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 on a white plate

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!

sliced vanilla sheet cake in a glass baking pan topped 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.

slice of vanilla sheet cake on a pink plate with a fork

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.

2 images of dry ingredients in a sieve and cubes of butter with dry ingredients

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.

2 images of cake batter in a stand mixer bowl

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 in a glass bowl

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

If you want to go the extra mile, top this beauty with thick and fluffy Swiss meringue buttercream instead.


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!


vanilla sheet cake decorated like an American flag with berries and frosting

slice of vanilla sheet cake on a pink plate

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

More Quarter Sheet Cake Recipes

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slice of vanilla sheet cake on a pink plate

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 (360g) 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 (80gsour cream, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

Whipped Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 cup (230gunsalted 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 32-35 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

256 Comments

  1. Hi Sally!

    I tried your recipe and it was delicious. Very moist and fluffy. However my cake baked unevenly, so the right side is thicker than the left. I think it’s because we have an old oven and it might be a bit crooked, but could it be that I did something wrong?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Ella, It’s not uncommon for old ovens to bake unevenly. Next time simply try rotating your cake pan halfway through the bake time.

  2. Hi, I love how you explain the process . Could I swap sour cream for buttermilk? In this recipe or in general? Thanks.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi JJ, I don’t recommend omitting the sour cream. If you don’t have it on hand, plain yogurt is the best substitute!

  3. Hi! I would love to use this recipe for a half sheet 18×13 cake. Should I double the recipe? And how long should I bake it for?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tam, For alternate pan sizes you can see this post on Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions to calculate how much batter you would need. Happy baking!

  4. Hi Sally!

    I plan on making this recipe for 20-25 people using a baking sheet. Is 1/4 sheet enough for that amount of people and what would be the measurements of the ingredients?

    Thank you very much!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Teresa, To make this cake in a different size pan you can use the post Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions to help you calculate how much batter you would need.

    2. Hi Sally!
      I was planning on making 2 9×13 sheets of this cake and layering it with strawberries and whipped cream. Do you think layering it is a good idea? And do you have any tips for layering without the cake breaking?

  5. Hi, Sally – & greetings from the UK! My question is actually the same as the lady’s above, but I couldn’t see a reply yet? (Plz forgive my impatience – I know ur a busy lady!) But I’m planning on making a 2-layer 9×13 cake for my grandsons bday – nxt wknd! (Hence the urgency!Lol! I have 2 cakes to make for that same day!) Is this cake sturdy enough to make it a 2 layer? If so, would you suggest making 2 batches, or would 1 batch be enough to split it into 2 layers?
    Many, many thanks in advance!
    Kelly..xx

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kelly, This cake would be very thin if split in half. For two layers you can make this cake twice (for best results we don’t recommend doubling the recipe).

      1. I did that and my cake turned out dry and too thick Was the comment as I did it for a birthday party some parts were doughy and I could not taste the vanilla extract at all I was wondering if the vanilla pudding mix that is usually in cake recipes is missing

  6. Hi Sally, I really love this recipe it’s super moist and very tasty. Is there any way I can alter the recipe to make it favour a diabetic person? I don’t want to use any other recipe this one is perfect

  7. Hi Sally, you are a good teacher and your aim to build confident home bakers is definitely working. Am Yeu,from Zimbabwe. I made the vanilla sheet cake and it was perfect,i love it. Thanks for sharing. Kindly confirm though if the texture won’t be compromised if i change pan sizes as it will probably need more time to bake

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Yeu, You can make this recipe as a two layer 9 inch cake without making any changes – see recipe notes for directions. For a different size cake you can follow the post Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions to calculate how much batter you need based on the pan size you are using.

    2. Hi, I have what I think is a 12.5 inch x 16.5 inch pan. How can I adjust the recipe?

  8. Hi Sally,
    I tried this recipe today and followed the instructions exactly. The cake turned out really, really good (like really, REALLY). However, I wasn’t satisfied with the frosting. It didn’t look like the photos you posted above. It wasn’t white but a bit on the clear side. So when I frosted the cake, I could still see the cake under the frosting. It looked a bit like a ginormous glazed donut. Do you have any idea what I did wrong? However, overall, this was a fantastic recipe, so my 4.5 stars rounds up to a 5! Even if something did go wrong, I still really appreciate your time and effort in making this recipe! 🙂

  9. Hi Sally,
    I tried this recipe today, but the frosting was disapointing. I followed the instructions exactly, but it turned out to look clear-ish rather than white and fluffy. So when I frosted the cake, I could still see the cake under the layer of buttercream. It look a bit like a ginormous rectangular glazed donut, not a vanilla sheet cake, because of the fact that the frosting was clear and looked like exactly like donut glaze.
    However, despite that, the reason I am giving this recipe a five stars is because the cake WAS SO GOOD! Like SOOOOOOOO good. Ladies and gentleman, if you are considering trying this cake, GO FOR IT. I was 101% satisfied with my cake. It was very, very even and was baked just to the right level. And the taste was SPECTACULAR, much better than the store-bought cakes. In conclusion, I wanted to say thank-you Sally for this spectacular cake recipe, but maybe you could tell me what went wrong with the frosting?
    Thank you so much for your time!

  10. Hi Sally,
    I don’t have a stand mixer or hand mixer. I usually use a whisk or spatula to mix ingredients. Can we make this frosting and cake just as light and fluffy and delicious as it should be WITHOUT a stand mixer or hand mixer?
    Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Johanna, It would take a LOT of arm muscle to make frosting by hand!

  11. Hi Sally! I have been successfully cooking for years, but I’m a new baker. I received a KitchenAid mixer for my anniversary and I finally feel like I have the right tools to properly bake cakes and frostings! I shopped the ingredients for this list today, but totally spaced the whole milk. I saw you said to avoid lower fat milk, will Half and Half be an okay substitute or is whole milk imperative to the recipe? Thank you! Can’t wait to make this for my family today!

  12. Samantha Smithson says:

    Hello Sally,
    In this recipe it says to preheat the oven then make the batter. My oven is really weird; after I click a bunch of buttons to preheat it, after a few minutes, it beeps. That’s how I know the preheating is ready and that I should put the cake batter in. I am not sure I can make the cake batter that fast. According to this recipe, you preheat the oven, then make te batter, then bake. Perhaps it’s because of my oven, but I really want to make this recipe. Say I needed to preheat my oven to 350. I do that, and then start making the batter. After a few minutes it beeps, and that’s how I know it’s ready to put the batter in. But if, say, I’m not DONE making the batter yet and need a few extra minutes. That would be a DISASTER because the temperature of the oven will increase gradually. So I MUST make the batter before the oven beeps.
    Sorry to bother you, but does it make a difference if I preheat the oven BEFORE making the batter or AFTER?
    Thank you SO MUCH for your help (and for this recipe, too!)
    Love, Samantha

    1. Hi Samantha, thank you so much for the comment. Sorry if I’m misunderstanding it though. After the oven preheats, it should stay at that same preheated temperature. Does your oven shift temperatures a lot? Can you purchase and use an oven thermometer? You can make the cake batter as the oven preheats or after the oven preheats.

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