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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 and yellow sheet 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 the differences in baking powder vs baking soda and why it’s important to use both in some recipes?
  4. Butter: Room temperature 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. For a less sweet option, try my whipped frosting. It’s a personal favorite!


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.” Very patriotic!

This would be an excellent choice for Memorial Day Weekend or the Fourth of July. See more Memorial Day Weekend recipes.


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 1x
  • 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

Scale
  • 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

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. 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

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. I don’t know what people are complaining about as this cake is so good! I didn’t have any cake flour so I used all purpose and it turned out moist and yes, a little dense, but I loved it since it reminds me of an old fashioned cake! I love the thick buttercream frosting too as it is made for this cake!

    1. I just took this cake out ocen and realized i only put one stick butter instead 2.Wonder if it will ruin taste

  2. Mine was like a heavy buttermilk kind of old fashioned cake. Wonder why… I’m at sea level and high humidity. Everything at room temp. Hmm… it did taste good, but not what I was looking for. Was more of a cornbread texture and almost taste.

  3. Can I bake the cake the night before and then frost it and serve the next day?

    1. Hi Regina, absolutely! See the make ahead instructions in the recipe notes.

  4. Hi! I love your recipes!! Could I use this recipe for a 15×11 pan?

  5. I followed the cake and frosting recipes exactly. Both were delicious and everyone enjoyed it. Two notes:
    I had to bake the cake ten minutes longer than it called for (but possible my oven is off). And, with all that confectioners sugar, I expected the icing to be white. But it was definitely off white, more like butter than white.
    Even so, a big hit and we all enjoyed it!

  6. Would it be okay to make the cake tomorrow, frost it Wednesday, and serve is Thursday around lunchtime? I know that’s a little longer than what the notes indicate so just wanted to check.

    1. Hi Amanda, this cake will last for up to 5 days when tightly covered in the refrigerator, so that should work just fine. Enjoy!

  7. My third time making this! Always a hit. Only thing is my cake didn’t seem to rise as much this time. I’d love any thoughts on that.

    1. Hi Amanda! Make sure not to over-mix your batter and check to make sure your baking powder/soda are fresh! We find they can lose strength after just a few months.

  8. I’ve made few of Sally’s cake recipes but not this one. Can I make a lemon cake following this recipe? I know that I will need to swap out some of the liquids in this recipe for lemon juice. Since I’m a novice baker as well, do lemon juice and sour cream work well in a cake recipe?
    Your advise would be appreciated.

    Thanks

    1. We recommend using our lemon cake recipe instead! See recipe notes for details on baking in a 9×13 pan.

  9. I was so excited to try this. I’ve made my Mum’s vanilla ‘sponge’ recipe for years. I love the new way to blend however it is turning brown in the oven too fast. And I’ve had to add 12 minutes to the baking time. It also has a crust around the rim of the 13X9 glass pan after 30 minutes. It’s very brown. and it fell a bit. I’m sure once the icing is piled high it will not matter! Smells divine! I’ll keep working at it. Thank you

    1. Hi Frances, if you find the edges of the cake are browning too quickly, you can tent the edges with foil. That will prevent them from browning too much, while allowing the middle part of the cake to continue baking through. Thanks for giving this recipe a try!

      1. hi Lexi, Thank you. I followed the exact recipe though I had my doubts about only 1 teaspoon of baking powder for 3 cups of flour.. I realized that was the main problem. This recipe. calls for 1 tsp. and we need 3 (a typo). That’s why it wouldn’t rise, took so long to bake and fell so it cooled. I will give it another try.

      2. Hi Frances, this recipe also uses baking soda which is about 4x stronger than baking powder. When used together, your baked good should have a nice rise. That being said, feel free to test the recipe by adding more baking powder if you’d like.

  10. I was careful to not overmix but found the cake to be a little dry. The frosting was wonderful.

  11. Made this cake today as a trial run for my nephew’s first birthday party and it is hands down the best cake I’ve ever tasted! I made it into a layer cake with vanilla pudding and fresh strawberries in the middle. Sheer perfection. Thank you for this incredible recipe!!

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