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This old-fashioned buttermilk cake requires just one bowl, a whisk, and 10 minutes of prep! Best of all, it’s a light, fluffy, and incredibly moist vanilla cake that’s perfect for every occasion. Finish it off with an easy vanilla buttercream frosting or a quick chocolate icing, and don’t forget plenty of rainbow sprinkles!

Close up shot of slices of one bowl vanilla cake on a table

Easy Buttermilk Cake

This easy buttermilk cake recipe is a twist on my mother-in-law’s popular one-bowl buttermilk chocolate cake. So many of you have enjoyed the chocolate version over the years, and have repeatedly requested its vanilla counterpart. It required some trial and error on my part, but I’m excited to finally share this classic vanilla cake with you today!

It’s moist and fluffy, full of rich vanilla flavor, and finished with an easy buttercream frosting. Serve a slice with a scoop of ice cream or a cold glass of milk. From birthdays to cookouts, holidays to class parties, the homemade vanilla cake is bound to become a family favorite. Best of all, the easy cake requires just one bowlno electric mixers, and simple ingredients that I always have on hand. 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 sink your teeth into!

Overhead shot of a homemade vanilla cake on a wooden board

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 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract (much more than your average cake of this size).
Square shot of vanilla buttermilk cake on a table

What makes a cake moist and fluffy?

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

  • 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 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 23-minute mark, even though it usually requires about 25 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.
Front shot of a plate of old fashioned buttermilk cake on a table

What does buttermilk do in cake?

The buttermilk is a key ingredient in this recipe, as it serves many important purposes. First, the buttermilk gives the cake a slightly tangy, rich, and buttery flavor that you can’t achieve with regular milk. Additionally, the acid in the buttermilk reacts with the leavening agents to help the cake rise, giving it a light, fluffy texture and a tender cake crumb. If you’re in a pinch and you don’t have buttermilk in your fridge, you can substitute with a “homemade buttermilk” instead.

Whisking cake batter in a bowl

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 ½ cup of homemade buttermilk by using regular milk and either lemon juice or white vinegar. To do so, pour ½ cup of regular milk into a small bowl. Add either ½ tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice or ½ tablespoon of white vinegar. Give it a stir, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then use it in the recipe as directed!

Pouring buttermilk into a large bowl

Ingredients for Buttermilk Cake with Oil

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for an easy one bowl vanilla cake recipe. 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: I prefer all-purpose flour in this recipe rather than cake flour, since the all-purpose flour keeps the cake sturdy. When I tested the recipe with cake flour, it sunk a little and just seemed too delicate.
  • Granulated sugar: just enough for a cake that’s sweet, but not too sweet.
  • Baking soda and baking powder: leavening agents that help the cake rise.
  • Salt: to enhance the other flavors in the cake and to balance the sweetness.
  • Eggs: give the cake structure.
  • Vegetable oil: for moisture. You can substitute with another neutral oil, such as canola. Using oil instead of softened butter eliminates the need to cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.
  • Buttermilk: use thick, whole buttermilk if possible. It’s creamy, tangy, adds moisture to the cake, helps the cake rise, and yields a tender crumb.
  • Hot water: adds moisture, and keeps the cake soft.
  • Salted butter and confectioners’ sugar: for the frosting.
  • Vanilla extract: adds rich flavor to both the cake and the icing.
Vanilla buttercream frosting in a mixing bowl

How to Make Old Fashioned Buttermilk Cake

This vanilla buttermilk cake recipe is just a twist on my mother-in-law’s moist chocolate cake. I’ve added an easy vanilla buttercream frosting, but you can use store-bought frosting or this quick chocolate buttermilk icing instead. Any combination is delicious!

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. Whisk to combine.
  3. Whisk in the hot water, and then the vanilla extract. At this point you should have a very thin, smooth batter.
  4. Pour the batter into a greased or parchment-lined 8-inch or 9-inch cake pan.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Let the cake cool completely before frosting.
  7. Use an electric stand mixer to beat together the buttercream frosting.
  8. Spread the frosting on the cake and garnish with rainbow sprinkles, if desired.
Homemade buttermilk cake on a wooden cutting board

Serving Suggestions

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

Side shot of a slice of vanilla cake on a small white plate

Prep and 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.

How 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!

Square side shot of a table full of slices of vanilla buttermilk cake

Southern Buttermilk Cake Recipe Variations

  • For a larger cake, double all of the ingredients and bake the cake in a 13 x 9-inch pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
  • For a layer cake, double all of the ingredients, and divide the batter evenly between two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans.
  • This recipe yields enough frosting for the top of an 8-inch or 9-inch cake. If you’d like to frost the sides of the cake as well, or if you want to bake a larger cake, you’ll need to double the frosting ingredients.
  • 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!
  • Fold rainbow sprinkles into the batter for a funfetti cake.
Square overhead shot of buttermilk cake on a plate

Tips for the Best Vanilla Buttermilk Cake Recipe

  • Line the cake pan with parchment, allowing some of the parchment paper to hang over the sides, if you’d like to be able to lift the cake out of the pan before frosting and slicing.
  • Use thick, full-fat buttermilk. This adds richness, moisture, and flavor to the cake that you don’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).
  • Do not over-bake the cake or it can become dry. Start checking for doneness by the 25-minute mark, since total baking times will vary depending on your personal oven and the pans that you use.
Side shot of a bite taken out of a slice of vanilla buttermilk cake
Square side shot of a table full of slices of vanilla buttermilk cake

One-Bowl Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 40 minutes
Servings 9 slices
Calories 400 kcal
This old-fashioned vanilla buttermilk cake requires just one bowl, a whisk, and 10 minutes of prep!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup whole buttermilk, well shaken
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

FOR THE VANILLA FROSTING (enough for the top of one 8-inch or 9-inch cake):

  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) salted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 ½ tablespoons whole buttermilk or heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • Optional garnish: sprinkles

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch or 9-inch square or round cake pan or line with parchment. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the egg, oil, and buttermilk. Whisk to combine.
  • Add the hot water and whisk again until smooth. Add the vanilla extract; whisk to combine. At this point you should have a very thin, smooth batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Tap the pan gently on the counter a few times to release any big air bubbles. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Let the cake cool completely before frosting.

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • In a large bowl, beat the butter, buttermilk (or cream), and vanilla extract with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and gradually add the powdered sugar. Beat until smooth, about 4 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 4 more minutes.
  • Spread the frosting on the cooled cake. Garnish with sprinkles, if desired.

Notes

  • For a larger cake, double all of the ingredients and bake the cake in a 13 x 9-inch pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
  • For a layer cake, double all of the ingredients, and divide the batter evenly between two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans.
  • This recipe yields enough frosting for the top of an 8-inch or 9-inch cake. If you’d like to frost the sides of the cake as well, or if you want to bake a larger cake, you’ll need to double the frosting ingredients.
  • 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!
  • Fold rainbow sprinkles into the batter for a funfetti cake.
  • Line the cake pan with parchment, allowing some of the parchment paper to hang over the sides, if you’d like to be able to lift the cake out of the pan before frosting and slicing.
  • Use thick, full-fat buttermilk. This adds richness, moisture, and flavor to the cake that you don’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).
  • Do not over-bake the cake or it can become dry. Start checking for doneness by the 25-minute mark, since total baking times will vary depending on your personal oven and the pans that you use.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 400kcalCarbohydrates: 59gProtein: 4gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 10gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 63mgSodium: 334mgPotassium: 83mgFiber: 1gSugar: 43gVitamin A: 529IUCalcium: 39mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: buttermilk cake, easy buttermilk cake, vanilla buttermilk cake, vanilla cake
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Southern
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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