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. I’ve gone from not baking anything to making this twice and with perfection might I add. My mother and sister, whom are both bakers and the most critical people on the planet, LOVED it! Thanks Sally!

  2. Just to add on my egg confusion – If I use 2 whole eggs how do I have 2 egg whites left over ?? I have the 2 yolks from them, and then I whipped their whites … HELPPPPPPPPP ! Am making it right now for my sons birthday…

  3. Hey Sally! I have started to weigh my flour instead of the spoon and level method. How come in this yellow cake that it says 300g for 2 1/4 cup but in your blog about the measurements it says 1 cup should be 115g. So it should be 259g right?

    1. Hi Kenzie, this is a great question. When you begin to add more and more flour into a measuring bowl, it begins to weigh and pack down. 2 cups of flour isn’t necessarily 1 cup of flour’s weight x2. I encourage you to follow the cup or gram measurements listed with the recipe.

  4. If i wanted to add chocolate chips into the cake batter..would that effect the result of the cake?

    1. Hi Ariel, that shouldn’t be a problem. I recommend about 1 cup of chocolate chips (or anywhere between 1-1.5 cups).

  5. Thanks for yet another great recipe. My cake however turned brown at the edges, but the inside still feels dense and moist. I forgot to add baking soda.. could that be the reason?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jo! Yes, forgetting the baking soda will effect the cake in a number of ways. It will most likely be dense. If the edges are extra brown your oven may run a little hot as well. We always suggest using an in-oven thermometer for best results.

  6. I subbed buttermilk with sour cream thinned out with milk & a squeeze of added lemon juice but aside from that minor substitute, followed this recipe exactly and it came out perfect for a 3 layer 8inch cake! I made this for my partner’s birthday and he loved it. I’m adding this into regular cake making rotation. The absolute perfect yellow cake! I’m thinking this would be great as part of a berry trifle in the summer too.

  7. I struggle to get my cakes to rise enough, but this rose beautifully! It tastes wonderful. I stupidly didn’t realize I didn’t have enough powdered sugar for the frosting, but using only half the amount gave me a rich chocolate icing that wasn’t too sweet and went well with the cake.

  8. Whoa! This is the best yellow cake and chocolate frosting combo. Thank you for posting this recipe. It was so yummy. It baked perfectly. I was so nervous that I had overwhipped the eggwhites or had the butter out too long – but it was all perfect!

  9. Newbie question. Your recipe says to beat the sugar/butter at “high-speed.” Using a Kitchen-Aid standing mixer, what # would you say equals high-speed. According to their manual, beating sugar/butter would be a 6.



    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Susan, 6 or 8 will be perfect!

  10. Sadly, my cake did not rise. I made a 9″ cake (using two pans). I noticed that the mixture was thick when I spooned it in to the pans, but your note said it might be so I didn’t worry. However, it didn’t rise beyond an inch or so – nothing like the picture here. It tasted good though. I feel confident I followed the recipe to a “t”, so I’m curious ….thoughts?

    I’m going to make it again because it was tasty – just too dense.

    1. Hi Susan, that’s odd– did you add any more eggs than necessary? We clarified the amount recently as some readers found it confusing. Were you sure to whip the egg whites into fluffy peaks with the cream of tartar? If you ever want to try the recipe again, I’m sure adding another 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder would help.

  11. I used 4 eggs yolks, adding each one separately into mix. Is that correct? I too was a little confused at first, but re-read your instructions – this is where I landed.
    I whipped the whites of two eggs with the cream of tartar (the other two egg whites were set aside). Whether I whipped them enough….always a tricky business with egg whites.

    I just noticed my baking powder is way out of date. Could that be the culprit?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Susan! Yes, it sounds like you added the yolks correctly. Did you cake not rise much? Out of date baking powder could definitely be the issue. We find it loses strength after just a few months.

  12. Tony DeSormier says:

    Used these recipes along with Cook and Serve Jello vanilla pudding to make Boston cream pie cupcakes … used jumbo muffin cups and took a mellon baller to scoop out some of the cupcake … piped in vanilla pudding then topped with the chocolate butter cream frosting … excellent!

  13. Next time I won’t tent with foil–my cakes rose right into it and when I removed the foil a bunch of cake came off with it.

  14. Hi Sally, can I bake this cake in a 6inch round tin, but a tall one, then slice it into layers? If so, how much time and at what temperature should I bake it?
    I don’t have 2 6inch baking tins. My oven is not large enough for 2 baking tins either. If I were to bake one tin at a time, is it ok to leave the batter aside?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Victoria, this will be too much batter for a 6 inch cake – the batter from these yellow cupcakes should make a more reasonable amount. You can find out exactly how much batter you’ll need for your pans using this guide. We’re unsure of the exact baking time, so keep an eye on them in the oven. You can leave batter covered at room temperature if baking in batches. Would love to hear how it goes!

      1. Many thanks for the reply. =)
        Yes, I’ve actually used the yellow cupcakes recipe last year, but the cake ended up quite dense. Wanted to try out this recipe this time instead. Anyway, I didn’t want to reduce the recipe, so I went ahead with this and made 3 x 6inch cakes. All 3 rose and had a very high dome and cracked at the top. Probably I over whipped my egg whites or something, I’m not sure. The inside is soft and it tastes great. =)

  15. Hi Sally and fellow high altituder-s!

    I made this today with some altitude adjustments as recommended, my cakes turned out beautifully and did not sink at all. (I’m at about 5500 ft)

    -I added 1 Tbsp of flour.
    -Decreased the Baking Powder to 1 and 3/4 tsp.
    – Decreased the sugar by 1 Tbsp
    -Increased Buttermilk by 1 Tbsp

    Thank you Sally for the awesome recipes, you are my go-to for all of my baking needs!

  16. Jessica Perry says:

    Can you add confetti sprinkles to this batter? My daughter wants a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I wanted to surprise her with the sprinkles on the inside. I reviewed your confetti cake recipe first, but wasn’t sure if the chocolate buttercream would overwhelm that cake. Thoughts?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

      1. Jessica Perry says:

        I have the round, pastel colored confetti sprinkles. Will those work? When should I fold them into the cake?

  17. Hi, can i use this recipe for 2 8inch round pans? Or is it ok for the batter to wait until i finish baking first 2 8inch pans? Thanks

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Diane, this recipe is too large for 2, 8-inch pans, but you can cover any remaining batter and leave at room temperature while your two pans are baking. Once the cakes have cooled, remove and bake the remaining batter in one pan for a total of three layers. Enjoy!

      1. Hi. Sally can i use this recipe to make a bottom tier semi naked cake? Can this hold for a 2 tier cake?

    2. David Valenzuela says:

      I love this recipe I added an extra egg yolk and made sure the egg whites and tartar were whipped up…but I used 3 6″ pans

  18. Could I use 3 six inch pans?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kristan, for a 3 layer, 6 inch cake, we’d recommend using our Yellow Birthday Cupcakes recipe instead — it yields the perfect amount!

  19. Candace Barron says:

    Can this recipe be doubled for a very tall cake?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Candace! We suggest making two batches instead of doubling to ensure the best texture of the cake.

  20. Complete cake newbie here, is this bleached cake flour, non bleached, if you could tell a name and brand I would be so grateful.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kenny! We love to use Swans Down brand cake flour.

      1. Thank you so much! That is the red box that says enriched cake flour bleached? Correct?

      2. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:


  21. OMG!! This cake was amazing!!! I have never made a cake so light and moist, and the frosting went well with it!! I did have a little issue with the foil tent sticking..and I used nonstick foil too! I won’t tent next time. Otherwise..everything was perfect and detailed instructions were so appreciated!!

  22. Kimberley Hogan says:

    This was a total fail for me, not sure what I did wrong. The cake was very dry. I made the cake yesterday, wrapped it well and put it in the fridge until today. I frosted it once it was back to room temperature. Could putting it in the fridge overnight completely dry it out?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kimberley! For best taste and texture, we recommend wrapping the cooled layers up tightly and individually and keeping at room temperature then assembling with frosting the next day. Storing in the fridge can dry the cakes out. Here’s a helpful post on preventing dry cakes as well!

  23. This looks delicious! One question: I’m planning to make a two-layer animal cake and would like to use a grass tip to pipe frosting on the outside. Do you think this frosting is right for that purpose? If so, would you recommend I double the amount of frosting to do that type of decoration?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Robbin, We used the grass tip with red tinted frosting for this Elmo cake! You can follow the frosting amounts for that recipe as it does make a bit more. Happy baking!

  24. I made this cake recipe the other day. The outside of the cake cooked too fast (not burnt) and the inside was super dense. What did I do wrong?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Wells! Thank you so much for giving this cake recipe try! It could be a few things. First, make sure your baking powder and soda are fresh. We find they lose strength after just 3-4 months. Use proper room temperature butter and other room temperature ingredients and be careful not to over-mix your cake batter (a common source of dense cakes). Here’s a helpful article about preventing dense cake that may help as well.

  25. Is the structure of this cake strong enough for fondant? He wants yellow cake with chocolate buttercream but wants fondant covering the outside to fit a theme.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brit, yes, this cake should hold up well under fondant. Enjoy!

  26. I’ve done this as written and it is a marvelous recipe. But, I much prefer a 6” cake so I gave it a shot. This recipe yields the perfect amount of batter to bake in two 6” pans that are 3” tall. Unfortunately, that approach leads to a drier, denser result. I’m gonna try this in four 6” pans one day because I really love how fluffy this batter is and what results in the 9” pan.

  27. Is the buttercream supposed to be room temperature as well? Thank you!

  28. Made this a few times now. Excellent recipe. Recent attempt was gone in 2 days (sadly). The pinch of salt to the chocolate buttercream really elevates the flavor. Thanks!

  29. Nancy G Sue says:

    I made this cake yesterday for my son’s birthday and I give it 5 stars. The cake was moist and the flavor was scrumptious. The chocolate buttercream frosting compliments the cake and my son and husband loved it. It’s a definite keeper and I look forward to making it again.

  30. This cake turned out terrible I’m sad to say. I followed the recipe exactly but when it baked, it went all over the oven and snake in the middle. It was a disaster. Could it be the elevation? I’m in Denver, Colorado which is above 6000 ft.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jenny, so sorry you had trouble with this cake! Yes, elevation can change the results of recipes drastically. Some readers have found this chart helpful:

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