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, even when combined with cornstarch to make a cake flour substitute, is simply too heavy for this recipe. Use pure, real cake flour.
  • 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 (266g) 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
  • 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar*

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1.25 cups (2.5 sticks or 290g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (420g) 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, 3 Tablespoons 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 1-2 more Tablespoons of cream if frosting is too thick. (I usually add 1 more.) Taste. Add another pinch of salt if desired.
  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. Do not use any cake flour substitutes.
  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 4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites in this cake batter. 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 eggs, cover the 4 yolks and 2 whites 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

277 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. this recipe was good

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. What’s the difference between White cake, Yellow cake and Vanilla cake?
    Are they all just vanilla-flavoured cakes with slightly different ingredients? Do you have a favourite?
    Thanks and happy birthday!

    1. Hi Aimee, happy to clarify! White Cake is supremely fluffy and soft with a pristine white crumb (made from egg whites), Vanilla Cake is heavy on vanilla flavor and super soft and moist– a bit denser than white cake, and Yellow Cake is denser than both with rich buttery flavor.

  12. Again another cake made and a huge success. Easy to make, love the step by step instructions. What does tenting mean in the baking community? Is 1/8 teaspoon half of 1/4 teaspoon?

    1. Hi Helen! So glad you enjoyed this yellow cake recipe. Tenting a piece of foil on a baking cake/bread/whatever means loosely draping foil over that item in the oven– if it’s sturdier aluminum foil (I like the heavy duty foil), you can create an actual tent over the baked item so there’s no risk of the cake rising up and touching/sticking to the foil. 1/8 tsp is half of 1/4 tsp, yes.

  13. Ashley Thomas says:

    Just made this cake and it literally is the best yellow cake I’ve ever tasted! I couldn’t believe how light and fluffy the cake turned out. I totally forgot to do the tin foil tenting in the over while baking, but it still turned out fine. It pairs perfectly with the chocolate buttercream frosting.

  14. I’m looking for your most chocolaty frosting, in my book, there is no such thing as too much chocolate. I prefer dark chocolate over milk and don’t usually want it too sweet. I’ll be making your upgraded German Chocolate cake for my anniversary. I’ve looked at your dark chocolate, triple chocolate and buttercream chocolate frostings. There are subtle difference, which would taste the most deep chocolate?

    1. Hi Ele, you may enjoy the chocolate fudge frosting on my Tuxedo Cake the most.

  15. Louann Eadie says:

    TERRIFIC! I have baked MANY CAKES in my 74 years but this yellow cake is a winner and the buttercream chocolate frosting rates a 10!!!!!!

  16. And it’s the best yellow cake I’ve ever had too! A hit for my son’s birthday. Very moist and the frosting is delicious. Perfect timing posting this recipe Sally. Everyone loved it.

  17. Hi Sally, could I add walnuts to the batter? If so, about how much would you recommend and would this change the cooking time?

    1. I can’t see why not! You can try folding in 3/4 – 1 cup of chopped walnuts into the batter after you fold in the egg whites. I’m unsure of the exact results though. The bake time will be similar.

  18. Leisa Russell says:

    I made this cake yesterday. Best cake I have ever had and certainly the best I have ever made. I’m not a huge cake lover but love frosting. Haha. But this cake is beyond good even without frosting. Question tho. My frosting looked lighter (in color) than yours. I liked the look of yours better.I used 4 cups of powder sugar and the rest of the frosting ingredients as your wrote. I’m guessing coco powder is the reason. Just add more? I used regular not dutch. Thanks so much for all the recipes and tips. Most importantly HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Hope it was a good one.

    1. Thank you, Leisa! I’m so happy you enjoyed this recipe so much.
      Over-whipping adds more air to the buttercream which lightens up the color. Feel free to add more cocoa powder to darken (and milk/heavy cream to offset that dry ingredient). Or try one of my favorite tricks– place the frosting in a microwave safe bowl and heat for a quick 10 seconds. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. This helps pop any air bubbles and the warmer butter creates a darker looking frosting.

  19. Ashley Anne says:

    FINALLY!! The perfect yellow cake! I always get a little bummed when people order yellow cakes because they cake itself is just so fickle! Not anymore!!! Perfect texture. Great taste. Slap that chocolate icing on there and you’ve got a real winner!! Thanks for the recipe, and the guidance behind baking over the years.

  20. Hi Sally,

    Thank for having such delicious recipes – I try new recipes of yours all time! This was another hit.
    One thing I seem to struggle with ( with this cake and other homemade cakes & cupcakes) is that the cake dense up being very dense. I’m wondering if you have any tips or tricks to make my cakes less dense?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Anna, You can visit my post How to Prevent a Dry or Dense Cake for all of my best tips. I hope you find it helpful!

  21. I never leave comments but this was the best cake recipe I’ve ever tried. I have been searching for a yellow cake recipe for years. It has the perfect flavor and the perfect crumb. I used White Lilly all purpose flour and ran it through my sifter since I did not have cake flour. Everyone enjoyed the cake! Thank you for this recipe!

  22. Michelle Roberts says:

    I just made this cake but I forgot the vanilla. Will it be ok?

  23. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe tomorrow. I know you spent a lot of time developing this to make it just right so I don’t question the results. But, I’m curious why it’s better to not just use 4 eggs. Does leaving out the 2 egg whites change the texture somehow?
    BTW~ my grandkids loved your strawberry icing!

    1. Hi Carol, using extra egg yolks helps produce that signature buttery/dense yellow cake taste and texture.

  24. Hi Sally!
    I adore all your recipes and appreciate them you so much for the work you put into them!
    My question for you is a friend wants me to make them a 3 layer 9 inch birthday cake and I wanted to know how I could make this recipe work for 3 layers?
    I also noticed you had a 3 layer vanilla cake recipe, what’s the difference in taste between those two and which do you think I should go with?

    Thank you sooooo much

    1. Hi Nir, you can make this cake as a 3 layer cake. See recipe note.

  25. Absolutely delicious!

  26. Hi Sally,
    I have loved so many of your recipes. I appreciate very much your detailed instructions and explanations as to why we need to do certain things. Because of you, I truly enjoy baking and it’s come to be a very cathartic and relaxing hobby.

    I can’t wait to make this recipe for my husband’s birthday on June 29th. He requested a yellow cake with chocolate frosting (from Sally, of course) so am thrilled to find this post.

    I also wanted to say ‘thank you’ for including the UK equivalents for certain ingredients, as we moved to London 4 years ago and can’t always find what we need.

    Cheers,
    Elyssa

  27. Absolutely loved this cake recipe. Followed exactly and was a hit! The video was indeed helpful, thank you for that. Daughter loved it as her birthday cake and I’m happy to have a great recipe to use for more birthdays coming up!

  28. Wanna make this for my son’s 4th bday – sounds amazing!
    Can I add sprinkles into the cake? If so, what amount would be best for this recipe? Thanks, Sally!

    1. Sure can! Add 1/2 – 2/3 cup rainbow sprinkles.

  29. Hi Sally! I have a question- how much buttercream does this recipe yield? I want to make this cake, but use your swiss meringue buttercream recipe. Would I have enough to cover this cake if I used a single batch of your meringue? Thanks so much!!!

    1. Hi Ashley, My Swiss Meringue recipe is enough to fill and frost a three layer 9-inch cake with just enough frosting (see recipe notes!).

  30. Carson Love says:

    Hello! I recently bought four of those cute 6-inch cake pans. Do you think I would need to adjust baking time or temp?
    Hoping to make this tomorrow for my birthday:) Thanks so much for sharing your talent and knowledge!

    1. Hi Carson, You can find all of my tips for 6 inch pans in my post 6 Inch Cakes. Enjoy!

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