get an 11×15 with some extra, or as is?
        Would a 12×18 work better?

  2. This is HANDS DOWN the best vanilla cake I have ever tasted. I made this cake last night and it is so fluffy and delicious, I am never making another recipe again. Because it is so fluffy though, I noticed that my layers were a little weaker than I would like and I predict that I will have some cracking when I build the cake tomorrow. Perhaps I was too quick in taking them out of the molds (waited until they at least cooled to room temp), either way I foresee some issues with the cake building. That said, it just tastes so delicious that it doesn’t even matter if the layers are not perfect, I can fix that with buttercream!

    1. I’m so glad you like the recipe! I haven’t had any problems with it cracking as I stack and frost it, I hope you don’t either!

    1. Hi Amara! No, there is too much batter for only 2 9-inch layers. You can, however, use extra batter for cupcakes. Fill the pans only halfway.

  3. Hi Sally! Would it be OK to use unbleached cake flour instead? (or should I get bleached cake flour?

    Thanks! I’m excited to try this recipe! (I love your other vanilla cake recipe!)

    Thanks,
    Mardi

    1. Hi Irene! The cake will be very heavy with twice the amount of batter (and twice the amount of cake!) on top of one another. However, you can certainly try. Instead of doubling, make the cake batter twice. Working with extra volume risks over-mixing or under-mixing.

      But, I recommend keeping the cake as 3 layers.

    1. Hi Michele! I’m unfamiliar with the volume of batter that pan can hold, but I assume this amount of batter will fit into it. Make sure you only fill 2/3 or 3/4 full to avoid batter overflowing. Use extra batter for cupcakes, if desired.

      1. Thank you for replying so fast. I think the directions said 5 cups of batter. Does that sound okay?

  4. Hi I wanted to ask what type of oven you use? Convection Or conventional? I have a conventional oven and it seems to take longer to bake it. I was just wondering if you know how much longer to bake it or if the temperature needs increased some? Thank you

    1. Hi Mandy, I only use conventional ovens! Have you ever gotten an inexpensive oven thermometer to test the temperature of your oven?

      1. Oh! I haven’t thought about testing it to make sure the temp is right. I’ll see if I can find one and see what is going on. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my question! Love your recipes.

      2. I also found that mine needed extra time to bake, and I do use an oven thermometer to test the temperature. It smells amazing, and I can’t wait to taste it!

  5. I recently made this cake for my brother-in-law’s birthday and it was a HIT! Great pillowy texture and the flavor was amazing! I definitely snuck some bites of the top part of the cake that I had to slice off for stacking the layers while I was frosting. So delicious! Bookmarking this recipe FOR SURE! Thanks so much, Sally!

  6. Hi, Sally.
    Do you think this recipe would work with three 8 inch pans (with extra batter for cupcakes)? If so, how high would you recommend filling the pans…halfway…or more?
    Thank you.

    1. Absolutely. Fill the pans only about 1/2 to 2/3 full. (Which could actually be ALL of the batter, I usually use my 9 inch pans!) And yes, use the extra batter for cupcakes.

  7. I have been baking for well over 50 years. This is the best flavored vanilla cake I have ever eaten. This Grandma is adding it to my list of birthday cakes and will be my ‘go to’ when someone requests white cake. Keep up the good work and thank you for sharing.

  8. I am making a 3-tier 10″ cake for my grandson’s birthday. Is one batch of batter enough?
    Based on all the positive comments, I am excited to make this recipe!

    1. Hi Sheila! Yes, this will be enough batter. The cakes will be a little thinner than pictured. Hope everyone loves it!

  9. I’m making this cake tomorrow for my mother in law’s 80th birthday on Saturday. I’d like to use real vanilla beans. Should I also add vanilla extract? If so, how much would you recommend?

    1. Hi Cynthia! I would still include the vanilla extract, though you could slightly reduce down to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

      1. Thank you so much for your quick response. One vanilla bean (which is roughly a tablespoon) and two teaspoons of extract is not too much?

      2. Hi Cynthia! If using 1 whole vanilla bean, definitely reduce the extract down to 1 teaspoon. Wasn’t sure how much you would be using!

  10. My 13 year old son made this for friends baby gender reveal party. What an excellent recipe! The texture, the flavor was flawless and the recipe…. AMAZING! I loved how you explained the how and why so well! It solidified everything I’ve taught him! Best vanilla cake ever! Now… I need him to try a conversion to gluten free! I’m dyeing for an entire slice!! Thank you!

  11. Hi, will be using this recipe this evening. I love the great feedback it received. I have a question, may I mix some strawberry jam with the buttercream, for the layers in between? Thank you

  12. Hi,
    Really looking forward to trying this recipe! Quick question: I only have one 9″ pan (don’t ask…). Will it be a problem to let a third of the batter sit while the first third cooks/cools, and the final third sit out while the first two cook/cool? Thanks!

    1. Hi Sally! You can bake this batter in batches. Keep the remaining batter covered at room temperature until ready to bake.

  13. I am so happy I found this recipe! I substituted King Arthur Gluten free flour that is the measure per measure interchangeable and I am so happy with how soft the cake came out. The cupcakes look great, too! Thank you for sharing

    1. Hi Donna! Yes, this recipe yields plenty of batter to fill 4 7-inch cake pans. Fill them halfway. You may have leftover batter. If so, make a few cupcakes on the side.

  14. This is a really, really good cake. I made it in an octopus-shaped bundt pan in a Paris-apartment-sized (teeny-tiny) microwave/convection oven. Baked it for about 70 minutes (it could have used 5 more minutes). My bundt-prep tip is to use melted butter and get it into all the nooks and crannies with a pastry brush, put the pan in the fridge for 5 minutes and repeat with melted butter. Served with a light dusting of icing sugar. One of the 6-year-olds at the party said – “it was delicious, it is like the cake my granny used to make when I was little”. I would say that it is better than any pound cake I have ever made before.

  15. Hi, I’ll be using the recipe this evening is there a way I can replace the buttermilk I tried looking for it and I couldn’t find it.

  16. Hi!
    I have been looking for a really good vanilla cake recipe and love the comments! So couple of questions. I have two cakes to make one is a 2 layer 6in smash cake and the other a 2 layer 10in cake. Would this be enough batter for both or do I need to have a ton of cupcakes lol? Also can I freeze some of the layers to use 10 days later? Thanks!

    1. I haven’t tested this recipe with those exact pan sizes. You will likely not have enough batter for all 4 layers – I suggest making this recipe once and then cutting it in half to make the second time. Remember to fill the pans only halfway.
      See the first recipe note for freezing instructions.

  17. I am excited to try this cake today for my daughter’s birthday. I’m wondering what would happen if I put some lemon juice/zest into the frosting? Would that make it gross? I find I like a little lemon kick, instead of plain vanilla flavor, but worry it might be a bad idea with all of the vanilla flavor.

  18. Hi Sally. Your blog is awesome!

    I really want to try this recipe but I have 2 questions :

    1. I am making a rainbow cake. I have 3 baking tins that are each 8″.
    How long can I leave batter standing at room temperature while I bake 3 different colours at once?

    2. If I make 1 recipe, how tall will the cake be?

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Shan! The batter is perfectly fine covered at room temperature until the cake pans are ready. Try not to let it sit for more than 1 hour before baking, though. I’m unsure exactly how tall your rainbow cake will be, sorry!

  19. I LOVE this cake! It had so much flavor and was so soft. I used this to make a baby shower cake a week ago. I am going to use it again for a gender reveal cake this weekend.

  20. Hi there sally! Your recipe sounds very simple and looks so delicious. I am wondering if this recipe is heavy and dense ? My family prefers a more light and airy cake rather than a really heavy one.

  21. Can you use whole milk or sour cream instead of the buttermilk? I can always taste buttermilk in the cake when I use it (I think in England it’s not as good) and it can make the cake taste odd

    1. Hi Nicola! You can try a mix of whole milk and sour cream if needed or use the DIY buttermilk option in the notes.

    1. Hi Kelsey! I haven’t tested anything, but you can try a nondairy butter such as “Earth Balance” butter sticks and a nondairy milk.

  22. I have a large party coming up and this recipe looks fantastic! Wondering if I can use this recipe for 2 12-inch cake layers, or do you recommend I make this batter twice for a cake that large? I am fine with leftover batter and making cupcakes as a bonus too 😉

    1. Hi Christina! I always fear that I’ll run out of batter, so I usually make two batches just in case. I have the same thought process as you– you can always use leftover batter for a few vanilla cupcakes on the side! So I recommend making two batches. (Don’t double the recipe in 1 bowl. For best results, make it twice… separately.)

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