Brown Butter Cake

This brown butter cake is light, fluffy, super moist and oh so delicious. Brown butter is my favorite way to add a warm and toasty flavor to my baked goodies. Those little brown specs are like gold!
slice of brown butter cake with vanilla bean buttercream on a black plate

Fluffy Brown Butter Cake with Creamy Vanilla Bean Buttercream

This brown butter cake is light, fluffy, super moist and oh so delicious. Brown butter is my favorite way to add a warm and toasty flavor to my baked goodies. Those little brown specs are like gold! The vanilla bean buttercream lightens up that rich flavor and reminds me of a waffle cone with vanilla ice cream. This is a must bake dessert this fall!

slice of brown butter cake with vanilla bean buttercream on a black plate

I have been working on this brown butter cake for ages. A little over a year to be exact. I started working on this recipe as my tasting element for the FIPGC cake competition. The winner would move on to compete in Milan Italy! So it had to be amazing. 

The cake flavor had to follow a theme, the history of my country. I’m from the USA so I spent a long time thinking about what flavors really represented the USA. I landed on ice cream and apple pie. My brown butter cake would be the “pie crust”, the vanilla bean buttercream would be the “ice cream” and the apple filling is well.. the “apple pie filling”. I also added cranberries to the apple pie filling for color and candied pecans to the frosting layer for crunch. 

This is a photo of the cake that was submitted to the FIPGC judges.

slice of brown butter cake with apple cranberry filling and vanilla bean buttercream on a white place. Fondant airbrushed on top blue with white stars. Red and white stripes around the sides

In the end, I did end up winning but was unable to attend because, after many years of trying, I got pregnant with our son Ezra (who was recently born on Sept 13th). I was definitely disappointed that I had to pull out of the competition but thrilled, of course, to be expanding our family. 

For this recipe, I left out the apple filling and just focused on the brown butter cake and vanilla bean buttercream! 

What Does Buttermilk Do?

buttermilk in glass bottle on white napkin. Small cow toy in the background

Lately, a lot of my cake recipes have been using buttermilk. After testing out my white velvet buttermilk cake recipe and it going viral, I’ve realized that pretty much everything tastes better with buttermilk. 

Buttermilk is technically the liquids that are leftover after churning butter from cultured cream. But now, buttermilk is made to be sold and consumed on its own. You can even make buttermilk by adding a Tablespoon of white vinegar to one cup of regular milk and letting it sit until it curdles. About 10 minutes. 

Buttermilk is a fermented drink that is very acidic. It reacts with baking soda in baked goods and also breaks down gluten. Baked goods made with buttermilk are typically more tender, fluffier and have a slight tang that is common in southern cooking. 

What Does Brown Butter Do?

Brown butter is what’s going to give this cake it’s amazing toasty, nutty, rich flavor. Brown butter is often used in baked goods or sauces to give an extra depth of flavor.

If you’ve never heard of brown butter, prepare for your life to change! Brown Butter is basically just toasted butter. When you simmer butter overheat, it separates the milk solids from the butter. Those milk solids begin to turn golden as you continue to cook and when you toast the milk solids, you have brown butter!

How to brown butter

Brown butter has a gorgeous smell to it, almost like roasted nuts, or caramel, and will have lots of yummy brown bits in it. Just be careful to not burn it! Black butter is not the same as brown butter. (Bleh) Do not strain out the brown bits. That’s where the flavor is 😀

Brown butter also weighs less than regular butter, because a lot of the water evaporates in the browning process. So just note: to get 8 ounces of browned butter for this recipe, you’ll have to start with 10 ounces. If you don’t have enough brown butter you can just supplement with more softened butter, you’ll still have great flavor. 

creamy brown butter

After you make your brown butter, you need to let it cool down and return to its softened butter stage for use in baking unless your recipe specifically calls for melted butter. You can replace the butter in any recipe with brown butter to kick it up a notch!

Brown butter will never completely harden again like regular butter, but you don’t want it to be too hard and not combine with the other ingredients. You can replace half the butter in a recipe with brown butter without it adversely affecting it in any way but you add a ton of flavor! 

What Makes A Brown Butter Cake Moist?

This brown butter cake is SUPER moist thanks to a few very special ingredients. 

brown butter cake ingredients, brown butter, flour, brown sugar, white sugar, buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda, salt

  • Cake Flour – Made from softer wheat than all-purpose flour, resulting in less gluten development during mixing. Cakes made with cake flour are fluffier and more tender but not all areas of the world carry cake flour. 
  • Oil – A little bit of oil in a cake keeps the cake moist and from drying out. 
  • Brown Sugar – The molasses in brown sugar not only adds flavor to the cake but keeps it extra moist.
  • Buttermilk – The acidity in buttermilk breaks down gluten and makes the cake extra tender. 
     


 

Pro-tip: I always keep my cakes in the refrigerator until it’s time to eat them BUT make sure you bring the cake out to warm up a few hours before you eat it. Cakes have butter in them, butter get’s cold in the fridge, cold butter doesn’t taste good. A cold cake can taste dry and crumbly. 

Did you forget to take the cake out? No problem. Slice up your cake but don’t serve them for 30 minutes to give them time to warm up. 

brown butter cake with vanilla bean buttercream on a plate with cake and second slice in the background

How To Make A Brown Butter Layer Cake

Never made a cake before? Watch my “How to make your first cake” tutorial which covers everything from baking, frosting, filling and getting smooth edges. 

Click on this image to go to the how to decorate your first cake tutorial

Just like many of my other cakes like my applesauce cake and vanilla cake, this recipe uses the reverse creaming method. This means that the flour mixture is combined with the butter so that the butter coats the flour. Then you add in a small amount of the liquids and cream until fluffy for a couple of minutes.

This is usually where people panic and think they are over-mixing. You’re not. It’s important you mix for two full minutes to develop the texture and structure of the cake. Then you add in the rest of the liquids and eggs. This mixing process prevents gluten from forming and makes the cake crumb look gorgeous. 

brown butter batter in a cake pan

After baking your cake layers, you want to let them cool. I let mine cool in the pan for about 15 minutes or until I can touch the pan without burning myself. Place a cooling rack over the top of the pan, then while holding one hand on top of the rack and one hand under the pan, flip both over. Remove the pan and let the cake cool until barely warm. 

Once my cakes are barely warm, I wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer for about an hour so that I can trim the cakes and fill them right away. You can also freeze your cake layers to use later. I defrost my cakes on the countertop before trimming and frosting. 

brown butter cake layers with frosting in between

When I’m making my vanilla cake or other lighter colored cakes, I will trim off the dome and the brown edges so that my cake slices look really pretty. This is totally optional. Just make sure you always at least trim off the dome so that your layers are flat. 

I have baked three 6″ cake layers that are about 2″ tall but you can also use any other size pan that you like. Remember, the bigger the pan, the longer it will take to bake. 

My cake is filled and frosted with easy vanilla bean buttercream, but cream cheese frosting or brown butter buttercream would also taste amazing!

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Take a batch of easy buttercream and add 1 Tablespoon of vanilla bean paste or the contents of one vanilla bean pod. Now, I know what you’re going to say… vanilla is EXPENSIVE Liz! Why do you hate my wallet? I found this vanilla bean paste on sale at (home goods for $12) so a little bit will go a long way, and will make this buttercream look extra pretty with little black specks in it!

vanilla bean buttercream

How To Decorate

I’m going old school for this decoration! Using cake combs was a really popular technique like 10 years ago, and it’s making a comeback. (haha a comb-back) Who else remembers that? I hope this doesn’t make me old. 

After using a bench scraper to get your frosting straight up and down, and leveling off the top, I’m going to decorate this cake using a cake comb from Ester cakes.

I’ve used one side of this comb before to create buttercream stripes (geometric cake), but the other side makes really cute indented lines!

To make your lines, simply scrape away a little buttercream from the outside of the cake. Every time you make one full rotation, you want to scrape off the excess buttercream and come back. Make sure to start with a thick layer of buttercream, so that you aren’t left with any holes after scraping. If you’re too thin in certain spots, just add more buttercream and scrape it away!

Using an ester cakes cake comb to put lines in the buttercream

Sometimes I watch cake decorating videos and the cake will be super messy, and then all of a sudden, it’s perfect! So I’m here just like wow that was super fast and easy… Well, I will be completely honest with you, it took me 4 tries to get this cake perfect using the comb. 

Then I’m using my leftover buttercream and a Rose Russian Piping tip from Nifty Nozzles to decorate the top of my cake. The trick to Russian piping tips is you want to make sure you squeeze to adhere to the cake, stop squeezing, and then pull away.

I’m also using my Wilton #68 leaf piping tip to make cute little leaves and finish off the design! You don’t have to use a crazy stiff buttercream, Swiss Meringue Buttercream will work great. Just be careful about your buttercream being too soft and the roses mushing together. 

piping buttercream leaves next to buttercream roses on top of the finished cake

brown butter cake with vanilla bean buttercream flowers

This would make a super cute holiday cake by adding a few toasted pecans or cranberries in the middle, or even making it into a little wreath! Hmm ideas, ideas!

Can You Make This Into Brown Butter Cupcakes?

Yes and no. To make this into cupcakes you have to adjust a few things in the recipe. 

  1. Reduce the buttermilk from 10 ounces to 5 ounces
  2. Don’t add the oil

The cake recipe is super moist and bakes up nice and flat for a cake but for cupcakes, you want a little less moisture so you can get a nice dome and prevent shrinking. 

Preheat your oven to 400ºF. Fill your cupcake liners 2/3 full of batter. I like to use a small ice cream scoop. Bake your cupcakes for 5 minutes at 400ºF then reduce the temperature to 335ºF. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN. Opening the oven can cause your cupcakes to deflate. 

Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the domes are set and spring back when you touch the center. Allow the cupcakes to cool before frosting. 

Try these recipes!

Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
How To Brown Butter
Moist Vanilla Cake Recipe
Applesauce Spice Cake
Pumpkin Spice Cake

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Note: measurements are estimated based off the vanilla cake recipe using standard US cake pans and sizes. Measurements used are for 2" tall cake pans only. Your results may vary. Do not overfill cake pans above manufacturer's recommended guidelines.

Did You Make This Recipe?Leave a rating and tell me how it went!
slice of brown butter cake with vanilla bean buttercream on a black plate

Brown Butter Cake

This brown butter cake is light, fluffy, super moist and oh so delicious. Brown butter is my favorite way to add a warm and toasty flavor to my baked goodies. Those little brown specs are like gold!
5 from 56 votes
Print Rate Never Miss A Cake
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Serves: 8 cups
Calories: 350kcal

Ingredients

  • 14 ounces (396 g) cake flour
  • 8 ounces (227 g) granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces (113 g) brown sugar sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces (284 g) buttermilk warmed, and divided
  • 3 large eggs room temperature
  • 8 ounces (227 g) browned butter room temperature
  • 4 ounces (113 g) oil

Equipment

  • Stand Mixer
  • Paddle Attachment
  • Whisk Attachment

Instructions

  • IMPORTANT: Make sure all your ingredients are at room temp and you're using a scale to measure. Substituting ingredients may cause the recipe to fail. (see notes at the bottom of the recipe)
  • Heat oven to 335º F - Prepare three 6"x2" cake pans (or two 8"x6" cake pans) with cake goop or another preferred pan release -
  • Measure out 4 ounces of your buttermilk into a separate container. Add in your vegetable oil and set aside. (if doubling our tripling your recipe, remember to adjust this amount as well)
  • Combine the remaining buttermilk with your vanilla and eggs. Whisk lightly and set aside.
  • Measure out the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and place them into the stand mixer bowl with the paddle attachment.
  • Turn the mixer on the slowest speed (setting 1 on Kitchen Aid mixers). Add in your browned butter to the flour mixture. Let mix until batter resembles coarse sand.
  • Add your buttermilk and oil to the flour mixture.
  • Increase mixing speed to medium (setting 4 on Kitchen Aid mixer) and mix for 2 full minutes. Let the mixture whip up until it has thickened and lightened in color. It should look like soft-serve ice cream. If you do not let the batter mix fully, you will end up with very short, crumbly cakes that do not rise.
  • Scrape the bowl. This is an important step. If you skip it, you will have hard lumps of flour and unmixed ingredients in your batter. If you do it later, they will not mix in fully.
  • Add your egg mixture in three parts, letting the eggs incorporate for 5-10 seconds between additions. Scrape the bowl halfway through.
  • If your batter is curdled and broken at this point, your milk/eggs where too cold and your cake may not rise.
  • Divide your cake batter between your pans. I weigh my pans to make sure there is the same amount of batter in each pan.
  • Bake for a minimum of 30 minutes before you check for doneness. Remember, bigger pans take longer to bake than smaller pans. I use a baking core for pans over 12". Cakes are done when a toothpick comes out clean or the tops spring back when you lightly touch them.
  • After cakes have cooled for 10 minutes or the pans are cool enough to touch, flip the cakes over onto cooling racks to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator or freeze for one hour to speed up cooling.
  • Frost and decorate as desired

Notes

Important Things To Note Before You Start
1. Bring all your ingredients to room temperature or even a little warm (eggs, buttermilk, butter, etc) to ensure your batter does not break or curdle. 
2. Use a scale to weigh your ingredients (including liquids) unless otherwise instructed (Tablespoons, teaspoons, pinch etc). Metric measurements are available in the recipe card. Scaled ingredients are much more accurate than using cups and help ensure the success of your recipe. 
3. Practice Mise en Place (everything in it's place). Measure out your ingredients ahead of time and have them ready before you start mixing to reduce the chances of accidentally leaving something out.
4. Chill your cakes before frosting and filling. You can cover a frosted and chilled cake in fondant if you wish. This cake is also great for stacking. I always keep my cakes chilled in the refrigerator before delivery for easy transporting. 
5. If the recipe calls for specific ingredients like cake flour, replacing it with all purpose flour and cornstarch is not recommended unless specified in the recipe that it’s ok. Substituting ingredients may cause this recipe to fail. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 350kcal (18%) | Carbohydrates: 54g (18%) | Protein: 7g (14%) | Fat: 12g (18%) | Saturated Fat: 2g (10%) | Cholesterol: 55mg (18%) | Sodium: 334mg (14%) | Potassium: 131mg (4%) | Fiber: 1g (4%) | Sugar: 29g (32%) | Vitamin A: 116IU (2%) | Calcium: 62mg (6%) | Iron: 1mg (6%)
Tried this Recipe? Tag me Today!Mention @SugarGeekShow or tag #SugarGeek!
 

76 comments on “Brown Butter Cake

  1. Hello Liz how are you? I have a question to ask where I am living i cannot get cake flour and i Really want to make this cake?

    1. I’m so sorry, I don’t have a solution for finding cake flour but you could try my white cake recipe which does use regular flour and replace half the butter whit brown butter and half the sugar with brown sugar and its the same flavor profile <3

      1. To make two cups of cake-and-pastry flour (cake flour), combine 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup cornstarch; proceed with your recipe. The easiest way to do this substitution is to put 2 tbsp of cornstarch in the bottom of a 1-cup measuring cup, then fill the cup as usual with all-purpose flour and level top.

      2. This substitution does not work for my reverse mixing method recipes and will cause the cake to be crumbly and dry like cornbread.

  2. 5 stars
    Yummm I just made this and went brown butter crazy and paired it with your brown butter frosting! SO GOOD! Thanks for the recipe 🙂

  3. I read your notes and you say scale even liquid ingredients. Does that mean 10 ounces of buttermilk may not be a liquid measure of 10 ounces? This is the first time I recall weighing my liquids. Also, why not weigh the eggs?

    Thanks!

    1. It’s just a general statement because not all liquids weigh the same. For instance corn syrup is heavier than oil. Oil is lighter than water. etc. I don’t weigh the eggs because eggs are already standardized by weight. A large egg weighs 1.67 ounces (roughly)

    2. Had fun making this today! It made my kitchen smell so good and turned out perfect. Thanks for sharing your fantastic rested recipes!

  4. Thank you for the Ester Cake link for your cake comb. Do you recall the name/model of the comb you used?

  5. Curious if you use unsalted or salted butter for the brown butter? I didn’t notice seeing it in this post and would like to know which you prefer to use, excuse me if I missed it. I have been researching recipes for my daughters wedding cake and have read through a zillion online recipes. This one sounds so unique- not like the traditional white or vanilla cakes. I wish I found it sooner.

  6. I wonder if this would work with a maple frosting…like maple 7 minute?

  7. Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe with us, I really appreciate your work. Keep it up.

  8. Hi Liz,
    Would gluten free flour be a sub for cake flour or is that only able to be substituted for AP flour? Thx!

      1. Thanks, I’ll have to try that. I have King Arthur’s 1:1 gluten free flour, should I just use that when recipes call for AP and use the baking mix to sub cake flour? Thanks again!

      2. I haven’t used that exact brand so I can’t say for sure if it will work the same but that is what I do with the bobs red mill 1:1 baking mix

  9. Hi Liz,

    Thanks for the recipe! Can this cake be frozen? I want to bake it a couple weeks in advance.

    Thanks!

  10. I bake a cake once a month for a local senior center and am going to do this one this month. I’d like to add a sand to the sides after frosting (a brown sugar ermine frosting) and wonder if you’ve got any flavor ideas. I made a great coffee sand but don’t think that would work here … maybe just nuts?

      1. Hi Liz, I’m glad I found your page. I was looking for brown cake recipe. Quick question though: can brown butter be used for sponge cake?

  11. 5 stars
    Hey Liz, This is the second cake I’ve baked with your recipes (actually the Lumber Jack cake has three cakes so the 4th) and I’ve officially given up box cake mixes. I used this batter as a base for a updated two layer Fresh Pineapple Upside down cake. It may have been the best cake I’ve ever eaten. Your directions are easy, concise and provide enough explanation so I understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. After 40 years I finally feel confident enough to take my cakes to gatherings. Thank you!

  12. 5 stars
    I’m excited that I discovered you on IG and then this web site. First of all, I had never made brown butter before and now it’s the only thing I ever want to make in my life! The cake batter was extraordinary! I don’t usually use cake flour, but is it very precious? I don’t know what I did wrong (my buttermilks were at least room temp), but when I took the cakes out of the pans, they seemed to squish a little. Did I take them out of the pans too early? I didn’t wait the 15 minutes. The cakes were also pulling away from the sides quite a bit when I took them out of the oven. Hopefully they’ll survive. And that frosting is insanely fluffy! Thanks! And I’d appreciate any tips.

    1. You may have over-baked the cake a tad which can cause them to shrink a lot. Some shrinking is normal. Give the cake pan a tap on the counter right when you take it out of the oven to help release the air from the cake and prevent un-even shrinking

  13. Liz, is this cake dense enough to cover in fondant and stack? Will it hold the weight of the fondant well?

  14. Hi Liz,
    I’ve watched many of your videos. Can you please tell me what type of mixer you use. It looks much simpler than lugging out my kitchen aid each time.
    Michelle

  15. Hi Liz, I made this cake once and they fell- not surprising, I’m not a very good baker! I do live at attitude in Denver though and could use some help figuring out how to adjust? Thank you!!

  16. Hi Liz,

    Is it ok to just use all white sugar (substitute brown sugar for normal sugar)?

  17. Hello, I am wanting to make this cake for my son’s 13th birthday tomorrow. I’ve got everything ready to go and I just noticed you said use a scale…. I don’t have one. Any suggestions as I don’t know how many cups is 10oz, etc. Please help ♡

    1. I would really advise not making this cake if you do not have a kitchen scale, only because the cake will most likely fail and no one can afford to waste precious ingredients right now. You should check out the WASC cake recipe which uses a box mix and measuring cups. You could replace the butter with brown butter and get a very similar result. I hope that helps. 🙂

  18. Hi liz… I cant wait to try this recipe. But will like to k ow if I can use hand mixer in the absence of a stand mixer.

    1. Yes you can, just try to follow the mixing instructions and you may have to mix a little more to get that full two minutes of structure development

  19. Hi there, i do not have a fan operated oven. Does your recommended temperature for baking still work?
    May i also know the brand of cake flour you would recommend? Thank you.

    1. Im not sure if that makes a difference, I just have a regular electric oven. Any brand of cake flour is ok to use.

  20. I made the brown butter cake with salter caramel buttercream frosting over the weekend. It tasted amazing. I did reduce the overall sugar from 12oz to 10oz for the brown butter cake. Still it tasted awesome. Thank you so much.

  21. 5 stars
    I’m new to baking cakes but trying my best to learn. I’ve made three of your cakes now, most recently this one, and they’ve all been delicious but a little dry. I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Am I over baking? Over mixing? Thank you!!

  22. I am thinking of making cupcakes or using 3-4 inch cake pans. How long should I let them cook before testing for doneness?

    1. I can’t really give an estimate since I don’t know the size of the cake pan. You will just have to keep an eye on it. I know they take a very long time to bake because of how deep they are.

  23. 5 stars
    Hands down, the best cake I’ve ever made, the whole family loved it! Next on the agenda is your chocolate cake recipe for my brother’s galaxy themed birthday this weekend.

    Thanks for sharing your recipes, they’re amazing!

  24. Is low fat (1%) buttermilk okay for this recipe?

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