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. It’s what I prefer when making cookies and cream cake, too. 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


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.


  • 3 cups (354g) 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


  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.


  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


  1. Hi Sally,
    Could I double this recipe and bake this in large half sheet pan?

    1. Hi, Molly – doubling would be too much, but 1.5x should be just right!

      1. Thank you!

    2. Hi Sally,

      Could I use margarine instead of butter? And lactose free milk 2% instead of whole milk? What else can i substitute? I’m allergic to dairy.

  2. Hello Sally!

    I have made several of your recipes! I love them all! I am going to try to make this one but turn it into a tres leches cake for my son. I hope this cake will work for it. Any suggestions?? I tried looking up a tres leches cake in your recipes but could not find one.

    1. Hi Kimmy, I wish I could help but I do not have a Tres Leches Cake recipe and have not ever tried one! Let me know if you try it with this cake – I’m so curious on how it would turn out!

      1. I will definitely let you know! I will be doing the trial run for the Tres Leches Cake this weekend if all goes right!

    2. Hello Sally!

      Your recipes have made me fall in love with baking all over again! Question: i am making a number 5 cut out cake for my sons bday. The pans are 12×18, i was thinking about doubling the recipe for both of the pans. It has to serve around 45 people . What do you recommend? Thanks!

      1. Hi Laila, Speciality pans often come with directions to tell you how much batter to use. In order to calculate how much you will need to alter a recipe you can see my very detailed post on Cake Pans and Conversions. If you do end up needing to double this recipe I highly recommend making it twice instead of doubling for the best texture.

  3. I just made the batter and it was so creamy and fluffy! Tasted great too! I’m very excited to see how it bakes! My last cake flour recipe was super dense and DRY. I will let you know! Ive been searching for a good scratch vanilla cake recipe forever! Loved the reverse creaming method!

  4. I’m wondering if you could substitute Crisco for the butter in this recipe. Thank you!

    1. Hi Jodi, The texture will likely be fine but you will miss the buttery flavor. This article from King Arthur Flour might be of interest to you:

      1. FYI for other bakers- I made it with the butter-flavored Crisco for a sheet cake, and I used the buttercream icing. The cake was ok (I cooked one small muffin to taste without the icing) – got lots of compliments; however, I think it would better with the butter.

  5. Hi Sally , loving your recipes usually very successful. However I’ve attempted your Vanilla Sheet cake twice & on both occasions the sponge wasn’t cooked through. Followed recipe to the letter & used an oven thermometer. Help please

    1. Hi Linda, Your cake just might take a few minutes longer in the oven. Use a toothpick to test for doneness – when inserted into the center of the cake if it comes out clean the cake is done. You can loosely cover the cake with aluminum foil if the edges are beginning to brown before the center is finished baking.

    2. If you used the weight measurement of the cake flour it is wrong in the written recipe. 2 1/2 cups of cake flour is 283grams, (approx)- not 360 grams.

  6. Hi Sally, would I be able to smooth and pipe this frosting? I’m attempting to make a “Frozen” themed cake for my grandson’s birthday, and was thinking about dying some of the frosting light blue then piping it around the edge. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jamie, You can also pipe this frosting. Enjoy!

  7. fantastic with the reverse cream! :))

  8. How many cupcakes would the buttercream recipe frost?

    1. About 12-16 generously. 🙂

  9. Leah Humphries says:

    Yummy cake! Reverse cream was fun. I tested for doneness at 25 minutes and saw no crumbs nor anything on the toothpick, but something just didn’t seem done, so I kept it in. 5 minutes later, the same result, but the edges were beginning to brown. I let it go about 3 minutes more and took it out. 20 minutes later, the middle fell But I covered it with frosting so no one could tell. This cake was so moist and not overly sweet, which I loved bc the frosting was piled high! I will make this again and watch the oven carefully, possibly tenting with foil

  10. Hi Sally,

    I tried making the recipe but my cakes turning out really dense 🙁 I can’t understand what I am doing wrong. Please please help me

    1. Hi Abhina, I have compiled my 10 Best Tips for Perfect Cakes that I think will help you troubleshoot.

  11. Heather M. Whipple says:

    Can I cut down the sugar amount and leave out the baking soda? I do not like the taste of baking soda in cake recipes. Could I just use extra baking powder in its place ?

  12. Can I sub the sour cream for 1/3 tsp baking powder and 1/3 cup yoghurt?

  13. I have not tasted yet but I just loved this recipe. It’s my first time using the reverse method and I’m excited to see how the taste turns out. So far it looks beautiful. Tested at 28mins as suggested and my toothpick came out clean. There was a slight browning around the edges but I peeked down the sides with my flashlight and it wasn’t too dark so I’m happy! I’ll ice it tomorrow! I’ll be making a paw patrol theme on top for my sons 5th birthday! He’s very excited to taste it! Thanks for the easy to follow recipe and tips! So far I’m very please.

  14. I made this delicious cake for my husband’s birthday yesterday. He loved it and so did I. Very tasty! I used your Cream Cheese recipe for the icing. I will definitely be making this again. I enjoy reading your recipes and getting all your good tips. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Forgot to rate!

  16. Can i use half and half or 2% milk instead of whole? I forgot to buy that… thanks!

    1. Hi Patty, You can actually make 1 cup of whole milk by mixing 3⁄4 cup 2% milk + 1⁄4 cup half-and-half. Or just use all 2% if you don’t have any whole milk.

  17. Barbara Sacchetti says:

    Can you make this in a tube pan ?

    1. I don’t recommend it– the cake would taste a bit heavy. Some of my Bundt cakes would work nicely in a tube pan.

  18. Hi, can I use buttermilk instead of whole milk?

    1. If using buttermilk as a substitute, use it to replace the milk AND the sour cream. So, 1 and 1/3 cups total.

  19. Rachel Gunther says:

    I just made this for my son’s birthday, added food coloring and decorated it, it is amazing!!! We all love it, thanks so much for the recipe!

  20. Sally, I love yah, but I hated this cake. It’s SOOO sweet.. like hurting sweet. The cake was kinda dry too. I followed the directions perfectly. What a waste of butter! 4 sticks wasted for nothing! Frosting was also way too sweet but that I should’ve know… I’m a cream cheese frosting kind of gal.

  21. Hi is it possible to use All Purpose flour for this recipe?, and would this recipe still work if I halved it.


  22. Heather M. Whipple says:

    Sally , i was looking at the pictures of the two bowls of batter above the caption you put of 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. um, are you sure about this i was hoping for the smoother batter picture on the right not the clumpy batter picture on the left. the one in the cake pan looks smooth , creamy , and just right. please sally tell me that was a typo please. it is making me nervous about making this cake, however i think i will carry on and write it down and try it. please let me know if the bowl on the left is a typo by e-mailing me at [email protected]

  23. Carol Wiggins says:

    Hello Sally
    I absolutely love all of your recipes. I tried the vanilla sheet cake with whipped buttercream icing. Per the instructions I placed the cake in the refrigerator. When I took it out to serve the next day, it was hard and dry. I did have a cover /lid on my glass pan. It was perfect the day I made it. Help!!

    1. Hi Carol, If the cake has been refrigerated you can take it out and let it come back to room temperature to soften up before serving. Also if you are making a cake and serving it within 24 hours I usually just let it sit out at room temperature, but longer than that I will refrigerate it. And make sure your lid/cover is airtight!

  24. Hi Sally. Is there a substitute for sour cream in this recipe?

    1. Trisha, You can use plain yogurt in it’s place.

  25. Sally,

    I can use APF instead of cake flour because I don’t have cake flour and it is difficult to find cake flour now?

    p.s. Can APF use for all of your cakes recipe instead of cake flour?


    1. Hi Charlotte, If a recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have any, I recommend using a Homemade Cake Flour Substitute.

  26. Hi Sally! Can you substitute the granulated sugar with brown sugar and will there be no problem? Or would the recipe have to change a bit? Been looking for a brown sugar cake but can’t find any and wasn’t sure if it’s okay to substitute 1:1 granulated sugar for brown sugar without it changing the texture.

    By the way, I love your recipes and always trust your recipes! Thank you for sharing them 🙂

    1. Hi Jina! I don’t recommend using brown sugar in this cake recipe– the cake will taste very heavy unless you switch up some of the ingredients. You could try using milk instead of sour cream and/or adding extra baking powder, but it would require testing. Let me know if you try anything!

  27. Can you make this with gluten free flour? I am going to use Bob Red Mill 1to1 flour .

  28. Hi sally! I have a stand mixer, but no paddle attachment, would the whisk do the same job? or should i use a different alternative

    1. I don’t recommend whisk attachment for this reverse creaming method, but if you have a hand mixer you can use the beaters.

  29. Flavors are really good!!! The only thing I’d say is that the cake was a bit dense for me, but not sure if that’s because we had to cook ours longer? We had to cook probably an extra 20 minutes all in. But each time I pulled the cake out, it was soupy in the middle so for whatever reason it just didn’t cook evenly, maybe it was the oven? Taste of the cake was delicious though and you can really taste the vanilla! Second SBA cake 🙂 Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Kate! The reverse creaming method can lead to a dense crumb if you’re not careful with the directions. Did you follow everything closely? 50+ minutes of baking is a long time for this cake, so I’m concerned there was simply a higher volume of wet ingredients. Was the butter overly warm by chance? See if this post can help, too: How to Avoid a Dry or Dense Cake. I wrote it and it’s filled with all my tips to prevent overly dense cakes.

  30. Hey Sally! I’m curious, why does this vanilla cake recipe use sour cream but your layer vanilla cake recipe doesn’t?

    1. Hi Elle! I use sour cream and milk here and buttermilk in my vanilla layer cake. Sour cream and milk produce (almost) the same results as buttermilk does. I don’t like adding all liquid (buttermilk) when using the reverse creaming method.

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