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This buttery yellow sheet cake is simple and straightforward. Made from basic ingredients, it’s soft, tender, and perfectly moist. Baked in a half sheet pan or quarter sheet pan, this classic birthday cake doesn’t require any special assembly or decoration. Top with my creamy and rich chocolate fudge frosting.

9x13 inch yellow sheet cake in pan

If you’re not making confetti cake, this buttery yellow cake with rich chocolate frosting is the quintessential treat for your birthday candles this year. After plenty of recipe testing, I landed on a simple combination of basic ingredients that yield a tender and flavorful cake crumb.

You know the super moist cakes that stick to your fork? That’s what this is!

This Yellow Sheet Cake Is:

  • Simple to make, assemble, and decorate
  • Flavorful and moist
  • Extra buttery and soft
  • Perfect for a half sheet or quarter sheet pan
  • Covered in fudge-like chocolate frosting
slice of yellow sheet cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles

Best Ingredients to Use for Yellow Sheet Cake & Why

  • Cake Flour: Cake flour produces a wonderfully light and cakey crumb. I highly recommend it. If you don’t have cake flour, you can use this DIY cake flour substitute.
  • Baking Powder & Baking Soda: I used to make this cake as written below, but with 1 teaspoon of baking soda. (No baking powder.) In recent years, I began using a particular mix of baking powder and baking soda. This change is in the recipe below. The crumb was instantly lifted and the cake was even fluffier. Note: I use a *touch* extra baking powder here than in my layered yellow cake.
  • Salt & Vanilla Extract: Flavor.
  • Unsalted Butter: Like vanilla cake, creamed butter and sugar is the base of this yellow sheet cake. There’s simply no other way to achieve the same cakey and soft crumb. (For denser cakes, such as carrot cake, we use oil since we’re looking for a different texture.) Make sure you are using proper room temperature butter.
  • Granulated Sugar: Sweetens the cake.
  • Eggs: My yellow layer cake uses whole eggs, plus additional egg yolks. In that recipe, I also whip egg whites into peaks before folding into the cake batter. Layer cakes require a little more finesse because you’re stacking cakes on top of one another, squishing them down. I don’t find either addition (more egg yolks and whipped egg whites) necessary here. However, feel free to mix in just the egg yolks where you add the whole eggs in the written recipe below. Then whip the egg whites separately before folding into the batter after you add the milk. I don’t take that extra step here though.
  • Sour Cream: Sour cream promises a tender cake crumb. Plain yogurt works as a substitute if needed.
  • Whole Milk: Liquid is key in most cakes because it thins out the batter. You can use nondairy or lower fat milks in a pinch, but the cake’s texture isn’t as rich or moist.

I use the same ingredients in my yellow cupcakes, too.

yellow cake batter for sheet cake

yellow cake batter in a glass cake pan

Check out this chocolate fudge frosting! It’s the same frosting I use for my piñata cake. (Another cake that’s perfect for a birthday celebration.) What I love most about this particular frosting is that it’s dense and smooth, not whipped or fluffy like I usually make it.

The recipe yields enough for a thick layer of frosting.

spreading chocolate frosting on a yellow sheet cake

The Many Benefits of Sheet Cakes

I love sheet cakes because they feed a large crowd, bake up fast, and cool pretty quickly. There’s also no assembly required or special decorating techniques needed.

I call sheet cakes the fuss-free cakes.

You can use a 9×13 inch cake pan for a quarter sheet cake or a 12×17 inch sheet pan for a half sheet cake (pictured below). The quarter sheet cake, which is pictured above, is thicker and requires a little longer in the oven. Both bake times are included below. If sheet cakes are your preference too, try this cookies and cream cake, apple cake, or funfetti sheet cake next!

slice of yellow cake from a 12x17 inch sheet pan
yellow sheet cake topped with chocolate frosting
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9x13 inch yellow sheet cake in pan

Yellow Sheet Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: half sheet serves 25, quarter sheet serves 12
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American


The ultimate birthday cake is right here! This yellow sheet cake with chocolate fudge frosting is the only yellow cake recipe you’ll ever need.


  • 2 and 1/4 cups (266g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (120g) sour cream, at room temperature*
  • 1 cup (240ml) whole milk, at room temperature*

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 and 1/2 cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup (62g) natural unsweetened or dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup*
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • optional: rainbow sprinkles


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Generously grease and lightly flour a 12×17 inch half sheet pan or a 9×13 inch quarter sheet pan. Set aside.
  2. 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. 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 eggs and vanilla extract until combined. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. Beat in the sour cream.
  4. Add 1/2 of the cake flour mixture/dry ingredients and 1/2 of the milk and beat on low speed until combined. Add the remaining dry ingredients and milk and beat on low speed until combined. Do not overmix this batter. The batter will be smooth, velvety, and slightly thick. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl.
  5. Spread the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth it out into a thin, even layer. For a 12×17 inch sheet cake, bake for 20-22 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For a 9×13 inch sheet cake, bake for 36-40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. With either size, make sure you rotate the cake pan once or twice during bake time.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool in the pan placed on a wire rack. As the cake cools, make the frosting.
  7. Make the frosting: Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until pale, smooth, and creamy, about 2 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer or sieve, sift the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa together. Add the sugar/cocoa mixture to the butter, then beat on low speed for 20 seconds. Stop the mixer, then add the milk, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. If the frosting is too thick, beat in an extra splash of milk.
  8. Frost cooled cake and top with sprinkles. Slice and serve. Cover leftovers tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Cake can be made 1 day in advance, covered tightly at room temperature, and then frosted right before serving. 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 milk will help thin the frosting out, if needed. Frosted or unfrosted cake can be frozen up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving.
  2. Cake Flour: Cake flour produces an extra light cake. I recommend it, especially if making the thicker 9×13 inch cake. If desired, you can use the same amount of all-purpose flour instead. The original recipe was written with all-purpose flour. Or you can try this cake flour substitute.
  3. Sour Cream: Full-fat sour cream lends the best flavor. You can substitute plain yogurt in a pinch. I suggest a full-fat variety.
  4. Milk: For a rich and moist cake, I highly recommend whole milk. You can use lower fat or nondairy milk in a pinch, but the cake won’t taste as rich or moist. You can use buttermilk instead, too. I recommend whole milk or even half-and-half in the frosting, but lower fat or nondairy milk works in a pinch.
  5. Corn Syrup: A little corn syrup makes the frosting uniquely glossy and shiny. You can leave it out if you’d like.
  6. Yellow Cupcakes: You can use this cake batter to make about 20 cupcakes. I also have a yellow cupcakes recipe that produces the same buttery moist texture and flavor. If using this cake batter, follow the same baking instructions as the yellow cupcakes.
  7. Yellow Layer Cake: Here is my layered yellow cake recipe.

Keywords: yellow sheet cake, yellow cake with chocolate frosting

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. I’ve made this cake in a 9×13 glass pan more times than i can remember and it never fails me. Today i made it for my mothers birthday ( along with her favorite pineapple upside down cake) and i topped it with an ermine buttercream. It was a hit. Soft and fluffy and moist. Perfect. Thank you!

  2. Sally, thank you so much for posting this recipe. I made it yesterday & it was really superb! The cake was prepared as directed, except w/AP flour & corn starch as I don’t have cake flour. This seemed to do the trick! I baked it in a 9×13 pyrex baking dish at 325 for 35 minutes. For the Icing, I stopped at 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar & figured I’d add more if needed. It turned out really great and was the perfect consistency using 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar. I don’t think it could take much more sugar than that. Also, I was a little short on milk & substituted heavy cream & strong black coffee-absolute deliciousness! This is my new go-to recipe for a vanilla sheet cake, thank you so much!

  3. I have tried making Cooks Illustrated yellow cake twice and failed. I tried making Bravehearts Angel food cake and failed. Both stress it must be bleached cake flour. Bleached cake flour does not exist in Canada. I would love to try this yellow cake recipe. Sally, you have such great advice. Will this fail with unbleached cake flour!

    1. Hi Jody, this recipe was developed and tested with unbleached cake flour. Let me know if you try it!

      1. Thanks Sally! I wound up using your yellow layer cake recipe (only because wi had started warming this ingredients). I followed your instructions to the letter, my butter was 65F. I probably only had to whip my egg whites one minute.

        The layers came out beautifully. They are cooling but all signs point to success!

        I did not rent with foil as I wanted to watch carefully (being my first time baking the recipe) and at 18 minutes the tops still looked a bit dewy and I did not want it to stick. That said, the colour does not bother me at all.

        I can’t wait to frost it!

        Thanks again <3

  4. I think I’ve commented on this recipe before but had to again. I used this cake recipe as the cake base for your pineapple upside down cake and doubled the topping from that recipe since this is a larger pan size. It took about 55-ish minutes to bake but it rose perfectly here in Denver and the only alteration I made for the altitude was to add 2 tbsp of flour. I love, love this recipe! I like the yellow cake base better than the white cake base in your regular pineapple upside down cake and I like that this makes a bigger cake. It was almost too moist, I probably should have only 1.5x the topping instead of doubled so I’ll try that next time. It was a hit for Easter and I’ll be looking for an excuse to make it again, maybe next time I’ll do it as a regular yellow cake per the recipe with the chocolate frosting!

  5. The perfect yellow cake. Light and fluffy. Just divine. I added the chocolate frosting but it’s great on its own.

  6. Can I add sprinkles to this to make it funfetti cake? And could I make two of these and stack them? Thanks!

    1. Hi JJ, you can add sprinkles to the batter. It should be sturdy enough for 4 layers, though you may want to use supports. You may also love our funfetti layer cake recipe.

    1. Hi Jen! We’re unsure exactly how many cupcakes this frosting recipe will pipe, but it’s similar to our chocolate buttercream recipe, which frosts 12-16 cupcakes.

    1. Hi Jen, you could use 2% milk in the cake, although it will not be as rich as moist as using whole milk. Same goes for the frosting. We don’t recommend heavy cream.

  7. I’ve. been looking for a good yellow cake recipe for over 10 years and haven’t had any luck at all – they’ve always been too dense. This cake is exactly what I’ve been searching for! It’s tender, fluffy and SO delicious! Thank you for this recipe!

  8. Hi Sally, I’ve been looking for a birthday cake recipe to feed 40-50 people, and it looks like the half-sheet pan recipe here is perfect. If I make two layers, will this work? Also, I need a chocolate frosting recipe that doesn’t have to be refrigerated. I’m making the cake two days prior to the event. Will the chocolate frosting recipe here work? If not, can you please recommend another of your chocolate frosting recipes that will? Thank you.

    1. Hi Ben, this cake should work as a two layer cake. After decorating anything with buttercream or cream cheese frosting, it’s fine for 1 day at room temperature. After that, we would refrigerate it. But, use your best judgment and whatever you are comfortable with – it may be just fine as long as its stored in a cool environment. We don’t have any shelf stable frosting recipes at this time.

  9. Can I make this cake in a 10 x 15”
    cake pan and how long should I bake it?

  10. Hi, was wondering if I’m going to freeze the cake should I leave it in the pan to freeze? Or will it come out easily so I can wrap it and freeze? TIA!

    1. Hi Marion, we recommend taking cakes out of their pans to freeze — you can learn more about our best practices for freezing cakes in this post. It shows round cakes, but it works for sheet cakes, too! Hope you enjoy the cake.

  11. HI! I often use your recipes and absolutely love them!! When I baked this cake, a small piece of my centre kept being raw after more baking time. The rest of the cake was absolutely delicious thought! Any ideas as to what went wrong? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Nikki! We’ve run into this issue before if the batter isn’t properly mixed and there’s a bit of unmixed butter at the bottom of the bowl that ends up on top of the cake when you pour it out. Manually whisking (gently!) the batter after it’s combined is a great way to prevent this from happening!

  12. How thick do you think the half sheet cake single layer will turn out to be if used the same amount of ingredients that you suggested above?

    1. Hi Pat, You can see pictures of this cake baked in a 12×17 inch half sheet pan above (the photo of the cake on the round wooden plates). It’s thinner than if using a 9×13 inch pan – around an inch high before frosting.

  13. We love this recipe so much! It is our grandson and my favorite combination cake and frosting combination. This recipe always turns out perfect. We are making it today for the extra cake at his birthday party for the 3rd year in a row. It’s always a big hit.

  14. Hello Sally, can I use this recipe to make a layered cake? I personally like this recipe. Especially the updated version of the cupcakes. Plus, I like how this recipe uses whole eggs compared to others, it is just egg yolks.

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