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

120 Comments

  1. Perfect solution for my son’s upcoming birthday. I am looking forward to the joy it will bring him on his special day.

  2. Yummmmmmmmy! This cake looks deeeeelicious, Sally! I made your strawberry shortcake cake a few weeks ago and loved it, so I’m sure I’ll adore this cake as well! The reverse creaming method really does give the cake a lovelier texture. Now I just need to find an excuse to make this!:)

  3. Hello sally.
    This looks good.
    Can you please post an in depth video of you explaining and demonstrating every step of the reverse creaming method please . It needs to be concentrated on , at least for me. I am new to it and I need someone to spend time on each step so I can get it right. Please let me know by e-mailing me at [email protected]

  4. Yess this is perfect! You sweetly replied to me the other day about what cake recipe I should use for a friend’s strawberry/whipped cream/vanilla cake trifle. But this is even better, I’ll use this one now! Perfect timing, I’m literally making it tonight 🙂

  5. Sally I love to make my sheet cakes in quarter sheet pans, then cut out 4 inch rounds to make tiny cakes…. can I do that with this recipe?
    Thanks – Love the reverse method!

      1. New to cakes here – sorry for such a basic question…
        if I were to make this in 8″ rounds … would it fit in 2? Or could I make it in 3?

      2. Hi Karen! It would fit into 2, but they would be pretty full. You could probably get the batter to stretch between 3 8-inch pans though.

  6. Hi Sally!
    This cake is perfect for my family, who is not fond of chocolate. I can see myself making this again and again for extended family get- togethers, and for my youngest son’s school functions! Love it; it is perfect!

    1. So happy this will become part of your baking rotation! Once you try it, I’d love to know what you think 🙂

  7. Hi Sally, I have been diligently reading all your recipes and tried some of them , everything except for butterscotch sauce came out very well. Reg, this recipe , what’s the substitute for Cake flour as I don’t get it here. I do want to post some of the stuff I made , pls tell me how and where to do the same.

    1. Hi Gayathri! See my recipe note about the cake flour substitution for this recipe. A combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch will work! Feel free to email me photos of the recipes anytime! I love to see them. [email protected] 🙂

  8. The ingredients list has baking soda but the steps don’t say where to add it. I added it to the flour, sugar, etc at the beginning. Hope that is right because the cake is in the oven! (Batter tastes amazing!)

  9. Made the cake today and it did not turn out at all. The taste is good but I didn’t get the rise yours did and it had some air holes in it that just collapsed. I tried to be careful not to overmix so maybe that was it. I have total success with all your other recipes so Im not sure about the reverse creaming method.

    1. Sounds like it needed to cook longer. I cooked my cake for 10-15 minutes longer than written in the recipe. I was so worried it would be dry and overcooked, but it was just perfect with longer cooking time. Mine would have collapsed too, if I took it out as written. Could be due to weather conditions and oven temperature accuracy.

  10. I just frosted this cake and WOW! How am I ever going to lose that proverbial last 5 pounds if I can’t stop myself from licking the frosting from the mixing bowl?
    I was excited to give the recipe a try and am not disappointed. Fabulous!

  11. How does this compare to the recipe for your One Layer Strawberry Shortcake Recipe that you posted? I have made that recipe twice now and it is absolutely perfect. Will be my go to from now on.

    1. Hi Monica! This is a great question. In my recipe testing, I doubled the One Layer Strawberry Shortcake Cake recipe to yield enough for a quarter sheet pan. The cake was actually very dry. You simply need more moisture for a cake with a larger surface area. (two 9-inch smaller pans vs one 9×13 inch pan) That’s when I decided to use more eggs, butter, and add sour cream– which all definitely helped. The cakes are pretyt much identical in texture. Hope you try this one!

  12. Great recipe- this is a keeper!! The vanilla cake is perfectly moist, not too sweet so combined with the sweetness of the fluffy buttercream makes for such a yummy cake!!

  13. My grandmother’s white cake recipe, written in her hand, found in her recipe drawer along with dozens of other recipes scribbled on bits of paper, used this method. I never thought anything of it, it was just the way it was done, (the number of strokes to beat by hand with a wooden spoon were also listed on the recipe). But now I know why those who ate it always commented on it when I took it anywhere, and I was asked to share the recipe with many who tried it over the years.

  14. Hi Sally! Looking forward to making this cake. Do you think I could substitute the sour cream for greek yogurt? If so, would it be a one to one substitution? Thanks!

  15. Hello. I’m wanting to make this into a marble cake. Do you know how much cocoa powder I would use? And also, I will be making a 1/2 sheet cake so would I double this recipe? I’m guessing double and not triple the recipe.

  16. Made it today. Tasted good but was definitely dense..not sure what I did wrong. It sort of looked like undercooked pound cake. I’ve never used reverse creaming before so maybe I overmixed? It was easy so I want to try again. I have great success with all your other recipes(except pound cake which does not come out at all) so I’ll keep trying! Happy 4th!

    1. Hi Dana! It shouldn’t be dense, but the crumb WILL be tight. If it tasted undercooked, it likely needed more time. And that could also be why it tasted dense too. Let me know if you try it again. Careful not to over-mix after you add the eggs.

      1. Thanks for the help. It was like a brick! I’ll definitely try it again, being careful not to overmix or underbake! In the meantime I’ve got your peach cobbler in the oven. Smells amazing.

  17. Hi Sally,

    I just made the cake and frosting and am waiting to decorate it for the 4th. Such an easy recipe and I love the reverse creaming method! I will tag you once it’s all complete! 🙂

  18. I brought this to a Fourth of July party yesterday and it got rave reviews. Definitely will be made again!

  19. Hi Sally! I am looking for the perfect vanilla cake to make for a friends birthday. It will be baked in a 9×13 pan. Do you suggest this cake or your white layer cake? It’s too hard for me to choose as they both look amazing! Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Taylor! This one is great– definitely a favorite and has an unbelievably soft, yet tight crumb. I think you’ll love it.

  20. Would this recipe in round cake pans or your Ortega vanilla layered cake recipe using buttermilk be more moist?

    1. Hi Heather! See my recipe note 🙂 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. Happy baking!

      1. Oh I saw that in an earlier note but I was wanting to know which of the two cake recipes would be more moist? Thanks!

  21. Hi Sally,
    I made this cake & followed the recipe to a “T”. I timed the mixing too. The cake came out dense. I spooned & leveled the cake flour, was I supposed to sift it as well? It tasted great, and the frosting got rave reviews. Unfortunately I can’t figure out where I went wrong. I also recently made your strawberry cake that ended up dense as well, though it tasted good. Both my baking powder & soda were fresh & all ingredients were room temp. Someone suggested I beat it another minute longer than suggested. I have an Oster stand mixer that doesn’t have a paddle attachment, could that be it? I used King Arthur cake flour; does the brand make a difference? Help please

    1. Hi Chris! For some reason, I completely missed this comment/question. So sorry about that! The dry ingredients should be sifted into the mixing bowl together, but you don’t have to sift the cake flour before adding to the bowl. The attachment shouldn’t be the issue and I don’t recommend beating the batter longer. Make sure you’re beating the cubed room temperature butter, vanilla, and milk for 1 full minute before adding the remaining milk, sour cream, and eggs. Cakes taste dense when there is too much sugar, too much liquid, or not enough leavener. I recommend increasing the baking powder to 1 and 1/2 teaspoons if you decide to try the recipe again.

  22. Thank you so much Sally for the cake! It was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good! I would like to make this cake taller. What do you suggest? What changes when you bake in 13×15 or 13×9? It would be really cool if you would post a blog post on that, that we be great!

    1. Hi Lana! This cake is for a 9×13 inch pan, but you could stretch it for a 13×15 inch cake pan. The cake will be thinner. So glad you tried and loved it!

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