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

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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


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.


  • 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


  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.


  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


  1. First, I’m so glad I discovered your site, and have been baking your recipes over the last couple of years, always a joy. Thank you for great recipes and tips! Do you think this batter be enough to make one 2-layer 6 inch cake then the rest of the batter in a 9×13 pan, or just one 9 inch pan? We are having a birthday celebration spread over two days – one on the actual day with just the family, then another social distant gathering the next day with a few friends. Though I love to bake, I don’t want to bake two full-size cakes because I’ll be tempted to eat ALL the leftovers. Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tess, You can bake this cake in a 9×13 inch baking pan, but when tested, we found it tasted on the heavier side. It would be pretty thin if you divided the batter. Instead see the recipe notes for Sally’s suggestion. You can also use the link to the yellow cupcake recipe in the recipe notes for your smaller 6 Inch Cake.

  2. I just made this cake, and I loved it, but I have to say that the instructions were confusing between steps 3 and 4. I see from the video that we are meant to add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/2 cup of the buttermilk to the egg/butter/sugar mixture, but thats not how the written recipe is worded! I ended up combining the dry ingredients and the buttermilk and had to start over completely as it never fully combined into the butter mixture once I realized the issue.

  3. I have been searching for a great yellow cake recipe for years. I made this last night and it was heavenly. Fluffy, buttery. Perfection. Thank you!

  4. I followed everything to a t and am a pretty good baker but this came out heavy like cornbread. So bummed

  5. Oh, my goodness. I didn’t even make the frosting. (Maybe next time) My family wolfed it down warm out of the oven. It is delicious. The best cake I have ever eaten. Thank you!

  6. I have a question. I have an older stand mixer that only has the metal beater attachments. I do not have the paddle or the whisks. Will that affect the outcome ? I could whisk the whites and cream of tartar by hand or use the mixer. Which do you recommend? Thank you

    1. Hi Jessica, you can just use the regular metal beaters that come with your stand mixer– for both the batter and the egg whites.

  7. Hi, I’m wanting to make this for a first birthday on the shape of a one. I’ll be using two loaf tins, one large, one small. Will this recipe be suitable? Should I double it? Thanks

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Simone, This recipe yields about 5 cups of batter. To calculate how much batter you would need for your exact pan sizes you can use the post on Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions.

  8. This is the 3rd scratch yellow cake I’ve tried and so far the best. Definitely follow the ingredients and steps closely. The chocolate buttercream is also good and better than the previous recipe i found online. I do think it is almost overpowering over the taste of the cake itself. I decided to go back and skim some off the outside of the cake after my first piece. I might reduce the amount of cocoa in it to maybe 1/2 cup next time, but still good either way.

  9. Could I add chopped Oreos to this cake?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sofia, Yes adding Oreo pieces to this batter would be delicious!

  10. Hi Sally,
    I was wondering if this recipe can be made in a bundt pan? If so, would I need to double it and how long would you suggest I bake it?
    Thank you!!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nadia, We haven’t tested this recipe in a Bundt pan. It yields about 5 cups of batter as written, so you can adjust it to fit your specific pan if you wish to try it. I’m unsure of the exact bake time you would need. Let us know if you give it a try!

  11. My cakes keep coming out with an indentation; the middle sinks. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jenny, A cake that sinks in the middle is often under-baked. If it still seems a bit raw in the center next time bake it for a minute or two longer.

  12. I’ve never had a bad experience w/any of your recipes & this one is no exception! I LOVE how flavorful & moist this cake is! I love frosting but have found myself on several occasions eating it plain; It’s just that good

  13. I accidentally added all 4 full eggs to the wet mix…..that’s what I get for multi tasking. Do you think it will still turn out ok?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kasey, I’m just seeing this question now – how did the cake turn out?

  14. I LOVE your recipes and your site! However, just for constructive feedback purposes, I’d agree with the others here on the confusing nature of the wording within this recipe between steps 3&4. Perhaps I wasn’t quite “on it” when making my first attempt of this, but I too made the mistake of mixing the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in a separate bowl than the butter/sugar batter. When I realized that “set aside” in step 3 didn’t actually mean that, I discarded the first batch & started over. Not ideal, but my final product was SO WELL WORTH IT! Thank you again for a delicious treat!

  15. Hi Sally,

    I am a huge fan of your chocolate cake recipe. I tried this recipe last night. I thought I followed the recipe but the cake was not forming aft 30 mins, it was spilling and cake part was damp/wet. Do you have any idea what I did wrong. Please advise. TIA

    1. Hi Tracy, are you using different size cake pans by chance? I only ask because you mention the batter was spilling over the sides. Likewise, do you think you over-mixed the egg whites into the batter, deflating it? Ddi you use real cake flour or the DIY substitute listed? I recommending using real cake flour if you can.

  16. So good. I WILL make this cake again. Light and buttery, although I found that the cake layers got a teeny tiny bit more denser after a few days in the refrigerator. Frosted with whipped chocolate ganache, and they balanced each other out perfectly.

  17. This yellow cake recipe is AMAZING. Yellow cake can so often be bland and boring, but not only is this recipe extremely moist, it has so much flavor as well. The chocolate frosting pairs perfectly with it. This is the best yellow cake I have ever tried and I highly recommend it.

  18. Just sliced & served this cake- my first ever attempt at a layer cake. It came out beautifully! No leveling needed on the cakes, they were light and moist at the same time. I’ve always been so intimidated by cakes like this, but your detailed explanation + video for visuals made it easy. I’m from Australia so it took a while to find all the right ingredients and measurements, but well worth it- a smashing success! Thank you 🙂

  19. Kristine McCauley says:

    Hi Ms Sally! I just wanna ask if I can put any flavorings on this cake? If so, how much should I put? Thank you

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kristine, What do you mean by flavorings? You can use any different flavor frosting or even filling between the layers if you wish!

  20. Hello! I am a pretty new baker but have followed your recipes to the T in the past and everything has come out amazingly. This week I need to bake a golden cake for my mother’s 91st birthday. This is only the second birthday cake anyone has made for her from scratch since the days when her mother made her cakes–I finally realized this last year and made her FIRST home-baked cake for the 90th. I’m intrigued by your recipe–but I am hoping to “torte” the 2 layers I bake in order to have 4 layers of cake so I can add 3 different fillings.

    The photos of your cake are lovely and appetizing, but looks like maybe the layers are rather thin–is that so? Since I am a newbie, I think I need a wider rather than thinner cake. What do you think? Would it be easy–with your recipe–to torte the layers? I do have one of those cake slicers, so that should help. Thanks in advance for your input!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Susan, You can try using two 8 inch round pans for slightly taller cake layers, and then slice each in half. The bake time will be about the same. Or make the recipe twice (we don’t recommend doubling cake recipes) for four full size layers. We hope your mother enjoys it!

  21. This is an amazing recipe. I have been baking cakes for family birthdays for 35 years, and today I made the BEST one ever, following your recipe. Wow – what a keeper! Thank you!!

  22. I tried this twice today, and each time it was collapsed. Could it be altitude? I’m at 5000ft

  23. Andrea Bostwick says:

    I tried this today and it tastes AMAZING…but both cakes sank!
    I live in Colorado, so maybe altitude? Any other ideas?

    1. Oh no! Altitude can make a big difference in baking, I know some readers have found this chart helpful:

  24. Mine looked right when I took it out of the oven, but both layers fell as they cooled. What causes that? I love the taste and should like to know how to correct my mistake.

  25. The cake could have been delicious, but I used natural unsweetened cocoa powder. The frosting was bitter with use of the natural cocoa powder, and the bitterness overwhelmed the flavor of the cake. I read that the dutch process results in a less bitter result.

  26. Delicious but mine fell in Indianapolis, IN. There is something wrong since I am not high altitude

  27. I’m learning, and very impressed with this recipe! My cake came out well, but was still a bit on the heavy side. I was looking for lighter and more moist. What adjustments can I make?

  28. Thank you so much for this recipe! My cake turned out delicious. I made a pecan praline frosting for it and it was a hit. Question since I’m still new to baking, is it necessary to sift the cake flour for this recipe?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Ashley, we’re so glad you enjoyed this recipe. Sifting the cake flour is not necessary in this recipe — only when stated. You can read more about this in our How to Properly Measure Baking Ingredients blog post. Hope you find it helpful!

  29. Mine also fell — I wish I would have read the reviews and stuck with the yellow sheet cake. Luckily, the cake is for my family and we all said the looks of it resemble the year we’ve had – 2020. I’m sure it was something I did so my review would be that this cake is for someone with lots of cake making experience.

  30. Lauren Leder says:

    my brain is being foggy! egg clarification please – 4 yolks only in the initial cake batter. 2 whites whipped with cream of tartar then to be folded in cake. 2 egg white left over. is my egg math correct?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lauren, 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). The 4 yolks get added in step 3 and then yes, the 2 egg whites get whipped with cream of tartar in step 5.

      1. I served this cake yesterday and my family loved it. Only now do I realize that the recipe called for 4 yolks then 2 whipped egg whites. I used 4 yolks and then all 4 egg whites. I didn’t think the cake was overly fluffy, was actual moist and a bit on the denser side. I did need to make a double batch of the frosting to have enough. The first frosting batch was only enough to cover the middle layer, top, and a little bit of the side.

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