With its outstanding vanilla flavor, pillowy soft crumb, and creamy vanilla buttercream, this is truly the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had. And after 1 bite, I guarantee you’ll agree.
Out of all the cake recipes on my website, there’s a glaring absence. There’s white cake with a pristine soft crumb, vanilla naked cake with a flavorful tight crumb, and checkerboard cake with a whimsical design.
What about a classic vanilla layer cake draped in vanilla buttercream? I already have homemade vanilla cupcakes and a 6 inch vanilla cake covered and now in all its crowning glory (and after plenty recipe testing catastrophes), I present you with cake perfection:
This is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had.
What Makes it the Best Vanilla Cake?
Let’s count the ways!
- Soft, light crumb from cake flour
- Fluffy from extra egg whites
- Buttery and cakey from creamed butter
- Stick-to-your-fork moist from eggs & buttermilk
- Extra flavor from pure vanilla extract
Not to mention its versatility: This vanilla cake batter is strong enough for shaped cakes, tiered cakes (see the slight variation in my homemade wedding cake recipe), and holds up beautifully under fondant. Use this batter for vanilla cupcakes, Bundt cake, or even piñata cake. It’s classy enough for a wedding celebration, but unassuming enough for a big family dinner.
Behind the Vanilla Cake Recipe
After years of cake successes and flops, I’m confident in this homemade vanilla cake. During my recipe testing, I combined my white cake recipe and naked cake recipe. These are two reader favorites and I knew they’d be the best starting point. At first there were too many eggs and I quickly learned sifting cake flour was NOT doing any favors.
You need the following power ingredients:
- Cake Flour: If you want a fluffy and soft bakery-style vanilla cake, cake flour is the secret. The cake will be denser and heavier using all-purpose flour.
- Eggs & 2 additional egg whites: 3 whole eggs provide structure, moisture, and richness. 2 extra egg whites keep the cake light and airy. I don’t recommend using 4 whole eggs; stick to the 3 egg & 2 egg white combination.
- Baking Powder & Baking Soda: Remember the differences in baking powder vs baking soda and why we use both in some recipes? Using enough baking powder to give these layers height gave the cake a bitter aftertaste. Baking soda allows us to use less baking powder.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk is an acidic ingredient and baking soda requires an acid to work. Plus buttermilk yields an EXTRA moist cake crumb. See recipe note about the alternative.
For more prominent vanilla flavor, use homemade vanilla extract. (What a fun DIY gift!) This vanilla cake batter is moderately thick and fits perfectly in 3 9-inch cake pans. We actually use the same exact batter to make snickerdoodle cake.
Do you know how to level a cake? Let me help. It’s really easy. You can use a fancy cake leveler, but I use a serrated knife. Carefully slice off the tippy top of the cooled cake layers, creating a flat surface. Leveling cakes doesn’t require a ruler, talent, or any mathematical equations. Instead, just use your eyes, hands, and a knife.
Leveling the cake layers promises a straight and sturdy layer cake.
How Much Frosting Between Cake Layers?
I always eyeball the amount of frosting between cake layers, but I measured when I decorated the pictured cake. The vanilla buttercream recipe below yields about 6 cups of frosting. I recommend you use about 1.5 heaping cups of buttercream between each cake layer and reserve the last 3 cups for outside the cake.
Cake Decoration Inspiration: For a simple look, stick with vanilla buttercream, fresh berries, and mint sprigs. You can also decorate with chocolate buttercream (I recommend the same amount from this piñata cake), rainbow sprinkles, or even beautiful buttercream flowers.
Homemade Vanilla Cake Success Tips
Learn from my mistakes and bake the best cake on the 1st try!
- Follow the recipe closely. Use each power ingredient listed.
- Use room temperature ingredients. The batter mixes together evenly when all the cake ingredients are roughly the same temperature. This also reduces the risk of over-mixing and over-baking. Set out your ingredients 1 hour before beginning. Read here for more information.
- Line your cake pans with parchment. Place your cake pans on a large sheet of parchment paper. Trace the bottom of the cake pan with a pencil. Cut parchment paper into rounds. Grease the pan and the parchment paper. Parchment paper rounds guarantee seamless removal from the pan because the cake slides right out.
- Cool cake layers completely. I’ve tried taking shortcuts by assembling a layer cake with semi-warm cake layers. Well, the frosting completely melts and causes the entire cake to collapse. Make sure each layer is cool– refrigerate or freeze the layers if you need to!
- Refrigerate decorated cake. After frosting the cake, place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. This is optional, but it sets the frosting and cake layers. You’ll get beautifully clean slices because the crumbs are cool and tight.
Great read: Check out Tessa’s Top 10 Best Layer Cake Tips.
Finding the perfect vanilla cake recipe requires a celebration. Luckily we have cake!!!
More Classic Cake Recipes
And here is my perfected vanilla cupcakes recipe.Print
Best Vanilla Cake
- Prep Time: 35 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours (includes cooling)
- Yield: 12–14 servings 1x
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
With its outstanding vanilla flavor, pillowy soft crumb, and creamy vanilla buttercream, this is truly the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had. Make sure you read through the recipe and recipe notes before beginning. This recipe yields approximately 8 cups of batter which is helpful if you need this batter for different cake pans and conversions.
- 3 and 2/3 cups (433g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 and 1/2 cups (345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs + 2 additional egg whites, at room temperature*
- 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract (yes, Tbsp!)
- 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
- 1 and 1/2 cups (345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 5 and 1/2 cups (650g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk or heavy cream
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
- Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together. Set aside.
- Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the 3 eggs, 2 egg whites, and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 2 minutes. (Mixture will look curdled as a result of the egg liquid and solid butter combining.) Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients just until combined. With the mixer still running on low, pour in the buttermilk and mix just until combined. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
- Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Weigh them to ensure accuracy, if desired. Bake for around 23-26 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
- Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more milk if frosting is too thick, or an extra pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
- Assemble and decorate: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I use and recommend an icing spatula to apply the frosting.
- Refrigerate cake for at least 1 hour before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving. See how to freeze cakes for detailed instructions.
- 9×13 Inch Cake: I recommend using my white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake. See recipe notes for the 9×13 inch version.
- 2 Layer Cake: I recommend using my 2 layer white cake batter instead. Both use similar ingredients and produce a deliciously light vanilla cake.
- Bundt Cake: This vanilla cake batter will fit into a 10-cup or larger Bundt pan. I’m unsure of the exact bake time (likely around an hour), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same oven temperature.
- Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19-21 minutes. Yields about 3 dozen. Or try my vanilla cupcakes recipe.
- Cake Flour: To prevent a dry-tasting cake, make sure you are spooning and leveling the flour or weighing it. For the best results, I strongly recommend cake flour. You can find it in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it. Usually a homemade cake flour substitute works, but this recipe uses far too much cake flour and the homemade substitute is not ideal.
- Eggs: 3 whole eggs provide structure, moisture, and richness. 2 extra egg whites keep the cake light and airy. I don’t recommend using 4 whole eggs; stick to the 3 egg & 2 egg white combination. Here are recipes using leftover egg yolks.
- Buttermilk: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a DIY sour milk substitute. Add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1 and 1/2 cups. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
- Why is everything at room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
- Want chocolate frosting instead?: I recommend the recipe/amount of chocolate frosting I use for Piñata Cake.
- Sprinkle Cake: To make a sprinkle cake, fold about 3/4 cup (120g) of sprinkles into the cake batter. Avoid nonpareils (the little balls), which tend to bleed their color.
Keywords: vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, birthday cake
Reader Questions and Reviews
Hi, would I be able to make this recipe using flaxseed, an egg substitute?
We haven’t tested that but let us know if you do!
Hi, I have used and loved countless of your recipies. I am new into the tiered cake world and have made a few so far. I am looking to make this vanilla cake into a 2 tier layer cake. 2 layers per tier. I have the fat daddios 10×3 and 8×3 pans for it. Any suggestions on how to distribute this? I read in the notes you would use the white cake for a 2 layer cake instead of the vanilla. Just looking for insight for a way forward. Thank you!
Hi Tricia our posts on how to make a homemade wedding cake (tiered cake) and cake pan sizes and conversions should be helpful for you!
Could I make this with 3 8 inch pans for a 3 tier cake ??? Do you recommend sifting the flour and sugar ?
Hi Rylee! You can use this recipe with your 8 inch pans for slightly thicker layers in a three layer cake. You may need an extra minute or two of bake time since they layers will be thicker – use a toothpick to test for doneness. To make a tiered cake you can reference our homemade wedding cake recipe. We do not sift the cake flour for this recipe. (Only sift if you see the word “sifted” alongside an ingredient in a recipe). Hope this helps!
Thank you so much! Do you think this is enough to feed 12 – 14 people ?
I just love your site and recipes! Looking to make a four layer, six inch cake. Is this cake sturdy enough to do so? Also wondering if this recipe is good to divvy up between four 6” pans. Thank you so much!!
Hi Sam, here’s everything you need to know about cake pan sizes and conversions. This cake is sturdy enough to stack in four smaller layers. Enjoy!
Could I substitute whole milk or maybe sour cream for the buttermilk? I would make a buttermilk sub but I don’t have vinegar or lemon juice. Thanks!
Hi Gracie, the cake will taste heavy if you replace all of the buttermilk with sour cream. You could try using a mixture of whole milk and sour cream but we haven’t tested that in this cake. Let us know if you give it a try!
Can I use all purpose flour?
Hi Ryan, we really recommend cake flour with this recipe, but you can use this cake flour substitute in a pinch.
Made this cake for a family celebration and it was a big hit! I will definitely keep this recipe. Thank you Sally for another great recipe.
My daughter is gluten and dairy free. Wondering if have any suggestions with making this cake ?
Hi Nicole, We haven’t tested a gluten free/dairy free version of this cake. Let us know if you try anything!
I followed Sally’s instructions exactly, and this was the best cake I’ve ever made! Reminded me of the birthday cakes we got as children from our old-school neighborhood bakery. I served it with fresh raspberries, which added a wonderful contrast, both visually and taste-wise. Truly outstanding. Thank you, Sally!!!
Hi! I’m looking to make this a pinata cake but it seems four layers is better for the pinata effect. How can I make this recipe four layers? My daughter loves vanilla 🙂
Hi Sadie! You could either increase this recipe by 1/3 in order to yield four layers, or you could use our white cake recipe instead. It is very similar and yields two layers, so you could make two separate batches (rather than doubling) to yield four layers total. Our pinata cake post would also be a helpful resource!
Hi Sally, can I leave out the buttermilk? Not too fond of the tangy flavour 🙂
Hi Deb, buttermilk (or the DIY version) is really best here. It’s necessary to help activate the baking soda and it helps create an extra moist cake crumb. You could try a combination of sour cream and regular milk, but we fear the crumb will become much too dense. Hope this helps!
Will this recipe work for cupcakes?
Yes! See recipe notes for details.
Thanks! Also, I do not have a whisk or paddle attachment for my mixer. Are there any adjustments I can make. It is a handheld mixer.
Hi Lori, you can use your hand mixer here — not a problem!
This cake is exactly as described! Oh my goodness! This is truly the best tasting cake I’ve ever made HANDS DOWN! I tested it out last weekend and it’s a winner. I’ll be making it for my son’s wedding July 9th! Thank you for this recipe!
How to keep cake moist if kept in refrigerator? Simple syrup?
Hi Deb, Brushing the cakes with a little simple syrup when they’re still warm will lock in more moisture.
Hi! If I wanted to add Amaretto to this cake how could I do that? I know I’d have to adjust the flour as well but I’d like your input.
Also, could I use a sugar substitute like Swerve?
Thanks! Making the cake the original way is spectacular!
Hi JT, We haven’t tested it so we can’t say for sure, but it should work! It depends on how strong you want the flavor, but we would start with replacing a half cup of the buttermilk with Amaretto. Let us know if you give it a try!
This is such an incredible recipe!! Everything on this website is absolute GOLD!! A crowd favorite every time. I’ve made this vanilla cake both as a cake and as cupcakes and they were amazing! I also halved the recipe and made a half batch of her chocolate cake and marbled it. My mom says it’s better than a bakery cake!
This recipe was perfection!! I was a little concerned when the cakes initially came out of the oven – they seemed really soft/delicate – they had a few air pockets and some breakage but i wrapped them individually in saran wrap and stored them in the fridge for a few hours until I was ready to ice and it all came out perfectly. I added some diced fresh strawberries in between each layer just to add another flavor. Thank you!!
I would love to make a smaller version of this cake for my sister’s birthday. Would it be possible to halve all the ingredients ?
Hi Annie, you can halve the ingredients or use the recipe for a 6 inch vanilla cake — same great taste!
I’m very excited about this recipe. If I use one 4 inch pan, should I lower the oven temperature to make sure the cake bakes all the way through?
Hi Alina, you can use this recipe to make several 4 inch cake rounds, or you may want to use this smaller 6 inch vanilla cake recipe instead. Be sure to only fill your pan 2/3 way full to prevent it from rising too much and spilling over. Same temperature, but the time will be less. Use a toothpick to test for doneness.
Sorry, I wrote it wrong. I meant a 10 inch round pan with a 4 in depth, instead of a 9 inch pan with a 2 inch depth.
I haven’t tried this recipe yet but I love vanilla on vanilla cake, even as basic it is. Anyways can I use food coloring like, red, white, and blue for 4th of July? I just want a red cake, blue cake and a white cake and cover it with vanilla frosting and 4th of July sprinkles, do you think it will work? Anyways have a early 4th of July!
Hi Morgan! Yes, absolutely – we recommend using gel food coloring for the most vivid colors.
Is the cake flour supposed to be sifted? I have always sifted my flour, but after reading your comment about it doing no favors, I am wondering if I have been doing things wrong? Thanks.
Hi Rachel, the cake flour does not need to be sifted in this recipe. In general, you only need to sift the cake flour (or the type of flour called for) if it is mentioned in the ingredients/directions. You can learn more about how to measure sifted flour in this post.
Hi, I want to make a pound cake how long do I put it in for?
Hi Anna, See recipe notes for tips on baking in a Bundt pan.
I loved this recipe, it makes for a lovely and moist cake, albeit a bit on the sweet side. I made a trial run for a cake I was asked to make for a friend, so I won’t be changing the amount of sugar in the cake, but if I were to make it for myself in the future, I will definitely dial down the sugar. Together with the icing it becomes a bit too much for me.