Vanilla Sheet Cake with Whipped Buttercream Frosting

This vanilla sheet cake recipe uses the reverse creaming method, an easy technique that promises a uniquely soft and springy crumb with the most delicious buttery vanilla flavor. Use this cake recipe as a birthday sheet cake or for anytime you crave a simple classic dessert. Top the cake with whipped vanilla buttercream, a frosting made from butter, confectioners’ sugar, and heavy cream and whipped until extra fluffy.

vanilla sheet cake slice

When it comes to classics like vanilla cake, the chapter never really ends. You see, there’s 3 layer vanilla cake, vanilla cupcakes, vanilla naked cake, one layer vanilla cake (aka strawberry shortcake cake!), 6 inch vanilla cake, and even a vanilla/white cake hybrid. Each of these recipes use the same ingredients, only remixed and divided in different proportions.

But what about a simple vanilla sheet cake recipe?

That’s what we’re focusing on today. This is a pure and classic vanilla sheet cake with a soft, springy crumb and unbelievable sweet vanilla flavor. It’s the simple birthday cake you need and buttery taste you love. And let’s add a giant fluff ball on top– otherwise known as whipped buttercream. This is dessert nostalgia at its finest!

vanilla sheet cake with sprinkles

Behind the Vanilla Sheet Cake Recipe

My vanilla cake recipe (the best I’ve ever had!) yields too much batter for a 9×13 inch quarter sheet cake, while the strawberry shortcake cake batter isn’t quite enough. My 2 layer vanilla/white cake hybrid is super light and fluffy and while it’s the perfect amount for a 9×13 inch quarter sheet pan, it doesn’t have the same buttery tight crumb as traditional vanilla cake. For today’s recipe, I took what I love about these cakes and combined them into the appropriate amount of batter to fit this classic size pan.

First, let’s walk through an in-depth tutorial of the mixing method. (Reverse creaming! You’re going to love it.) Though this is a very straightforward recipe, I encourage you to read through my tips before getting started.

vanilla sheet cake with whipped buttercream frosting

Reverse Creaming Method for Cake

Do you remember when I shared Tessa’s Blackberry Lavender Cake? I just love her recipes! Prior to that cake, I had only used the reverse creaming method a handful of times. I loved her cake’s texture, so I replicated it with my strawberry shortcake cake not long after. We’re going to use the same method with today’s vanilla sheet cake recipe. Instead of starting with creaming butter and sugar together like traditional cake recipes, the reverse creaming method begins with the dry ingredients and ends with the eggs. This method produces a lighter and tighter crumb with more spring. The slices are tight like pound cake, but not dense in the slightest. It’s velvety soft and almost tastes creamy.

This method is so unique, but very easy.

Sift the dry ingredients, including the sugar, into a bowl. Sifting with a fine mesh strainer is imperative because it aerates the dry ingredients and leaves behind larger sugar crystals. Remember, we aren’t creaming sugar and butter together where large sugar crystals are usually broken down. Next, mix in cubed room temperature butter, a little milk, and vanilla extract. In this step, the butter coats the flour. The coating of fat minimizes the flour’s formation of gluten, which helps result in a finer cake crumb. You’ll taste the difference.

By the way, we coat flour with fat when we make biscuits and pie crust too. This practice helps produce an extra flaky (not dense) baked good.

dry ingredients and butter for vanilla cake

Success Tip: Cube the butter when it’s cold. Smaller pieces of butter will warm to room temperature much quicker than a full stick of butter. Plus, it’s easy to cut cold butter into cubes as opposed to warmer room temperature butter.

After that, we’ll add the rest of the liquids including the remaining milk, the sour cream, and eggs. The photo on the left (below) is our sheet cake batter. I promise it’s the creamiest batter you’ll ever work with. Avoid over-mixing it.

Which Cake Pan?

Use whichever 9×13 inch pan you have on hand. I usually lean towards a glass 9×13 inch pan simply because the cake looks extra beautiful serving right out of the dish. If using a metal baking pan, keep a close eye on the cake. Metal pans usually mean a quicker bake time, though my test recipes (in all different pans) each finished baking around the same time.

cake batter

vanilla cake batter in 9x13 inch glass cake pan

Vanilla Sheet Cake Ingredients

Whether you’re a beginner baker or pro, you’ll be happy to see that this vanilla sheet cake requires only a handful of super basic baking ingredients. Each one serves a purpose and for best results, I don’t recommend making substitutions.

  1. Cake Flour: Cake flour produces the softest cake. There’s simply no competition, but you can certainly make this cake flour substitute if needed. Cake flour is sold in the baking aisle with the other flours. You can use leftovers in any recipes using cake flour.
  2. Sugar & Salt: Sugar sweetens the cake and salt adds flavor.
  3. Baking Powder & Baking Soda: Remember why it’s important to use both baking powder AND baking soda in some recipes?
  4. Butter: Butter is the workhorse behind this whole recipe, especially the reverse creaming method. It also adds flavor. I recommend using unsalted butter in this sheet cake recipe. If you’re interested, here’s a post I wrote on salted butter vs unsalted butter.
  5. Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract adds flavor. Use an entire Tablespoon… trust me! And if you use homemade vanilla extract, even better. 🙂
  6. Whole Milk: The cake’s crumb is extra rich and we have the whole milk to thank for it. Avoid lower fat or nonfat milks. Moist cakes need fat.
  7. Sour Cream: The moist maker! Thanks to sour cream, this cake melts in your mouth.
  8. Eggs: To obtain a fluffier cake, I usually add extra egg whites. However, this sheet cake didn’t need it. Maybe my ratios were off, but my few test recipes proved that this combination of ingredients brought together with the reverse creaming method doesn’t need extra whites. Simply use 3 full eggs. Actually, in one test recipe, I used 4 eggs with no sour cream. The cake tasted heavy, so I ultimately swapped 1 egg with sour cream. The cake is much lighter and moister.

Whipped vanilla buttercream

Whipped Buttercream

Elevating this vanilla sheet cake is a lovely blanket of whipped buttercream. Use the same ingredients as my regular vanilla buttercream recipe, but add extra heavy cream and whip it for a few extra minutes. A little extra cream and a little extra whip turn this frosting into a buttercream/whipped cream duo. It’s mega creamy and fluffy, as if you borrowed a puffy cloud from the sky and slathered it on a cake. Talk about dreamy!

Couldn’t you get lost in these swirls?

vanilla sheet cake with sprinkles


Make a Flag Cake!

Before we finish up, let’s chat about turning this vanilla sheet cake into an iconic flag cake. Spread 2/3 of the frosting all over the cake, saving the remaining 1/3 for piping detail. Grab some fresh blueberries and halved strawberries and line them up to mimic the stars and stripes on an American flag. I used Ateco 32 piping tip for the piping between the “stars” and Ateco 844 piping tip for the piping between the “stripes.” Happy 4th of July!


Flag cake

vanilla sheet cake

Would love to know if you try this sheet cake!!

More Quarter Sheet Cake Recipes

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vanilla sheet cake

Vanilla Sheet Cake with Whipped Buttercream Frosting

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: serves 12
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This vanilla sheet cake recipe uses the reverse creaming method, an easy technique that promises a uniquely soft and springy crumb with the most delicious buttery vanilla flavor. Each ingredient serves a purpose and for best results, I don’t recommend making substitutions.


Ingredients

  • 3 cups (345g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks; 230g) unsalted butter, cubed and softened to room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) whole milk, at room temperature and divided
  • 1/3 cup (80g) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

Whipped Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 and 1/2 cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoonpure vanilla extract
  • salt, to taste
  • optional: sprinkles for garnish

Instructions

  1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Generously grease a 9×13 inch cake pan.
  2. Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. (Or if using a handheld mixer, any large mixing bowl.) With the paddle attachment, beat the ingredients together on low speed for a few seconds to gently combine. Add the butter, vanilla, and 1/2 cup of milk. Mix on medium speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl. The mixture will resemble a thick dough.
  3. Whisk the remaining milk, the sour cream, and eggs together in a medium bowl. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the egg mixture in 3 additions, mixing for about 15 seconds after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl, then mix for about 15 more seconds until batter is completely combined. Avoid over-mixing. Some small lumps are OK.
  4. Pour and spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake for around 30-34 minutes or until the cake is baked through. Begin checking doneness at 28 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cake to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. The cake must be completely cool before frosting.
  5. Make the buttercream: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to medium-high speed and beat for 4 full minutes. Add up to 1/4 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin or another Tablespoon of cream if frosting is too thick. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. (I add 1/8 teaspoon salt.) Frosting should be extra fluffy.
  6. Spread frosting in a thick layer on cooled cake. I use and recommend an offset spatula. If desired, use a piping tip to pipe some frosting and/or garnish with sprinkles. Slice and serve.
  7. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let the refrigerated frosting sit at room temperature for 10 minutes, then beat with a mixer for 1 minute to bring it back to a spreadable consistency. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
  2. Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19-21 minutes. Yields about 2 dozen. Or try my vanilla cupcakes recipe.
  3. 2 Layer Cake: If desired, you can divide the batter between two 9 inch cake pans. Bake time will be a few minutes shorter– keep a close eye on the cakes at 20 minutes and check for doneness with a toothpick.
  4. Cake Flour: 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 cake flour substitute.
  5. 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.
  6. Sprinkle Cake: To make a sprinkle cake, fold about 2/3 cup (105g) of sprinkles into the cake batter. Avoid nonpareils (the little balls), which tend to bleed their color.
  7. Chocolate Frosting: If desired, swap the whipped vanilla buttercream with chocolate buttercream. The chocolate buttercream calls for beating for 1 minute, but for a fluffy whipped texture, whip for 3 full minutes.
  8. Special Tools: Metal 9×13-inch Cake Pan, Glass 9×13-inch Cake Pan, KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Offset Spatula, Sieve

Keywords: vanilla, birthday, dessert

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101 Comments

  1. Sally a friend asked for a marble cake for his birthday. I wanted to do a vanilla cake instead of a yellow cake for the mix. Do you think this will be a good base & I can add the chocolate from there?

    Best,
    Alex

  2. Hi Sally…. do you think this recipe would work to make a rainbow cake? And what would you recommend to frost a rainbow cake? The regular vanilla buttercream or the whipped one. My child is turning 8 and he wants a rainbow cake with a soccer theme I dont know how am I going do it but I’ll try .
    Thank you!!
    Kareen

    1. Hi Kareen! How about you use my vanilla cake recipe. You can divide the batter between 6 cake pans. The bake time will be shorter since the cakes will be thinner. You can use the frosting listed with that cake or this whipped one. 🙂

  3. I really like this recipe and reverse creaming method. It produces a tight crumb but light cake with a nice vanilla flavor. The cake even tastes better the second day. I will be using this recipe again and again. Thank you, Sally!

    1. Hi Shawn! Buttermilk will be fine. For best results, though, I would actually use 1 and 1/3 cups of buttermilk and omit the whole milk and sour cream.

  4. I am wanting to make this cake for my dad’s retirement party and we are using a 12*18 pan should I double the recipe? Thank you

    1. Hi Amber! You can use this recipe as a written for a thinner half sheet cake or 1.5x the recipe for the half sheet pan. Doubling the recipe would be too much.

      1. Thanks so much. Ok I’ll check to see what they would like me to do and just to make sure I’m understanding correctly I would make it as is or add an extra 1/2 of all the ingredients to make more.
        Thanks for your help.
        Amber

  5. Can I make a two layer 9×13 cake with this recipe? If I make two cakes and stack them with icing in the middle? There will be 20 kids plus some adults at the party and I’m worried one layer won’t be enough. Thanks!

    1. Yes, you can make two and then stack them! I do however recommend that you make the recipe twice, instead of just doubling it. When you work with too much batter at once you risk over or under mixing and ending up with a dense cake.

      1. I ended up using all-purpose flour and half and half for the frosting and even with those substitutions the cake was amazing! So moist and tender. Thank you for such a delicious recipe!

    1. Hi Teresa! For best taste and texture, see my recommendations for Make Ahead in the recipe notes. You can always freeze the cake if needed too.

  6. Sally, this cake was fantastic. I made this for the fourth of July, and I had few people tell me it was “the best cake they ever had”. I’ve made a lot of your recipes, and so many of them are fantastic (the chocolate sheet cake with peanut butter icing is another one that people DIE over), but I have to say the reverse creaming really does something special here. Thanks so much for this lovely recipe. It is moist but not crumbly, which is a hard combination to get.

  7. Can I serve this out of the pan like a traditional sheet cake you would buy? Will it hold up as long as I grease, flour and use parchment paper? Thank you – it sounds delicious!

  8. Hi Sally! I’m deciding between this cake, your favorite white cake, or your all time favorite vanilla cake for my daughter’s birthday party. To feed the large crew, I’ll be making two 9×13 cakes (which seems possible for any of these cakes, based on your responses to previous comments, by following each recipe twice and taking into account your notes). Any tips on the difference in taste and texture among these three cakes to help me decide? They all sound wonderful! Thank you!

    1. Hi Alisa! Happy to help. Best bet would be to make 2 of these cakes or my white cake recipe 2x. Follow the 9×13 inch pan instructions in that recipe. The white cake isn’t as buttery as this vanilla sheet cake. It’s a little fluffier, though!

  9. Hi! I’m thinking of making this cake for my sons birthday. Can I take it out of the glass dish after cooling? I know you had mentioned you could use a larger sheet pan (in above comments ) and do it that way, but I’d like to stick to the 9×13 an make 2.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Katie! It would be easiest to line the pan with parchment paper so you can easily (and slowly!) invert the cooled cake to remove it from the pan.

  10. Hi Sally, would this recipe work for cake pops? Sometimes a “pound-like” cake consistency allows you to form cake pops with less icing…your cake pop recipe looks delicious and I’mj going to try that one anyway, but thought I would ask…

    1. Hi Jessie! Yes, you can use this cake for cake pops. Use just enough frosting to create a moist crumb for shaping into balls/pops.

  11. Could I make this with the addition of dessicated coconut? My partner has asked for jam and coconut sponge for his birthday which is sponge cake topped with jam and dessicated coconut something from our childhood at school. Thanks Claire

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