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

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!


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 (345gcake 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

212 Comments

  1. DENEEN COOK says:

    I have to actually laugh when I see at the top of your post that “every ingredient serves a purpose and you don’t recommend any substitutions”… Then I look through the comments and people are asking about substitutions! Anyway, my question is about cake flour, the cake flour that we get in Canada already has baking powder and salt in it. When you refer to cake flour am I correct in assuming that your cake flour does not include the salt and baking powder?

    1. Hi Deneen, correct– pure cake flour without baking powder and salt.

  2. Hi Sally,
    Made this cake yesterday for a Norwegian holiday; 17th of May. It’s similar to our 4th of July. My husband is from Oslo. He loved the cake! Thanks so much for all your hard work. Your recipes are always great!
    Rosie

  3. Can this cake be carved and shaped? Will it hold up? Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Kim, I haven’t tried it but it should hold up to carving. Let me know if you try!

      1. I have 2 questions.
        Could I make this as a large sheet cake using 1/2 sheet baking pan?

        Secondly, do you have a recipe for chocolate sheet cake.

      2. Hi Tracey, You can use my post Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions to help calculate a different pan size.
        Here is my chocoalte sheet cake recipe. Enjoy!

  4. Is this enough batter to make a 3 layer 6 inch cake?

    1. Hi Monica, This recipe yields too much batter for 3 6 inch cake pans. I recommend this recipe for a 3 layer 6 inch vanilla cake!

  5. Diana Vasilakis says:

    I’ve made this cake twice in a le crueset 9×12 during quarantine and it’s divine. My new favorite recipe- super moist and fabulous texture! I just made it again but used two 9” metal cake pans to share the wealth and the texture is very dry. I baked it for less time and used a different brand of cake flour. Sally, would that have made such a difference in texture?

    1. Hi Diana, so glad that you love this cake recipe. I wonder if the smaller cakes were over-baked, though? If it’s helpful, see my How to Prevent a Dry or Dense Cake page. Or perhaps the brand of cake flour. What did you use?

  6. Dilshaad Isaacs says:

    Hi, Sally

    I do not have sour cream and due to lockdown it’s hard to find. Can I use buttermilk instead?

    1. Hi Dilshaad, plain yogurt is the best substitute for the sour cream.

      1. Dilshaad Isaacs says:

        Unfortunately I cannot find that in the store with SA Lockdown.

        If I use buttermilk what tips can you give me

  7. I’d like to use this for a small dome Mold dessert that has a cake bottom and mousse dome. However, I’ll need a thinner cake. Do you recommend just cutting it in half when done or making less batter? If less batter, what do you recommend? Thanks! Love your recipes!!

    1. Hi Sofia, Without knowing exactly the height you are going for it’s hard to say. You can certainly bake as is and cut it in half if desired.

  8. I made this cake for the first time today. I followed the recipe exactly, but while it was baking, the outside of the cake began to burn (even though it had only been baking for 28 minutes) even though the inside of the cake was still un-cooked. When I put a toothpick in to check it, the toothpick was full of batter. So I was forced to put the cake back in the oven even though the outside of it was beginning to burn. After another 10 minutes or so of baking, the cake was so beginning to burn so badly that I had no choice but to take it out of the oven even though the inside of the top of it was still uncooked. I have no idea what went wrong. I’ve never experienced anything like that before while trying out a new cake recipe. I used a glass pan and baked it on the middle oven rack.

  9. Hi Sally! Can I use the reverse creaming method with your other vanilla/white cake variations (3 layer cake, 2 layer cake)? Thank you!

    1. Hi Marla! I haven’t tested it but I can’t see why not.

  10. Sheri Rozario says:

    is it possible to make cakes for a 9×13 in a 12×18 1 inch pan ( half sheet? ).
    how long would you bake? 15 minutes?
    thanks sally! love your site.

    1. Hi Sheri, My post on Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions should help.

  11. Walden Sullivan says:

    If I was to make a three layer 5 inch cake and use leftover batter for something else, do you know approximately how much batter should go in each pan?

    1. Hi Walden, You can use my cake pan sizes and conversions post to help you with your calculations. Or you can simply follow the rule to only fill your cake pans 2/3 full 🙂

  12. Can I use this recipe for a 9×13 pan as I want to cut a layer to frost with buttercream also? Just wondering if the layers will be wide enough?

  13. Tried the recipe and it came out fabulous! I made a vanilla simple syrup and added that to the cake after it cooled down. It wasn’t necessary but I was going for a super moist cake and wanted to amp up the vanilla flavor. My family loved it. This recipe is super easy and yields a delicious cake. Try it you’ll love it.

  14. Hi Sally,
    I love all your recipes! I was wondering if this vanilla sheet cake or your yellow sheet cake would be better to use for a trifle? Thanks!

    1. Hi Catherine, Either one should work!

  15. Hi, I tried the vanilla sheet cake recipe but my cake sank in the middle once it cooled. This has never happened with any of the cakes I bake and I bake often. Also it took almost 60 mins for the cake to bake.

  16. Made this for my husbands dental clinic and people loved it! I followed the recipe to the letter (no subs) and baked it in my glass 9×13 Pyrex. I did have to add approx 10 minutes of baking time after checking it at 30 minutes. It took 40 minutes to cool. The frosting was great Though you should not refrigerate it before icing the cake. I will be making this cake again for sure. Thanks Sally!

  17. Hi ! Could you double this recipe or make two separate batches and layer one 1/4 sheet on top of the other? To increase height? Just curious if the cake will hold OK… TIA 🙂

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Julia, For the best texture it’s best to make the recipe twice and not double it. You can stack two of them!

  18. Is the sour cream vital? Or can I leave it out?!♥️

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

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