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Truly, the very best vanilla cake recipe! This old-fashioned made-from-scratch dessert is moist and fluffy, full of rich vanilla flavor, and finished with an easy vanilla buttercream frosting. Serve a slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a cold glass of milk. From birthdays to cookouts, holidays to class parties, the homemade vanilla cake is always a favorite!

Slice of the best vanilla cake recipe on a white plate with sprinkles

Easy Vanilla Cake Recipe

No one can resist a slice of moist, fluffy, homemade vanilla cake that’s slathered in a rich, creamy vanilla frosting. It’s the perfect go-to dessert for birthdays, cookouts, or Sunday suppers with family. Best of all, the easy cake requires just a handful of simple ingredients that I always have in my kitchen. Skip a trip to the grocery store and toss out the box of cake mix, because this is the best vanilla cake recipe you’ll ever taste!

What Makes This the Best Vanilla Cake Recipe

It can be hard to find a homemade dessert that truly checks all of the boxes. After many rounds of trial and error, I’ve finally landed on the best vanilla cake recipe. This made-from-scratch dessert:

  • Has a light and fluffy crumb;
  • Stays incredibly moist;
  • Requires simple ingredients and minimal effort (it’s easy!);
  • Has far more vanilla flavor than your average homemade vanilla cake;
  • Can be used to make a simple, single-layer sheet cake, two round cakes for stacking, or a batch of cupcakes (it’s versatile!);
  • Works for every occasion, from casual dinners with family to birthday parties or holidays. Just add colorful sprinkles to suit the situation (red and green for Christmas, orange and black for Halloween, red and blue for July Fourth…and so on).

Hold onto this recipe, because it’s one that you’ll turn to again and again!

Serving a slice of the best vanilla cake recipe from a pan

What makes a cake moist and fluffy?

There are a few keys to a super moist vanilla cake recipe:

  • Whole Buttermilk. This ingredient adds moisture and richness to the batter, and the acid in the buttermilk yields a cake with a tender crumb.
  • Use Butter and Oil. While butter adds flavor, you can’t beat oil when it comes to keeping a cake super moist!
  • Add a Leavener. In this recipe, the baking powder and the baking soda react with the acid in the buttermilk to lift the cake and create a light, fluffy texture.
  • Don’t Over-Mix. Mixing for too long incorporates too much air in the batter, which will deflate in the oven and result in a dense cake. It also increases the gluten production, which yields a tough texture.
  • Don’t Over-Bake. This is incredibly important. Even over-baking by a minute or so can result in a dry cake. Since oven temperatures can vary, and total baking times will depend on the type of pan used (as well as other factors), be sure to keep a close eye on your cake and start checking it at least 1-2 minutes before you think it should be done. I typically look at the cake by the 28-minute mark, even though it usually requires about 30 minutes of total baking time. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a couple of lightly-moist crumbs.

The Differences Between White Cake, Yellow Cake, and Vanilla Cake

While they might look and taste similar, the main differences between white cake, yellow cake, and vanilla cake come down to the type of eggs, fat, and the amount of vanilla they call for. 

  • White cake uses only egg whites to maintain that pure white color (without the tint of yellow egg yolks). These recipes typically call for oil rather than butter as another way to keep the cake as white as possible. White cake usually has a very light and airy texture.
  • Yellow cake uses whole eggs and butter as the fat, which gives it a rich taste and a yellow tint.
  • Vanilla cake can be made with any combination of butter, oil and eggs, but its main distinguishing characteristic is the strong vanilla flavor. It’s the star of the show in this cake, which is why my recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract (much more than your average cake).
Homemade vanilla cake served on a small white plate

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for both the vanilla cake and the vanilla buttercream frosting. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • All-purpose flour: there’s no need to hunt down more expensive cake flour. The all-purpose flour keeps the cake crumb slightly more velvety and moist, and also lets the flavor of the vanilla and butter shine through. Make sure that’s it’s properly measured!
  • Baking powder and baking soda: leavening agents that help the cake rise.
  • Salt: to balance the sweetness and give the cake a more complex flavor.
  • Salted butter: make sure that it’s softened at room temperature.
  • Granulated sugar: for a cake that’s sweet, but not too sweet.
  • Vanilla extract: two full tablespoons gives this cake more flavor than your average homemade cake. Don’t skimp on this important ingredient — it’s what truly makes this the best vanilla cake recipe!
  • Vegetable oil: keeps the cake extra-moist.
  • Eggs: give the cake structure.
  • Whole buttermilk: use thick, whole buttermilk if possible. It’s creamy, tangy, adds moisture to the cake and yields a tender crumb. The buttermilk also reacts with the baking soda to help the cake rise.
  • Confectioners’ sugar: for the buttercream frosting.
  • Heavy cream or whole milk: to thin the frosting.
Overhead shot of a piece of fluffy vanilla cake recipe with a bite taken on a fork

What does buttermilk do to a cake?

Whole buttermilk is my preference for this cake, since it has a rich flavor and a thick texture that you don’t get with low-fat buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk yields a tender crumb, helps the cake rise, and gives a subtle hint of tangy flavor. If you’re in a pinch and you don’t have buttermilk in your fridge, you can substitute with a “homemade buttermilk” instead.

How to Make Buttermilk

Again, my preference is always thick, rich, whole buttermilk. That said, if it’s an emergency and you just don’t have any buttermilk on hand, you can make 1 cup of homemade buttermilk by using regular whole milk and either lemon juice or white vinegar. To do so, pour 1 cup of the whole milk into a small bowl. Add either 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice or 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Give it a stir, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then use it in the recipe as directed!

The best vanilla cake recipe with a candle in the top

How to Make the Best Vanilla Cake Recipe from Scratch

Always a favorite with my kids, this easy vanilla cake recipe will soon become a staple in your dessert repertoire, too!

  1. Sift together the dry ingredients.
  2. Mix the batter.
  3. Transfer the batter to a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
  4. Bake the cake in a 350° F oven for about 30 minutes.
  5. Cool completely before frosting.
Vanilla cake batter in a mixing bowl

The Frosting

I use the same American vanilla buttercream frosting that my mother-in-law uses on her White Texas Sheet Cake, since friends and family always rave about its taste (and it’s incredibly quick and easy).

If I’m not mistaken, I think that Carole originally found the recipe on the side of a box of Domino powdered sugar! Either way, it’s delicious…and perfect on the best vanilla cake recipe! That said, you can substitute with your favorite frosting — from a different vanilla buttercream to a rich chocolate frosting, a simple chocolate buttermilk icing, or even a can of store-bought frosting.

Vanilla buttercream frosting in a mixing bowl
Easy vanilla cake recipe in a metal baking dish with glasses of milk in the background

Serving Suggestions

You can’t beat a slice of homemade vanilla cake that’s paired with a cold glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream! Extra sprinkles are always a good choice, too.

Storage

Store the frosted cake covered on the counter at room temperature for 3-4 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. The frosting will firm up when chilled, so if your house is warm and you’d like the frosting to set more, just pop it in the refrigerator. If the cake is refrigerated, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

To Freeze

Wrapped tightly, you can freeze the unfrosted cake for up to 2 months. You can also freeze the leftover frosted cake in an airtight container for up to 2 months — the frosting just might not look quite as pretty when thawed. It will still taste delicious, though!

Side shot of easy vanilla cake recipe served on a white plate

Homemade Vanilla Cake Recipe Variations

  • Frost the cake with buttermilk chocolate icing or a creamy chocolate buttercream frosting. Really, any frosting will work (even store-bought from a can)!
  • Use sprinkles for any occasion — rainbow sprinkles for a birthday, red and blue for July 4th, red and green for Christmas, and so on. It’s a festive cake at every celebration!
  • This recipe yields two 8-inch round cakes, 2 (thinner) 9-inch round cakes or three 6-inch round cakes for stacking. If making a layer cake, you will likely need to double the frosting so that you have plenty for decorating the sides, top, and inside layers.
  • Use the same batter to make about 24 cupcakes (depending on the size). Cupcakes require a shorter baking time, so start checking them at the 15-minute mark.
  • For a smaller cake, cut all of the ingredients in half and bake the cake in an 8-inch square pan.
  • Fold rainbow sprinkles into the batter for a funfetti cake.
Side shot of a slice of moist vanilla cake recipe with a bite taken out of it on a plate

Tips for the Best Vanilla Cake Recipe

  • Properly measure the flour. Spoon flour into the cups and lightly level with the straight edge of a knife. Packing the measuring cups too tightly and using too much flour will result in a dry cake.
  • Use thick, full-fat buttermilk. This adds richness, moisture and flavor to the cake that you won’t get with low-fat varieties.
  • Make sure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature. This helps them blend together more easily and smoothly, and helps to avoid over-mixing (which can result in a dry, dense cake).
  • Sift the confectioners’ sugar to avoid any lumps in your frosting.
  • Do not over-bake the cake or it can become dry. Start checking for doneness by the 30-minute mark, since total baking times will vary depending on your personal oven and the pans that you use.
Slice of vanilla cake with a candle in it

More Homemade Cake Recipes to Try

Slice of the best vanilla cake recipe on a white plate with sprinkles

Best Vanilla Cake Recipe

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 50 minutes
Servings 16 slices
Calories 426 kcal
Truly, the best vanilla cake recipe! This old-fashioned made-from-scratch dessert is moist and fluffy, full of rich vanilla flavor, and finished with an easy vanilla buttercream frosting.

Ingredients
  

FOR THE CAKE:

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 lb. box of confectioner's sugar (approximately 3 ¾ cups), sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk
  • Optional: sprinkles

Instructions

MAKE THE CAKE:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the paper.
  • Place a large sifter or sieve in a medium mixing bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; sift. Set aside.
  • Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce the speed. Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla extract and oil; mix to combine.
  • Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of buttermilk). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top of the cake starts to get too dark before it’s cooked through, tent with foil.
  • Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

MAKE THE FROSTING:

  • Combine the softened butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla extract and heavy cream in a large bowl. Beat on medium speed until fluffy. Add extra cream, if necessary, until desired consistency is reached. Spread frosting onto cooled cake. Top with sprinkles, if desired.

Notes

  • Properly measure the flour. Spoon flour into the cups and lightly level with the straight edge of a knife. Packing the measuring cups too tightly and using too much flour will result in a dry cake.
  • Use thick, full-fat buttermilk. This adds richness, moisture and flavor to the cake that you won’t get with low-fat varieties.
  • Make sure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature. This helps them blend together more easily and smoothly, and helps to avoid over-mixing (which can result in a dry, dense cake).
  • Sift the confectioners’ sugar to avoid any lumps in your frosting.
  • Do not over-bake the cake or it can become dry. Start checking for doneness by the 30-minute mark, since total baking times will vary depending on your personal oven and the pans that you use.
  • Frost the cake with buttermilk chocolate icing or a creamy chocolate buttercream frosting. Really, any frosting will work (even store-bought from a can)!
  • Use sprinkles for any occasion — rainbow sprinkles for a birthday, red and blue for July 4th, red and green for Christmas, and so on. It’s a festive cake at every celebration!
  • This recipe yields two 8-inch round cakes, 2 (thinner) 9-inch round cakes or three 6-inch round cakes for stacking. If making a layer cake, you will likely need to double the frosting so that you have plenty for decorating the sides, top, and inside layers.
  • Use the same batter to make about 24 cupcakes (depending on the size). Cupcakes require a shorter baking time, so start checking them at the 15-minute mark.
  • For a smaller cake, cut all of the ingredients in half and bake the cake in an 8-inch square pan.
  • Fold rainbow sprinkles into the batter for a funfetti cake.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 426kcalCarbohydrates: 62gProtein: 4gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 227mgPotassium: 111mgFiber: 1gSugar: 48gVitamin A: 554IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 53mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: best vanilla cake recipe, vanilla cake, vanilla cake recipe
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. Hi, Blair! I’m wondering about how long to bake if making only an 8-inch square size cake? Do you have tips for that size, too? Your recipes are the best and always make me look like I’m a good cook, but your recipes are my secret weapon! Thanks! —Carol

    1. Hi, Carol! You’re so kind, and it makes me happy to know that you enjoy the recipes! 🙂

      Usually about 25 minutes works well for an 8-inch pan at 350 degrees F. Hope it’s a hit!