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*
  • 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
  • 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


  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.


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

  2. 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:

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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?

  7. 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!

      1. Okay, thank you so much! I look forward to trying more of your recipes.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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…

  12. Can I cut the recipie in half to make one layer cake?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Sure can, Juliette!

  13. I wish I had not followed the recommendation about folding in the whipped egg whites. My cake came out INCREDIBLY DRY. I think the whipped egg whites were the culprit. I followed the recipe closely.

  14. 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.

  15. 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).

      1. Great, thanks so much! Excited to try this this weekend!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Great idea, Jess! Thank you so much for making this one.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      We’re so glad this recipe was a hit for you, LC!

  20. Can I double this recipe without a problem ?

    Thank you Sally! I love every recipe you have <3

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Shar, for the best texture we always recommend making this twice instead of doubling!

  21. Britannika Campbell says:

    Can you double the recipe? I need to make a 11 x 15 sheet cake.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Britannika, for the best texture we always recommend making this twice instead of doubling!

  22. 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!

  23. My son wants a “Golden Oreo Cake” for his birthday – similar to your chocolate oreo cake. Think I could use this recipe, but add in some golden oreos to the cake pans?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Whitney! We haven’t tested it but would love to hear how it goes for you!

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. 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.

  28. 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. =)

  29. 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!

  30. 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?

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