This vanilla cake recipe has an amazing flavor, a soft, cloud-like crumb, and is so incredibly moist. Using cake flour, the reverse creaming method, lots of butter, and a touch of oil keeps this cake moist for days. Light and creamy buttercream frosting that's easy to make and not too sweet makes this the PERFECT vanilla cake recipe. And if you really want to impress your friends, I'll even show you how to make some gorgeous palette knife buttercream flowers for decoration!
Next to my white velvet buttermilk cake, and lemon blueberry cake, this vanilla cake is one of our most popular recipes. I have been using this recipe for over ten years for my cake clients with nothing but rave reviews. With the release of my cake decorating book, I found out how popular this cake really has become! This is the cake that turns those "I don't even like cake" consultations into OMG we need to book you right now clients! This is perfect for wedding cakes, birthday cakes and will leave everyone asking you for the recipe.
There is a TON of info in this blog post and I know it can seem daunting but I swear it's not fluff! It's all stuff hundreds of people have asked me about over the years so I try to answer as many questions as I can and guarantee your success the first time around. I said it was the BEST vanilla cake recipe out there so let me prove it to you!
Vanilla Cake Ingredients
Cake flour (low-protein flour) is essential to this recipe. It has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour. Lower protein equals less gluten development which results in a more tender and soft crumb. Cake flour is what we always used in pastry school for the best cakes.
Do not fall for the "just add cornstarch to regular flour" trick. It does not work for this recipe because we are using the reverse creaming method. If you use all-purpose flour, your cake will look and taste like cornbread.
If you're located in another country, you can find cake flour but it might need to be ordered online. In the UK, look for Shipton mills cake and pastry flour.
Pro-tip - Cake flour has a protein level of 9% or less so look for a flour that specifies protein content or ask your local flour supply.
If you can only find AP flour, I suggest trying out my white cake recipe instead.
What Vanilla Is Best?
Because vanilla is the main flavor for vanilla cake, quality matters. I always use real vanilla extract. I get it from Costco because it's the best price. You can also use vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste if you want to splurge. Don't worry about vanilla extract being brown, you won't be able to tell once the cake is baked.
Try to stay away from artificial vanilla flavoring unless you like that flavor which some people do and that's ok! But ever since I found out what clear vanilla extract is made from, I can't go back haha. Ok this might not really but true but still... Read more about the difference between clear and natural vanilla.
Tips For Success (trust me, you want to read this)
- Measure out all of your ingredients with a scale. Baking is a science and because you can accidentally add too much flour or have not enough flour when you use cups, a scale is needed for accuracy. You can purchase a kitchen scale in the baking aisle at most grocery stores for less than $20.
- Bring your butter, milk, and eggs to room temperature. Room temperature ingredients will create an emulsion properly but if any of your ingredients are cold then the batter will not mix together properly and you'll end up with a wet layer at the bottom of the cake. Click the link above if you need to know how to warm up your eggs, milk, and butter properly.
- Don't be afraid to mix. If you've never used the reverse creaming method before you might get freaked out about the mixing stage because we are going to mix for TWO minutes. When you're making a cake in the traditional way, you would never mix that long because you would over-mix your cake batter and create huge holes (tunnels).
- With the reverse creaming method, we coat the flour in the butter first which actually inhibits the gluten from developing. We are also using cake flour which isn't as strong as regular flour so it needs to be mixed more. Reverse creaming also allows us to add more liquids and sugar to the cake than the typical mixing style which is why this vanilla cake is SO incredibly moist and tender.
- Check your altitude - If you live above 5,000 ft you may need to reduce your baking powder a bit so that your vanilla cakes do not collapse.
Vanilla Cake Step-By-Step
Step 1 - Preheat your oven to 335ºF. I like to bake at a lower temperature because it results in a flatter cake but if your oven doesn't have that capability, it's still ok to bake at 350ºF. You might have a tiny dome after baking but you can just trim it off.
Step 2 – Place the first measurement of milk (4 oz) into a separate measuring cup. Add in the oil and set it aside.
Step 3 – To the second measurement of milk, add the eggs and vanilla extract. Whisk lightly to break up the eggs.
Step 4 – Place your cake flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment attached. You can also use a hand mixer.
*before you ask, this is my Bosch universal plus affiliate link if you're interested in learning more.
Step 5 – Add in your softened butter in chunks while mixing on low. Mix everything until it looks like coarse sand.
Step 6 – Now add in the milk/oil mixture all at once and bump up the speed to 4 (on a KitchenAid or speed 2 on a Bosch) and mix for two full minutes to develop the cake's structure. The batter will be light, white, and not curdled looking or broken.
Step 7 – Now we are going to slowly add in our egg/milk mixture while mixing on low. We are adding it slowly because we are creating an emulsion with our eggs and liquids which is how our cake gets so moist. If you add it too quickly, your liquids will separate from the butter and sink to the bottom of the cake.
Step 8 – Divide the batter into three, 8"x2" pans prepared with cake goop or your preferred pan release. For added insurance, you can put parchment paper into the bottom of the pan but it's really not needed. Fill the pans about ¾ of the way full. I use a scale to make sure all my pans have the same amount of batter because I'm a perfectionist like that lol.
Step 9 – Bake your cakes for 25-30 minutes until the center is set and a toothpick comes out clean. You may need more time so do not be afraid to bake the cake for longer.
Step 10 – Remove the cakes from the oven and place them onto a cooling rack. Let them cool down until the pans are barely warm. Don’t let them get cold or they will stick.
Step 11 – After the cakes are cool, flip them out onto the cooling rack to cool fully. Then I wrap them in plastic wrap, put them in the fridge or freezer for 30 minutes to get the cake to firm up so it’s easier to handle before I frost it. You can also freeze your cakes if you don't plan on frosting them right away.
How To Make Easy Buttercream
If you're familiar with decorating cakes, feel free to skip this part but many of you have asked me to go more in-depth in how I frost and fill my cakes so that is what I am going to over in this section.
While the cakes are chilling, now is a great time to make your easy buttercream. I love making easy buttercream because it comes together so quickly and tastes just like swiss meringue buttercream but faster.
Step 1 - Add your pasteurized egg whites and powdered sugar to the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment attached. Whisk on high for one minute so that the sugar dissolves.
Step 2 - Add in your softened butter in small pieces while mixing on low until it's all added in.
Step 3 - Add in your vanilla and salt. Increase the mixer speed to high and whip on high until the buttercream is light and creamy. Give it a taste. If it still tastes like butter, keep whipping. It should taste like sweet ice cream.
If your buttercream is clinging to the sides of the bowl and not whipping up, your butter could be too cold. Take out 1 cup of buttercream and melt it in the microwave until it's just barely melted.
Add the melted buttercream into the cold buttercream and continue whipping it until it's light and fluffy. This can take up to 15-20 minutes so now would be a good time to wash your dishes 😀
Optional: Switch to the paddle and let your buttercream mix on low for 10 minutes to remove any extra bubbles so you'll have a super smooth and silky buttercream. You can also add some white food coloring or a tiny drop of purple food coloring to brighten up your buttercream to make it look really white.
How To Decorate A Vanilla Cake Step-By-Step
I'm going to decorate my vanilla cake with some pretty buttercream flowers using a palette knife technique. If you don't have a palette knife you can decorate the cake any way you like. Watch my how to decorate your first cake video for more ideas and I also go over standard tools that I use for cake decorating.
Step 1 - Trim the domes off your cakes so that they stack nice and level. I use a serrated bread knife to do this.
Optional: trim off the brown edges so that when you slice your cakes, you see nothing but pure white cake. This is something I usually do for wedding cakes where looks matter.
Step 2 - Place your first layer of cake onto a 6" cake board or directly onto your cake plate.
Step 3 - Spread a layer of buttercream over the cake, I shoot for about ¼" thick. Try to make it level with your offset spatula.
Step 4 - Add your next layer of cake and repeat the process with buttercream and finish with the top layer of cake.
Step 5 - Spread a thin layer of buttercream all over the cake. This is called the crumb coat and it seals in the crumbs so they do not get into your final layer of cake. Put your cake in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes until the buttercream is firm to the touch.
Step 6 - Add your second layer of buttercream. I start with the top and spread it flat with the spatula. Then I add buttercream to the sides and smooth it all out with my bench scraper. See the video below for more in-depth instructions on frosting the cake. Put your cake back in the fridge for 15 minutes until the buttercream is firm. Or you can leave your cake in the fridge overnight if you want to decorate the next day.
Step 7 - Color your buttercream. I colored about ¼ cup of each color, light, and medium pink using Americolor electric pink food coloring.
Step 8 - Use your palette knife to make your buttercream flowers (watch the video for more detail). I also added a few white sprinkles here and there for texture.
And there you have it! A moist and delicious vanilla cake that also looks beautiful! I always keep my cakes in the fridge until I'm ready to serve them or if I have to deliver them but cold cakes can taste dry. Make sure you take your cake out of the fridge a few hours before you plan on eating it. Easy buttercream can be at room temperature for 24 hours so no worries about it going bad.
Can You Use This Vanilla Cake Recipe For Cupcakes?
This recipe is formulated to bake up perfectly flat so it's not the best in my opinion for cupcakes. If you really want to use them for cupcakes, try my vanilla cupcake recipe instead.
If you really want to use this recipe, you'll want to make a few adjustments.
- Reduce the liquid in the recipe by half and omit all the oil.
- Bake them at 400º F for 5 minutes then reduce the temperature to 335º F for 10 more minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. The extra heat at the beginning will help the cupcake dome up and make a tight connection to the cupcake wrapper.
- Don't fill the cupcake liners more than ⅔ of the way full or they will overflow and go flat.
This recipe made 36 cupcakes.
Can You Cover This Vanilla Cake In Fondant?
The answer is yes! You can cover this cake in fondant as long as you don't frost it with cream cheese frosting. Cream cheese frosting doesn’t do well next to fondant, it makes it weep and get soggy. After your cake is frosted and chilled with the final layer of buttercream you can cover it in fondant.
Cake Batter and Frosting Calculator
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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.
- Food Scale
- 8" x 2" Cake Pans (3)
Vanilla Cake Recipe
- 4 ounces whole milk to be mixed with the oil
- 3 ounces canola oil
- 6 ounces whole milk to be mixed with the eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean pod
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 13 ounces cake flour
- 13 ounces granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces unsalted butter softened to room temperature but not melted
Easy Buttercream Frosting
- 16 ounces powdered sugar
- 4 ounces pasteurized egg whites
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 16 ounces unsalted butter softened to room temperature but not melted
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 TINY drop purple food coloring to offset the yellow color (optional)
- 3 drops electric pink food coloring for the flowers
- 1 Tablespoon white sprinkles for decorating
- IMPORTANT: This is the BEST vanilla cake because I use a scale so it turns out perfectly 🙂 If you convert to cups I cannot guarantee good results. Make sure all your (cold ingredients) butter, eggs, milk are at room temperature or a little warm. See my post about how to use a scale if you don't know how to measure by weight.
- Heat oven to 335º F/168º C . Prepare three 8"x2" cake pans with cake goop or another preferred pan release.
- Place the 4 oz of milk in a separate measuring cup. Add the oil to the milk and set it aside.
- To the remaining 6 oz of milk, add the vanilla and room temperature eggs. Whisk gently to combine. Set aside.
- Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
- Turn the mixer onto the slowest speed. Slowly add chunks of your softened butter until it is all added then let everything mix until it looks like coarse sand.
- Add your milk/oil mixture all at once to the dry ingredients and mix on medium (speed 4 on kitchenaid, speed 2 on the Bosch) for 2 full minutes to develop the structure. Set a timer! Don't worry, this will not over-mix the cake.
- After 2 minutes, 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.
- Slowly add in the milk/egg mixture while mixing on low, stopping to scrape the bowl one more time halfway through. Mix until just combined. Your batter should be thick and not too runny.
- Divide the batter into your greased cake pans and fill ¾ of the way full. I like to weigh my pans to make sure they're even.
- Bake for 30 minutes and check your cakes. Do the "done test". Insert a toothpick to see if it comes out clean. Sometimes wet batter doesn't show up so make sure it's clean and not just wet. Then gently touch the top of the cake, does it spring back? Oven temperatures vary so if it's not done yet, bake for a few more minutes (2-3) and check again until it passes the "done" test.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and give them a tap on the countertop to release air and prevent too much shrinking. Let them cool on a cooling rack until they are barely warm.
- After cooling for about 10 minutes, place the cooling rack on top of the cake, placing one hand on top of the cooling rack and one hand under the pan and flip the pan and the cooling rack over so the pan is now upside down on the cooling rack. Remove the pan carefully. Repeat with the other pan.
- After the cakes are fully cooled, carefully wrap them in plastic wrap and place them into the freezer or fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up the cakes and make them easier to handle for stacking.
Easy Buttercream Frosting
- Place egg whites and powdered sugar in a stand mixer bowl. Attach the whisk, combine ingredients on low and then whip on high for 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and salt.
- Add in your softened butter in chunks and whip with the whisk attachment to combine. It will look curdled at first. This is normal. It will also look pretty yellow. Keep whipping.
- Whip on high for 8-10 minutes until it's very white, light and shiny. If you don't whip it enough, it could end up tasting buttery.
- Optional: If you want whiter frosting, add in a tiny drop of purple to counteract the yellow in the butter (too much will make the frosting grey or light purple.)
- Optional: Switch to a paddle attachment and mix on low for 15-20 minutes to make the buttercream very smooth and remove air bubbles. This isn't required but if you want really creamy frosting, you don't want to skip it.
- After your cakes are chilled, fill them with your favorite frosting and frost the outside. If you're not familiar with decorating cakes, check out my how to make your first cake blog post! Watch the video to see how I made the palette knife buttercream flowers.
- Weigh your ingredients to avoid cake failure. Using a kitchen scale for baking is super easy and gives you the best results every single time.
- Make sure all your cold ingredients are room temperature or slightly warm (butter, milk, eggs, to create a cohesive batter. Curdled batter causes cakes to collapse.)
- You must use cake flour for this recipe. Do not fall for the "just add cornstarch to regular flour" trick. It does not work for this recipe. Your cake will look and taste like cornbread. If you can't find cake flour, use pastry flour which isn't quite as soft as cake flour but it's better than all-purpose flour.
- If you're in the UK search for Shipton mills cake and pastry flour. If you're in another part of the country, search for low protein cake flour.
- When you do the reverse creaming method, you're coating the flour in butter and stopping gluten from developing. This creates a super moist and tender cake. When you add the milk and oil, you have to mix for a full 2 minutes to develop that gluten. This creates the structure of the cake. If you don't mix for the full 2 minutes, your cake could collapse.
- Make your own pan release (cake goop!) The best pan release ever!
- Need more help with making your first cake? Check out my how to decorate your first cake blog post.