The Best Yellow Cake I’ve Ever Had

Soft and buttery with an extra moist crumb, this is the best yellow cake I’ve ever had. After several rounds of recipe testing, I found the secret to the most delicious yellow birthday cake is a combination of cake flour, extra egg yolks, whipped egg whites, and buttermilk. Cover this cake with my rich and creamy chocolate buttercream for the ultimate celebratory birthday cake!

yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting

If there was one supreme birthday cake to reign over all other birthday cakes, it would be… Piñata Cake. But this yellow cake comes in a close second!


This is the Best Yellow Cake I’ve Ever Had

After marble cake, zebra cake, yellow sheet cake, white cake, vanilla cake, yellow birthday cupcakes, and all of the other recipes in between, I’ve been trying to perfect this quintessential layer cake for years on end. I’ve tasted cake mixes and restaurant-quality yellow cakes, bakery cakes and professional’s homemade variations, and I can honestly say that this is the best yellow cake I’ve ever had.

Using a careful mix of cake flour, fluffy egg whites, extra egg yolks, and buttermilk, as well as starting with an extra creamy base of butter and sugar, this yellow cake is soft and buttery with an extra moist crumb. If cakes could talk, this one would brag.

slice of yellow cake

I spent the better part of this past winter testing this yellow cake recipe. We can’t achieve perfection for free, so there’s a few careful steps involved and power ingredients that you don’t want to substitute. If baking could withstand shortcuts, I’d take them, but we don’t want to mess around here. Remember, baking is a science.


Power Ingredients

  • Cake Flour: Cake flour produces that bakery-style cakey structure. Since it’s so light, the attention remains on the butter. (A stand-out flavor in yellow cake.) All-purpose flour is simply too heavy for this recipe; the cake will be heavy. If needed, use this homemade cake flour substitute.
  • Baking Powder & Baking Soda: My biggest struggle was finding the perfect amount of baking powder and baking soda. This balanced combination provides plenty of lift. It even inspired me to change/improve the leaveners in yellow sheet cake, too.
  • Butter: I tested this recipe with melted butter, just to see if I could enhance the buttery flavor while still maintaining a fluffy crumb, but my efforts were worthless. The cakes were heavy no matter how I played around with the other ingredients. For best results, stick with creamed room temperature butter and sugar. If you’re interested, review Here’s What Room Temperature Butter Really Means.
  • Eggs & Extra Egg Yolks: Eggs play a big role in this cake recipe. You need 4 eggs total– 2 whole eggs plus an additional 2 egg yolks. This equals 4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites. (You will have 2 egg whites leftover. Here are some recipes using only egg whites.) Additional egg yolks add richness, tenderness, and flavor.
  • Whipped Egg Whites: There are 2 egg whites in this recipe. Take them a step further to help fluff up the cake’s structure. Afterall, this is a butter and egg yolk heavy cake. Beat the egg whites separately, just as we do in red velvet cake, then fold them in. There’s no other way to land on a velvety rich cake texture.
  • Cream of Tartar: Whip the egg whites with cream of tartar. Cream of tartar keeps the air in the egg whites suspended so they hold their shape when mixed into the heavy cake batter and again when baked in the oven. You can skip it if needed and whip the egg whites by themselves, but the cake layers will taste denser.
  • Buttermilk: I tried a mix of sour cream and whole milk, but taste testers enjoyed the buttermilk version better. Adding flavor and moisture, buttermilk is used in many baking recipes. See recipe note about a DIY buttermilk substitute.

yellow birthday cake

Video Tutorial: How to Make Perfect Yellow Cake


Step-by-Step Yellow Cake Photos

Watch the video tutorial above and use these pictures to help guide you, too.

Make sure the butter and sugar are extra creamy. I recommend 3 full minutes of creaming:

creamed butter and sugar on a mixer flat beater attachment

Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together, then fold them into the cake batter. The cake batter will be thick, but the fluffy egg whites lighten it up.

whipped egg whites for cake batter

two photos of yellow cake batter

If your cakes are domed on top, level them after they cool. I use a serrated knife:

leveled off yellow cake layers

Other Size Cakes

This cake batter is best for a 2 layer 9-inch cake. This recipe yields about 5-6 cups of batter, which is helpful if you need it for different Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions. You can bake this yellow cake in a 9×13 inch baking pan, but I found it tasted on the heavier side. Instead, I recommend my Yellow Sheet Cake.

And for cupcakes? Here is my favorite yellow cupcakes recipe, which includes directions for mini cupcakes too. Same unbelievable texture as this cake!


Chocolate Frosting for Yellow Birthday Cake

Like my triple chocolate cake, I use my favorite chocolate buttercream. I slightly increase the amount of each ingredient to produce extra frosting. If you prefer a thinner layer of frosting, use the chocolate buttercream recipe. Because there is no leavening occurring, you can use either dutch-process or natural cocoa powder in the buttercream. Heavy cream provides an extra creamy frosting, but milk can be substituted if needed.

This frosting is a little fluffier than the chocolate fudge frosting on the yellow sheet cake. Feel free to swap frostings or use the the vanilla buttercream in my white cake recipe!

chocolate frosting in a bowl and on a cake

chocolate frosting and sprinkles on a yellow cake

Print
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yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting

Yellow Birthday Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 28 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: serves 12
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

For yellow cake success, follow this recipe closely and don’t make any ingredient substitutions. Review my video tutorial above and recipe notes below before beginning.


Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/4 cups (300g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)*
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks; 230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature*
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs + 2 additional egg yolks, room temperature and separated (see note)*
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk*
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar*

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1.25 cups (2.5 sticks or 290g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 34 cups (360-480g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup (65g) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or dutch process)
  • 35 Tablespoons (45-75ml) heavy cream (or half-and-half or milk), at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • optional for decoration: sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds (see #6 in Cake Baking Tips), then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. I recommend using nonstick spray for greasing.
  2. Start the cake batter with the dry ingredients: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed for 3 full minutes. The creamed butter and sugar will be extra creamy. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Turn the mixer down to medium-high speed and beat in the 4 egg yolks one at a time, letting each egg yolk fully mix into the batter before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla extract until combined.
  4. Add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/2 of the buttermilk and beat on low speed until combined. Add 1/3 more of the dry ingredients and the rest of the buttermilk and beat on low speed until combined. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat on low speed until combined. The batter is very thick. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl.
  5. Whip the egg whites: Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together on high speed until fluffy peaks form, about 3 minutes. See photo and video above for a visual. Slowly and gently fold the egg whites into the thick cake batter. Avoid over-mixing as you don’t want to deflate the egg whites.
  6. Pour/spoon batter evenly into cake pans.
  7. Bake: Bake for around 27-31 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. After about 18 minutes, tent the cakes with aluminum foil to prevent the tops and sides from over-browning. To test the cakes for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. The cakes may look a little spongey on top as a result of the whipped egg whites. (That’s normal!)
  8. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  9. 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, cocoa powder, heavy cream, salt, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 1 full minute. Do not over-whip. Add 1/4 cup more confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder if frosting is too thin or another Tablespoon of cream/milk if frosting is too thick. Taste. Add more salt if needed. (I usually add another pinch.)
  10. Assemble and frost: If cooled cakes are domed on top, use a large serrated knife to slice a thin layer off the tops to create a flat surface. This is called “leveling” the cakes. Discard or crumble over finished cake (or on ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with frosting. Top with 2nd layer. (If desired, if the edges seem extra crumbly, apply a crumb coat which is a thin layer of frosting all over the cake. You can see I did this in the video tutorial above. Refrigerate the crumb coated cake for 15 minutes before adding the rest of the frosting.) Spread remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I always use an icing spatula and/or a bench scraper for the frosting. Garnish with sprinkles, if desired.
  11. For extra neat slices, refrigerate cake for 30-60 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  12. Cover leftover cake tightly and store at room temperature for up to 1 day or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Prepare cake through step 8. Wrap the individual baked and cooled cake layers tightly and keep at room temperature for 1 day or freeze up to 3 months. Bring to room temperature (if frozen) then continue with step 9. Frosting can also be made 1 day ahead of time. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Bring frosting to room temperature, then beat the frosting on medium speed for a few seconds so it’s creamy again. Adding a splash of cream/milk will help thin the frosting out, if needed. Frosted cake freezes well, up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature or serve cold. See How to Freeze Cakes.
  2. Cake Flour: Cake flour is key in this recipe. If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, use this cake flour substitute.
  3. Butter: If you only have salted butter, you can use that instead. Reduce the added salt in the cake to 1/4 teaspoon. You can use salted butter in the frosting, too. Taste the frosting before adding the 1/8 teaspoon of salt, then add a pinch if desired. It’s imperative the butter is at room temperature in order to properly cream with the sugar and be the proper base for the buttercream. Read: Here’s What Room Temperature Butter Really Means.
  4. Eggs: You need 2 whole eggs (separated) plus an additional 2 egg yolks. This equals 4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites. (You will have 2 egg whites leftover. Here are some recipes using only egg whites.) It’s easiest to separate eggs when they’re cold. The eggs must be at room temperature to whip properly, so after you separate the 4 yolks and 2 whites, cover them and set aside for at least 20 minutes before starting.
  5. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is required for this recipe. You can make your own DIY version of buttermilk by measuring 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar in a measuring glass. Add enough milk (whole milk is best– lower fat or nondairy milks work in a pinch, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich) in the same measuring glass to reach 1 cup. Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The soured milk will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in your recipe.
  6. Cream of Tartar: This is an imperative ingredient that promises the egg whites will whip into lofty, fluffy peaks and hold their shape when mixed into the heavy cake batter and baked in the oven. You can skip it if needed and whip the egg whites by themselves, but the cakes will taste denser.
  7. Amount of Cake Batter: This recipe yields about 5-6 cups of batter, which is helpful if you need it for different Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions. This recipe is too large for 2 8-inch cake pans.
  8. 9×13 Inch Pan: You can bake this cake in a 9×13 inch baking pan, but I found it tasted on the heavier side. Instead, I recommend my Yellow Sheet Cake which uses mostly the same ingredients.
  9. 3 Layer Cake: You can also prepare this cake as a 3 layer cake. Divide batter between three 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans and bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The frosting recipe written will be enough for thin layers of frosting, but you can double my chocolate buttercream recipe (simply double each ingredient) if you want a lot of frosting.
  10. Yellow Cupcakes: Here is my favorite yellow cupcakes recipe, which includes directions for mini cupcakes too. Same unbelievable texture as this cake! If you need more than 1 dozen yellow cupcakes, use this yellow cake recipe for between 2-3 dozen and follow the same baking instructions as my yellow cupcakes.

Keywords: cake, yellow cake, birthday cake, chocolate frosting

For the sheet cake version, here is my yellow sheet cake recipe.

9x13 inch yellow sheet cake in pan

214 Comments

  1. YUMMMMMMMM! This looks delicious!! I love yellow cake and chocolate frosting together-so good! I also find it fun that you’ve had yellow cake recipe posts for the past two birthdays-last year, yellow cupcakes, and this cake this year 🙂 You’re starting a trend! Next year it could be yellow cake pops with a chocolate coating, or yellow cake donuts/mini cakes…

    1. Thanks so much, Erin! Yellow cake pops sound delicious!

  2. sounds amazing!

    Happy Birthday!

    1. Thank you so much for your birthday wishes, Denise!

  3. Wish that you will have a happy birthday on Wednesday! I simply love your recipes.

    1. Thank you so much for your birthday wishes! And, I’m thrilled you are enjoying my recipes- I appreciate that!

  4. Don’t need a yellow cake recipe soon but I’m pinning this for when I do because Sally’s recipes never fail. Happiest of early birthdays

    1. Thank you so much for your kind birthday wishes. When you do try this recipe, let me know how it goes!

  5. That looks delicious! Happy birthday on Wednesday! ! We have the same birthday! Haha!

    1. Happy birthday to you, Kelly!

  6. Sora O'Doherty says:

    Happy Birthday Sally! I’m going to make this for my June birthday too. I’ll add some coffee to the frosting. Yellow cake with mocha frosting is the perfect birthday cake.

    1. What a delicious addition to the frosting! I’d love to know what you think once you try this recipe. Happy early birthday to you!

  7. Looks delicious. Definitely making when I have company. Happy Birthday. Hope you enjoy your day.

  8. Thank you for this recipe. I hope you have a great birthday and many more. Love your newsletter and it makes my day when I see it in my inbox.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and the birthday wishes!

  9. Charlotte Moore says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! Trust you have a wonderful day.

    YUM YUM!!!!

  10. Sally-yellow cake with chocolate frosting is my son’s favorite for his birthday. So wish I could make one for him! I hope you have a wonderful birthday.

    1. It really is such a delicious combination. Thank you for the birthday wishes!

  11. Sally, looks so scrumptious, can wait to try it! Have a wonderful, blessed birthday!

    1. I hope you love it, Gloria. Thank you for the birthday wishes!

  12. Happy happy birthday! Rest and celebrate before baby comes…and so happy Jude is doing so great! What a good birthday present

  13. Gloria Callahan says:

    Happy Birthday. My youngest turns 9 on Wednesday 🙂 This cake looks absolutely amazing!

    1. What a great day for a birthday 😉 Happy birthday to your child, too!

  14. Happy Birthday on Wednesday, Sally! My birthday is today and I would have made your red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting but I couldn’t find all of the ingredients that I needed! It is absolutely my favorite recipe of yours and I have made many. But I will get to have a bonus celebration when I get my hands on all of the ingredients.

    1. A bonus celebration for sure! Hope you had a wonderful birthday yesterday. I appreciate your kind wishes!

  15. Happy Birthday Sally! This looks amazingly delicious! Will give it a try!

    1. Thank you so much, Cecile! I hope you love this recipe- if you try it, I’d love to know what you think.

  16. This is great Sally!! Although now I am torn! I was planning to make your white cake with your chocolate buttercream for a three layer birthday cake. Now you posted this!! Do you think the yellow or white cake pairs better with chocolate frosting? That is probably a trick question but I can’t make decisions when it comes to your recipes because they all look and turn out amazing

    1. Hi Debra! It depends on what you want– a pristine white, soft, and fluffy cake or a richer buttery yellow cake. Let me know which you choose!

      1. I made the yellow and my goodness it is delicious and perfect with the chocolate butter cream!

  17. Hope you have a great Birthday! Thanks for sharing this recipe. Your recipes are always so good!

  18. Alyssa Cunningham says:

    Hi Sally, happy birthday! You mentioned that this could be a 3-layer cake. Would it also work to make a 3-layer cake using 1-1/2 X the recipe? I like lots of cake!

    1. I haven’t tested it! Let me know what you try. Thank you so much for the birthday wishes.

    2. Alyssa, I did this exact thing and it turned out great!! It made a nice and tall three layer which is what I was going for! I baked it for 29 minutes total.

      1. Alyssa Cunningham says:

        Oh, thank you, Debra! I was hoping to hear confirmation of success in doing that. Tell me about the texture and crumb of the cake, if you don’t mind. I made a really excellent yellow cake from America’s Test Kitchen, but I’m always looking to improve–and I feel you can’t go wrong with Sally!

      2. To me it is more buttery and denser than Sally’s vanilla cake (if you’ve ever made that). It’s almost like a pound cake texture. Holds the chocolate frosting really well. I hope this helps!! I’m never the best at differentiating all of the different types of crumbs!! I just know that I thought it was delicious and has a beautiful color contrast with the chocolate buttercream!

  19. this recipe was good

  20. meryanlucas says:

    Yummy. I just loved this blog post. And I love cake the most. Thank you for sharing yellow cake recipe with all of us. Looking for your upcoming recipes.

  21. What is the difference between this and the yellow sheet cake? I am looking for a fluffy textured yellow sheet cake (9×13 or jelly roll pan) with Nutella frosting. Should I try this in a jelly roll pan? I understand that it will be a thin cake … any other thoughts? Thank you!

    1. Hi Faye! You can read about the differences above and in the yellow sheet cake recipe (and in the recipe notes, too!). Either would be wonderful with Nutella frosting. For a jelly roll style cake, I recommend the yellow sheet cake.

  22. Hi Sally!
    All your cakes are delicious. So I don’t know which one to use the make for my son’s birthday. The yellow cake, the white cake or the 6” cake? But I want to cover it with fondant (3 layers cake). Which one do you think would be better?
    Thank you for your advice! 🙂

    1. Hi Isis, that depends on what you’re looking for. This is a rich and buttery cake, denser than the white cake. The 6 inch cake is obviously smaller. Any would be fine under fondant!

      1. Thank you! Can I use the yellow cake in the 6 inch pans? Is this cake too “fluffy” for fondant? I did both the 6 inch and the yellow cake and thought the 6 inch was very dense. Maybe I made a mistake while making it?
        Also, happy birthday! 🙂

      2. Where are the Star sprinkles from? They’re so cute!

      3. I ordered these sprinkles from Amazon last year! They’re so pretty. The brand is ChocoMaker.

  23. Happy Birthday!
    I have learned so much from your books and website. Most importantly, room temps and spoon leveling!
    Thank you.

  24. Jennifer McConville says:

    Can’t wait to make this amazing Cake! Sending so much love and Happy Birthday wishes to you Sally!

  25. Hi Sally, is it okay to use milk instead of buttermilk and skip cream of tartar since it’s not available??

    1. Hi! For best results, I recommend following the recipe exactly, including using cream of tartar. See recipe note about that as well as a DIY buttermilk option. The results will differ with these changes.

  26. Hi Sally
    Can I use Self Raising Cake Flour in this Yellow Cake recipe ?
    Thank you
    Diana

    1. Hi Diana, I don’t recommend it because you’d have to adjust (not leave out) both leaveners. For best success, follow the recipe as written.

  27. Happy Birthday, Sally! Thanks for all your amazing recipes!

  28. Rachel Murrell says:

    I saw this recipe the day it was posted and immediately knew I needed to try it. I made it that night for our family’s Memorial Day gathering, and it did not disappoint! It has the perfect texture and flavor and this chocolate icing is DIVINE. I bake a lot and have a few standby chocolate icing recipes, but this one is outstanding and an instant favorite.

    Our whole family says this is an A+ recipe, and we’ll be enjoying it again soon!

  29. Hi Sally,

    I’m curious why you have a different recipe for the cupcakes
    Your cake sounds like it would make good cupcakes plus i have the ingredients at home all the time

    Thanks meg

  30. Jenna Mueller says:

    Hi Sally!
    Can I know why buttermilk for yellow cake and and sour cream and milk for yellow sheet?

    1. Hi Jenna, buttermilk creates a slightly lighter texture which is desirable for layer cakes since you’re stacking cakes on top of one another, weighing them down. Because there’s a lot of fat present (egg yolks), using buttermilk helps keep it slightly lighter.

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