Vanilla Naked Cake

Learn how to make a beautiful naked cake with fresh berries and vanilla buttercream. This chic cake decorating style is much simpler than it looks. Follow my success tips and watch the helpful video tutorial to create your own naked cake.

Rustic naked cake on a wood slice cake stand

Today we’re baking, designing, and styling naked cakes. I’m sharing my tips for decorating a naked cake, a video showing you how, the vanilla cake recipe I used, plus plenty of inspiration for you to get started. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get right to it!


What Is a Naked Cake?

Naked cakes, with zero to minimal frosting on the outside, expose the cake layers and filling. This rustic-chic cake presentation has been popping up everywhere on the wedding, baby shower, bridal shower, and party scenes. Milk Bar owner Christina Tosi is credited with starting the trend back in 2013 when she began highlighting the cake layers, instead of just the frosting. Now naked cakes are a bakery staple!

A stunning addition to any celebration, naked cakes are perfect for Easter, Mother’s Day, small weddings, showers, and birthdays. What I love about the style is that you have creative control. You can decorate the naked cake in your own unique way, which makes this recipe 100x more fun. If interested in making a tiered cake, try my simple homemade wedding cake!

Vanilla naked cake on a wood slice cake stand

Two Types of Naked Cakes

There are 2 types of naked cakes. The cake in today’s photos is called a semi-naked or “half dressed” cake. There’s a minimal amount of frosting swiped around the sides. So in other words, a semi-naked cake is a crumb-coated cake. Or you can simplify the design even further with a true naked cake. This means the sides of the cake are bare like my fresh berry cream cake. Both styles are simple, approachable, and beautiful.

vanilla cake layers with frosting and raspberries between each layer

Overview: How to Make a Vanilla Semi-Naked Cake

Let’s focus on a semi-naked cake because that’s how I decorated the cake in today’s photos and video.

  1. Make the cake. To begin, you’ll need a layer cake. You can use any of my layer cake recipes, the vanilla layer cake recipe below, or any layer cake recipe you love. The vanilla cake recipe I include below is similar to my vanilla cake recipe, but it has more structure to support the naked cake decorating style. Cake recipes that yield three or four layers provide enough height to work with, but you can easily decorate a two layer cake this way. Tiered cakes are great too– like my homemade wedding cake.
  2. Add berries. I dotted fresh raspberries between my cake layers. Admittedly, I only dotted them around the edges because I ran out of raspberries. Oops! But I love how they peek out the sides. The fresh raspberries also provide a lovely texture variation. If you decide to do this as well, be warned that the raspberries will leak some juice around the edges after a day or so. I would leave the berries out if you’re making this cake in advance for a party or celebration.
  3. Frost the cake. Vanilla buttercream is my favorite for the half-dressed cake style. It’s simple and shows off the semi-exposed cake layers as well as the cake’s decorative pieces. The frosting recipe below is similar to my vanilla buttercream recipe, only with a higher ratio of ingredients to make a larger amount of frosting.

glass bowl of vanilla frosting

Vanilla Naked Cake Video Tutorial


5 Tips for Homemade Naked Cakes

  1. Make a plan. Think about what style of cake you want– naked or semi-naked– and any decorations or garnishes. This will determine how much frosting you need.
  2. Prepare your cake pans appropriately. Use quality cake pans and grease them well so the cakes release easily– I always use nonstick spray. For even layers, ensure each pan has an equal amount of batter. The easiest and most accurate way to do this is to use a kitchen scale. Place your cake pan on top and begin pouring batter into the pan– repeat for all pans, making sure each pan weighs the same.
  3. Level your cakes. Level off the top of each cake layer so both sides are flat. This is important because flat and even layers add stability to your finished cake. You can use a cake leveler or large serrated knife. I always use my serrated knife.
  4. Keep it simple. Make it easy on yourself! My recipe and instructions are simple and straightforward. I’ve seen many naked cake recipes that call for a soak in simple syrup to prevent it from drying out. You can absolutely take this route, especially if you’re making a true naked cake, but I don’t find it necessary if your cake is moist to begin with (like my vanilla cake below). Instead of piping frosting between each cake layer, use an icing spatula to spread the frosting– another timesaver and simplified step. The frosting recipe below yields about 4.5 cups. Use 1.5 cups between each layer and 1.5 cups on top & around the sides.
  5. The refrigerator is your best friend. Always chill your naked cake in the refrigerator for a few hours before slicing and serving. Why? This stabilizes all of your hard work! It helps the frosting adhere to the sides of the cake, as well as ensures a neater slice. Then you can set the cake out at room temperature for your party or celebration.

3 Helpful Tools for Decorating

Here are a few tools I find especially helpful for decorating a semi-naked cake.

  1. Straight spatula. A lot of cake decorators use an offset spatula to apply frosting on a cake, but I prefer a straight spatula. Maybe it’s the way my hands work, but it’s just easier for me to use.
  2. Bench scraper. Use this for running around the sides of the cake to smooth out the frosting.
  3. Cake turntable. This is optional. Many of you told me I needed one because it makes the job easier. And you were right! I did NOT use it for the cake pictured today, but you can watch me use it in the video tutorial. Transfer your decorated cake to a cake stand by using these cake circles— I use one in the video.

Fresh berries on top of cake on a wood slice cake stand

Mix and Match Cake and Frosting Recipes

Mix and match the below cake flavors and frostings to create your own unique naked cake.

Cake Flavors
These cakes are all pretty moist, so I wouldn’t worry about them drying out– especially if you choose the semi-naked/crumb coat look.

Frosting Flavors

Helpful tip: Freeze any leftover frosting for up to 3 months and thaw in the refrigerator for next time.


Naked Cake Decoration Ideas

I recommend starting simple, then adding from there. The possibilities are endless! Here are some of my favorite decorations to use:

  • Fresh flowers. Use flowers that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Avoid strong-smelling flowers as the smell may linger on the cake. And if you can find edible flowers, that’s even better.
  • Fresh berries or any fruit.
  • Smaller sweet treats like candies, cookies, meringues, and chocolates
  • Candied citrus
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Fresh herbs
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Sprinkles

Of course you’ll need a cake stand to show off your stunning masterpiece! Here are a few I love: wood slice cake stand (similar to what I have), white cake stand, and marble cake stand.

Slice of vanilla cake with raspberries on a white plate

Get creative, let your inner cake artist shine, and most of all… have fun!

Print
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Rustic naked cake on a wood slice cake stand

Vanilla Naked Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 6 hours
  • Yield: 12 servings
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This naked cake is simply stunning with fresh berries, vanilla cake, and vanilla buttercream.


Ingredients

  • 3 and 3/4 cups (443g) sifted all-purpose flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract (yes, Tbsp!)
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (420ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
  • optional: 1-2 cups fresh raspberries (or other berry, see note)

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 56 cups (600-720g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 56 Tablespoons (75-90ml) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • finishing decorations (see post above for inspiration!)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch cake pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. 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. On medium-high speed, add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix this batter. The batter will be smooth, velvety, and slightly thick.
  4. There is about 8 cups of batter total, so each layer will be 2 and 2/3 cups. Pour/spread batter evenly into prepared cake pans. If you’re worried about uneven cake layers, you can use a kitchen scale and weigh the cake pans for accuracy. (The weight of just the batter in my cake pans was about 1 lb 6 ounces.)
  5. Bake for around 25-26 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 is done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  6. 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 5 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 5 Tablespoons heavy cream, the vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes. Add 1/2 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, 1 more Tablespoon cream if frosting is too thick, or a pinch more of salt if frosting is way too sweet. Yields about 4.5 cups of frosting.
  7. Assemble and decorate the cake: Watch the video above for a tutorial on assembling and decorating this naked cake. First, 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. Spread 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting evenly on top. If using, dot half of the raspberries around the rim. Flatten them down into the frosting as best you can so the cake layer on top is sturdy. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with another 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting and more (flattened!) raspberries around the rim. You can sprinkle a few leftover raspberries in the center, too. (Like I did in the video.) Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting on top and all around the sides using an icing spatula. Use a bench scraper to smooth out the frosting on the sides of the cake. If you’re making a full naked cake, just spread the remaining frosting on top of the cake. If you have leftover frosting, you can freeze it for up to 3 months and thaw in the refrigerator for next time.
  8. Decorate the cake with garnishes.
  9. Refrigerate the cake for 2-3 hours or up to 1 day before slicing and serving. If chilling for more than a few hours, loosely cover with plastic wrap after 1 hour of refrigeration. (The frosting will “set” after about 1 hour and the plastic wrap won’t really ruin your frosting at that point.) And if you’re chilling for more than a few hours, I suggest decorating with garnishes right before serving (so as not to wilt the flowers, etc).
  10. Cover and store leftover cake at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead 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. Assemble and frost the cake the next day when you are ready to serve. The frosted cake can be refrigerated for up to 1 day– see step 8. The frosted cake can also be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
  2. Special Tools (affiliate links): KitchenAid Stand Mixer, KitchenAid Hand Mixer, Glass Mixing Bowls, 9-inch Round Cake Pans, Icing Spatula, Bench Scraper, Cake Turntable
  3. Flour: Sift flour before measuring.
  4. Buttermilk: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a DIY sour milk substitute. Add 1 Tablespoon 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 3/4 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.
  5. Raspberries: The raspberries will leak some juice around the edges after a day or so. I would leave the berries out if you’re making this cake in advance for a party or celebration.
  6. Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
  7. I used this cake recipe for my checkerboard cake. The cake layers are slightly thicker here because this cake is 3 layers instead of 4. If you want to make the naked cake as a 4 layer cake, use 2 cups of batter for each cake layer and bake for 23-24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Keywords: naked cake

219 Comments

  1. Yesterday was my daughters first birthday and planned on doing this naked cake, she loves raspberries. My sister in-law ended up frosting it so it wasnt a naked cake for the challenge but it turned out delicious and amazing. Everyone loved it. They kept being like are you sure that much butter, really 5 eggs- and all loved the cake. Cannot wait to make another for the challenge.
    *We added more vanilla to the buttercream frosting. 

  2. Hi Sally!
    I don’t know if I read over it, but I was wondering how many cups of frosting this recipe makes?
    The cake looks amazing! I’ve never made a naked cake, but it’s definitely on my to do list!

    1. Hi Linda! Yields about 4.5 cups of frosting.

  3. Hi Sally,

    Can i make this cake in a 9×13 pan? Thank you.

    1. Hi Jo! There’s too much batter for a 9×13 pan, but use what you can and fill the pan about halfway – 2/3 full. Any extra batter is great for cupcakes.

  4. Hi Sally,

    Just wondering if I want to make alphabet Birthday cake, do you recommend to use this recipe or your new favourite white layer cake? Love most of your cakes.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Mirah! You can use either. The white cake recipe has a much lighter crumb and while it will hold up well baked as different shapes, this naked cake may be a better fit.

  5. Hi, Just made this for my daughter’s 2nd birthday party tomorrow. Can’t wait to see it decorated and eat it! My husband was confused and asked if I made a mistake with my frosting, but I love the look of these naked cakes. You may want to note in your recipe that if you chill the frosting, you have to leave time for it to come to room temperature before frosting your cakes. Maybe that’s obvious, but I was glad I was not trying to frost right before serving. I set my bowl of frosting in a tray of warm water and that worked fairly quickly. My cakes came out pretty flat … hoping I didn’t over mix or over bake. The positive is I didn’t have to cut the tops off to be flat.

  6. Elizabeth Zulick says:

    Hi Sally!

    My cakes came out a bit dense, not with this nice crumb I see in your pictures! Any suggestions? I followed all your directions! I sifted the flour and used fresh baking powder and soda. I always weigh my indegredients. 

    Let me know if you have any ideas!

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Elizabeth! I know how frustrating that can be. How about overmixing? That’s usually the culprit behind my cakes tasting dense. Regardless, try sifting the flour TWICE then measuring it. That could help for next time.

  7. Hi Sally! Do you think I could make a two-layer cake instead? If so, how do I change the recipe?

    1. You would need to use 2/3 of the recipe so I would recommend either making cupcakes with the remaining batter or baking and freezing the third layer to enjoy later!

  8. Would this recipe make cupcakes okay?

    1. This cake batter can be divided up to make cupcakes, yes! Same oven temperature and about 18-21 minutes bake time.

  9. I was just wondering would you recommend this recipe to cover the cake with fondant?

    1. This cake holds up very well under fondant, yes.

  10. Hi Sally,

    I just wanted to tell you how great this recipe is! Having zero experience with baking cakes like this, I am pleased to say that my daughter’s christening/birthday cake turned out amazing – I received so many compliments not only on how great it looked but how amazing it tasted too. Such an easy recipe for a beginner like me to follow, so thanks again!

  11. Hi Sally. Any thoughts on how I could make this a lemon cake instead of vanilla?

    1. Hi Misty! You could definitely add some fresh lemon zest and juice to this cake batter, or try my lemon layer cake or lemon blueberry cake!

  12. Hi Sally! Can I possibly use mango instead of raspberries? Thanks in advance for replying…i’m a new fan from the Philippines!

    1. Yes! Any fruit works with vanilla cake!

  13. Emily Williams says:

    Sally,
    I have to tell you, using this recipe for cupcakes turned out just as delicious as the cake! The cupcakes are perfectly moist and flavorful. I think they may be my favorite cupcakes I have made yet. This is now going to be my standard go to recipe. Thanks for responding with cook time and amount.

    -Emily

  14. I tried your recipe the cake was absolutely delicious I had challenges with the frosting it tasted good but the texture was grainy. What do you suggest. I’m making an engagement cake and would love to use your recipe again

    Thanks

    1. Sifting the confectioners’ sugar should help for next time. Glad you enjoyed the naked cake!

  15. I have NEVER tasted a better cake in all my 58 years!!!!! OMG I made this for a small party of friends and they were blown away by the consistency and flavor. This will be the only vanilla cake I ever make!

  16. Hi sally,
    Can you bake this in a 9×13 cake pan? If so how long do you think?

    1. Hi Josh! There’s too much batter for a 9×13 inch cake pan, but use what you can and fill the pan about halfway – 2/3 full. Any extra batter is great for cupcakes. You could also try my white cake (also great vanilla flavor with a soft crumb). See recipe note for 9×13 inch cake pan.

  17. I need to make 2 smash cakes (both will be 2-layer 6″ cakes). Do you think this is enough batter to cover both cakes (4 layers of 6″ total)? Any recommendations for adjusting baking time?

    1. Hi Alyssa, This should be enough batter for 4 six-inch layers. You will shorten the bake time but without testing I’m unsure exactly what the time will be.

  18. I made this cake today. It was my first cake like this and it turned out GREAT! Your step by step instructions were SO helpful and the recipe is amazing! Thanks so much!

  19. Hi Sally!
    If I am hoping to make a rainbow cake with six layers from this recipe. If I use about 1 and 1/3 cups for each layer, what would the baking time be? Thank you!

    1. Hi Lauren! Just a few minutes shorter. Keep your eye on them and use a toothpick to test for doneness. 🙂

  20. Hi! I wanted to use this recipe for a birthday party. I wanted to decorate the cake fully instead of making a naked cake. Do I need to double the frosting recipe to have enough?

    1. This should be enough. I often have leftover frosting when making a naked cake!

  21. Gayle A Freeze says:

    Can I use cake flour instead of all purpose?

    1. Hi Gayle! Yes, but after recently testing that method– I recommend using 4 cups of cake flour with this amount of liquid and eggs

  22. I’m so excited to make this for my daughter’s 2nd birthday this weekend! I’m wondering if I make the frosting the night before and keep it in the fridge, do I need to let it adjust for a few hours to room temperature the next day before frosting? I’m assuming so…Thanks!

    1. Yes, let the frosting come back to room temperature and give it a stir before using. I hope she has a great birthday!

  23. Sounds delicious! How would I make wedding cake flavor? Thanks!!

    1. How about frosting with this champagne frosting: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/champagne-frosting/

  24. Hi Sally!!

    When I try to frost a naked cake I have trouble with crumbs getting into the icing. I know it’s technically a “crumb coat”, but an ugly amount get in and make it look pretty bad. The icing actually pulls away at the cake when I smooth it out. Any tips? I tried freezing the layers before assembling but it didn’t help!

    1. Hi Abby! The thinner the frosting, the less it will pull off the crumbs. Try thinning out your frosting with extra milk/cream.

  25. Barbara Hemstreet says:

    I plan to make smaller round cake. I have a round cake pan of 7” and about 1 3/4 in height pan. Should I make 3 or 4 layers? And also should I put something like frosting on wooden plate to prevent cake from slipping off?

    1. Hi Barbara! This cake batter may be too much for even a 4 layer 7-inch cake. You can use any extra batter for cupcakes, though. I never usually dab the cake stand or plate with frosting in the center, but you certainly can to make sure it doesn’t slide. That’s always a nice trick!

  26. Is it best to freeze cake before adding frosting, so as not to get crumbs

    1. Either way works. I prefer to freeze the cake layers before frosting. Frosting always tastes best fresh!

  27. Thanks Sally – I made your 6 inch cake into a semi-naked cake for the first time flavoured coconut and raspberry consulting this recipe and your other Coconut cake, and blackberry lavender cake recipes. Thanks for all your notes and videos – before this I was intimidated by semi-naked cakes but really it was fun and easy! Can’t wait to try new techniques.

  28. Hi Sally!

    I was looking to only make a 2 layer cake with this recipe. Would taking half of everything in the cake and frosting recipe do the trick?

    1. You can try halving all of the ingredients or even try my white cake recipe instead. It has wonderful vanilla flavor!

  29. Tammy Heiden says:

    Would it be crazy to make both the white cake and the hummingbird cake for a wedding cake…alternating the layers? But would use the buttercream for the entire cake…

    1. Hi Tammy! I think that would be great! The two flavors would work very well together. The cake would be pretty tall, so keep that in mind.

  30. Hi Sally,
    I love the way your cake is decorated – what flower have you used?
    Thanks!

    1. Thanks Marie! You know, I can’t recall the name of this type of floral. I picked them up from our local nursery last year. so sorry!

    2. It looks like Waxflower to me…….

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