Classic Vanilla Cake Recipe

"Vanilla cake might seem like a plain cake," says baker and food writer Mark Beahm of The Sunday Baker, "but it's actually really rich and full of vanilla flavor." Hardly "plain vanilla," this is a rich and satisfying cake with surprising complexity of flavor. 

Beahm developed this specific classic vanilla cake recipe because, as he explains: "I wanted this to be better than box mix. I think cakes from a box often have a weird, artificially fluffy texture, and you can tell that they're missing out on the real butter and vanilla flavors. This cake is rich and moist and very vanilla-y." Which is good, because you're going to spend the better part of an hour working on this thing. But once your cake is ready, you'll have the perfect sweet treat for all sorts of occasions.

"This is a good cake for birthdays," says Beahm, adding that "It's easy to spruce up or decorate for celebrations. You could use food coloring in the frosting, you could add sprinkles to the batter or frosting, or if you're comfortable with a piping bag, you could decorate with buttercream flowers or borders."

Before we get to all the decorating ideas and serving suggestions and such, let's make this cake!

Gather your ingredients to make this classic vanilla cake recipe

To make this classic vanilla cake recipe, you'll need cake flour, salt, baking powder, unsalted butter, softened, oil, granulated sugar, four large eggs, vanilla extract, buttermilk, confectioners' sugar, and whole milk.

And do spring for the cake flour, by the way. "I tested using all-purpose flour instead of cake flour," says Beahm, "and the one with cake flour was definitely the winner. They were both moist and rich, but the one made with all-purpose flour was just too dense."

Prep oven and pans and begin mixing ingredients for this classic vanilla cake recipe

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and grease three nine-inch round cake pans, line them with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. (You want maximum lift-out ease!)

In a bowl, whisk together the cake flour, half a teaspoon of the salt, and the baking powder, and set the mixture aside.

Next, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl if you are using a hand mixer), beat three-quarters of a cup of the butter, the oil, and the granulated sugar on medium-high speed until it forms a texture that's light and fluffy, which will take about two minutes.

Add eggs and vanilla extract and keep mixing to make your classic vanilla cake recipe

Add the eggs for this classic vanilla cake recipe, one a time, beating with the paddle attachment or your hand mixer until the egg has been fully combined after each addition. 

Next, add a tablespoon of the vanilla extract and continue to beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and very light in color, which will take about four minutes. Push anything stuck to the side of the mixing bowl back down into the mix so everything in the bowl is very even by the time this step is done.

"This recipe really relies on whipping the butter, sugar, and eggs," says Beahm. "Make sure you beat them until they're really light and fluffy and almost white in color. It will take several minutes."

Add flour mix and buttermilk to this classic vanilla cake recipe

Add the flour, salt, and baking powder mixture into the mixing bowl and mix on low speed, just until everything has combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and push all ingredients down into the batter.

Now, with the mixer on low speed, gradually pour in the buttermilk and mix just until it has been combined in.

"When you add the flour, and later the buttermilk, mix the batter just until it's combined," says Beahm, and "try not to over-mix," as it will have a deleterious effect on the finished classic vanilla cake recipe's consistency.

Bake the classic vanilla cake recipe layers then let them cool

Divide the classic vanilla cake recipe batter evenly among the three prepared cake pans, smoothing it out to fill the pans using a silicone spatula as needed. Now bake the three cake sections at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. (You may need to rotate the pans or pull on earlier than the others, depending on how your oven cooks.)

Once the layers have baked, let them cool in their baking pans for 15 minutes, then them turn out onto a wire rack and let them cool completely before frosting.

Make the vanilla frosting for this classic vanilla cake recipe

Alright, yes, the frosting for this classic vanilla cake recipe could fairly be known as "butter sugar." That's why it's amazing. To make this frosting, return to your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or, again, a large mixing bowl and hand mixer arrangement) and beat the remaining cup and a half of butter on medium speed until it gets creamy, which takes about two minutes. 

Now, add the confectioners' sugar, milk, the remaining tablespoon of vanilla extract, and the remaining eight of a teaspoon of salt, and mix everything on low until it has combined. Then increase the speed to medium high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy or for about another two minutes.

Frost this classic vanilla cake recipe, then enjoy!

When the classic vanilla cake recipe layers have cooled, it's time to frost the cake. Start by placing the first layer on a cake stand or serving platter and spreading about a cup of the frosting evenly over the top of the layer. 

Stack the second layer atop the frosted disc and repeat that frosting application over the top. Add the third cake layer, then spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

And just like that, your cake is done! Unless, of course, you want to add piping, sprinkles, a dusting of cocoa, or whatever else will make the perfect cake in your eyes ... and taste buds.

Classic Vanilla Cake Recipe
4.9 from 37 ratings
This classic vanilla cake recipe is ideal for birthdays or pretty much any day. Feel free to spruce it up with pretty, colorful toppings.
Prep Time
45
minutes
Cook Time
25
minutes
Servings
16
servings
classic vanilla cake recipe sliced
Total time: 70 minutes
Ingredients
  • 2 ⅔ cups cake flour
  • ½ plus ⅛ teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 ¼ cups unsalted butter, softened, divided
  • ⅓ cup oil
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, divided
  • ⅔ cup buttermilk
  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar
  • ¼ cup whole milk
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans, line them with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the cake flour, half a teaspoon of the salt, and baking powder in a bowl. and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer, beat ¾ cup of the butter, oil, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs, one a time, beating until fully combined after each addition. Add 1 tablespoon of the vanilla extract and continue to beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and very light in color, about 4 minutes.
  5. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  6. With the mixer on low speed, gradually pour in the buttermilk and mix just until combined.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
  9. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the remaining 1 ½ cups of butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners' sugar, milk, the remaining tablespoon of vanilla, and the remaining ⅛ teaspoon of salt and mix on low until combined. Then, increase the speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  10. Place the first cooled layer of cake on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread about 1 cup of the frosting evenly over the top of the layer. Repeat with the next layer. Add the third cake layer, then spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 653
Total Fat 32.0 g
Saturated Fat 17.3 g
Trans Fat 1.1 g
Cholesterol 115.9 mg
Total Carbohydrates 88.8 g
Dietary Fiber 0.4 g
Total Sugars 70.0 g
Sodium 162.1 mg
Protein 4.2 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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