A perfectly plush, soft, classic vanilla cake recipe made entirely from scratch! It’s so simple to make, and tastes much better than a box mix! Recipe includes a how-to video.
A Classic Vanilla Cake, Made Entirely From-Scratch
Every baker needs a solid vanilla cake recipe in their repertoire, and today’s recipe is just that.
It’s soft, plush, and perfectly moist. Not to be confused with my white cake, this recipe is a beautiful pale golden color and distinctly vanilla flavored. It pairs beautifully with any frosting, although a traditional chocolate frosting is my favorite finish!
Like my chocolate cake, this has been one of my most popular recipes for years (and you may recognize it as the base for both my pineapple upside-down cake and my marble cake). It’s a simple, classic, and incredible vanilla cake. So many of you have tried and loved this recipe, and while the recipe remains exactly the same, I thought it was about time for a facelift with new photos and a new video.
The flavor and texture of this cake is so much better than box-mix, and the preparation is almost as easy. I’ve included a few tips below to help you be successful, so make sure to read all the notes before you get started.
What You Need
After testing many versions and combinations of ingredients, I’ve found that a good vanilla cake needs the following ingredients:
- Oil AND butter. A blend of these two ingredients gives the cake the best possible flavor and texture. Butter provides flavor while oil adds moisture and keeps it from being too dry. A cake made with all oil would be moist but lacking in flavor, and an all-butter cake may have a more buttery taste, but would be more dry. Any neutral cooking oil will work here, but I typically recommend using either vegetable or canola oil. For the butter, unsalted is best so we have maximum control over the flavor of the cake
- Sugar. Plain granulated sugar works best. Brown sugar would add moisture, but would detract from the classic vanilla flavor and even weigh down the cake a bit.
- Eggs. You’ll need four eggs, and it’s best if you bring them to room temperature before adding them (this helps them incorporate into the batter more evenly).
- Vanilla. You can’t have vanilla cake without vanilla! I recommend using a good quality vanilla extract, so if you’ve got a batch of homemade vanilla extract, use it here!
- Flour. I developed this vanilla cake recipe to be work with all-purpose flour and that’s what I always use. However, you *could* use cake flour instead. To substitute by weight, you would use the same amount, but if you are using measuring cups you will need to substitute your flour properly.
- Baking powder. I know a tablespoon of baking powder may seem like a lot, but that’s not a typo. Always make sure your baking soda is fresh and avoid using a generic brand, which I’ve had mixed results with in the past.
- Salt. You can just use plain table salt.
- Buttermilk. I strongly recommend using full-fat buttermilk for the best flavor and texture. While I do have a buttermilk substitute, it doesn’t really make this vanilla cake quite as moist and flavorful as I like it to be, so now I strictly recommend using real buttermilk. And no, you do not *need* to have baking soda in a recipe in order to use buttermilk; we’re using it for its moisture and flavor here!
SAM’S TIP: One of the biggest mistakes you can make with this recipe is neglecting to measure your flour properly. If you over or under-measure your flour, your cake will not turn out right! Use the right method, be as precise as possible, and use a kitchen scale if you have one.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make Vanilla Cake
- Cream the butter, oil, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then, add your vanilla and stir to combine.
- Combine your dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add about ⅓ of the mixture into your bowl. Use a spatula to gently stir until just combined. Follow this with about ½ of your buttermilk, and stir again until just combined. .
- Add ½ of the remaining dry ingredients stir, and then add the remainder of the buttermilk. Finish with the final portion of dry ingredients and use your spatula to make sure the batter is smooth–do NOT overmix!
- Divide the batter evenly into two greased baking pans.
- Bake, then use a toothpick to test for doneness. Let the cakes cool in their pans a bit before inverting onto a cooling rack, where they’ll need to cool completely before frosting.
SAM’S TIP: While a toothpick that comes out clean indicates a fully baked cake, an over-baked cake will also yield a clean toothpick. It’s best to pull your vanilla cake out of the oven when a toothpick shows moist crumbs!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! This vanilla cake recipe will make 24 vanilla cupcakes. I’ve included instructions for cupcakes in the recipe notes.
A cake that has been over-baked or one in which too much flour was used will be crumbly when cut into. If you invert the cake too soon or try to handle it while it’s too warm, this could also make it break.
Cakes made from scratch require a bit more care and technique than those that come from a box-mix. When making any cake from scratch, take care to not over-mix, over-bake, or use too much flour, or the cake can end up tasting like cornbread. This applies to any cake that is made from scratch, not just this recipe!
What causes dry cake?
Dryness is typically the biggest complaint bakers have when making a cake from scratch, so I thought this FAQ deserved its own space. There are three main causes for a dry cake: over-measuring the flour (addressed above), over-mixing, and over-baking.
- Do not over-mix your batter! Mixing the batter properly can be tricky and this is often where most mistakes are made with homemade cakes. To avoid over-mixing, thoroughly cream together the wet ingredients, particularly the butter, sugar, oil, and eggs. I highly recommend using an electric mixer for this step! However, once you get to the point of combining your wet and dry ingredients, you need to be gentle and fold by hand using a spatula. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, folding thoroughly, but not aggressively. The batter will be smooth and mostly cohesive; there may be some small lumps remaining, but that’s fine! Also, remember that while over-mixing can make your vanilla cake both dry and dense, under-mixing has its own risks and should be avoided as well!
- Do not over-bake your cake! Even a minute too long in the oven can cause a cake to be too dry and dense. When baking, place your cake pans on the center rack of your oven and always make sure your oven is running at the proper temperature (most ovens do not, so keep a thermometer in yours!). Don’t check your vanilla cake too early (that can make it sink!), but do keep an eye on it. When your cake is ready to come out of the oven, the center should spring back if lightly touched–it should not deflate or appear jiggly. You can also use the toothpick test to check for doneness. To do this, simply insert a toothpick in the center of your cake; it’s done if the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs (not wet batter). Once your vanilla cake is done, let it cool in the pan for only 10-15 minutes before running a knife around the edge and inverting it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
SAM’S NOTE: Under-mixing your cake batter, not baking the cake for long enough, or opening the oven door too frequently while the cake bakes can cause the cake to sink as it cools.
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature (113g)
- ½ cup canola or vegetable oil¹ (120ml)
- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar (300g)
- 4 large eggs room temperature preferred
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (375g)
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cup buttermilk room temperature preferred (300ml)
- 1 batch Chocolate Frosting click link for recipe, or use one of the other frostings recommended in the notes below
- Preheat oven to 350F (177C) and prepare two deep 8" round cake pans² by lining the bottoms with parchment paper and lightly greasing the sides. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using an electric mixer) cream together the butter, canola oil and sugar until creamy and well-combined.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating until thoroughly combined after each addition.
- Stir in vanilla extract.
- In a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Using a spatula and gently hand-mixing, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, starting and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just combined after each addition. The batter should be thoroughly combined, but there may be some small lumps in the batter and avoid over-mixing (and do not use your electric mixer or stand mixer for this step).
- Evenly divide batter into your prepared cake pans, and bake on 350F (175C) for 30-35 minutes. When the cake is done, the surface should spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out mostly clean with few moist crumbs (no wet batter).
- Allow cakes to cool in their cake pans for 10-15 minutes before inverting onto cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
- Frost cake using my chocolate frosting (or see notes for other favorite frosting options) and decorate with sprinkles (if desired).
¹Cooking oilYou may use any neutral cooking oil instead of vegetable or canola oil. I generally don’t recommend olive oil, which is heavier and has a distinct flavor that could affect the end taste result of your cake.
²Different size baking pans
- 13×9″ pan: This recipe makes enough for one 13×9″ baking pan. Readers have reported the approximate bake time is 30 minutes.
- Two 9″ pans: Readers have reported this cake takes approximately 25 minutes to bake in 9″ pans.
- Bundt pan: Readers have reported this cake takes approximately 40-45 minutes to bake in a bundt pan
Vanilla Cupcakes:This recipe will make approximately 24 vanilla cupcakes. Fill cupcake liners no more than ¾ of the way full. Bake on 350F for 17-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs or clean.
Frosting OptionsThe chocolate frosting I linked to in the ingredients is my favorite pairing with this cake, but here are some other great options:
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
This is THE very best cake recipe I have ever tried!
My cake turned out perfectly! It is fluffy and delicious…the vanilla really stands out.
I did make one substitute. I used So Delicious Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk instead of buttermilk.
The problem with this cake is…I can’t stop eating it!!!!YUM!!🙂
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so glad you enjoyed it, Wendy! Thanks for the review 😊
The cake was very dry and floury. The texture was gross and it really wasted time for the birthday I’m supposed to be baking for. Do not recommend
I’m so sorry this happened. The most likely causes of a dry cake are over-mixing or over-baking. 🙁
Cake was super moist!! Just the texture and flavour I was looking for! I used two 9 inch pans and it was perfect. What calculations would I have to do to turn this into a 3 layer cake using 3 9 inch pans? Thanks again!!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much, Melissa! The only thing you’d need to do is just increase the recipe by 50%. 🙂
I love this cake I just made it it’s so good. But I could not find the frosting ingredients I don’t know what to do. My name is Madison and I am 9
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Madison! Here’s a link to the chocolate frosting recipe. Have fun!
This cake was so delicious! I used a 13×9 glass pan and it took about an hour to bake. 30 minutes was definitely not enough time.
dumb question, but can i use this recipe for cupcakes?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Morgan! We cover this in the recipe notes 😊
I have no idea what I did wrong but my cake tastes like, and has the mealy consistency of, cornbread. I was so careful to follow the instructions.
Hi Marcy! I cover this in the FAQ section in the post, I hope that helps!
This recipe turned out perfect! I followed the directions exactly and resisted the temptation to blend in those lumps and it was smooth, moist, dense but not crumbly and definitely not a cornbread texture. Personally we are not buttermilk flavor fans so I tried it a second time with whole milk and loved the recipe even more! I had yo really watch the cook time since my oven cooks faster. I have found my go to vanilla cake recipe after dozens of failures. Thank you!
I’d like to try this recipe for my daughter’s birthday cake, and make it purple! I have gel food coloring, do you have a recommendation for how much to add or when to add the color? Also, does the cake freeze well? If I made some cupcakes, how would I go about freezing and then unfreezing them before her party? Thanks, I’m looking forward to making some fun purple cake!!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Mandy! You shouldn’t have any issues adding food coloring just after combining the wet and dry ingredients. Keep in mind this is a yellow colored cake though, so that may distort the coloring a bit. We do have a white cake you could color if you’d like. As far as freezing goes, you can wrap the cake layers/cupcakes in plastic before storing in an airtight container or ziploc bag in the freezer. To thaw, just let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes or in the fridge overnight 🙂
should whole buttermilk or 1% buttermilk be used?
Whole buttermilk 🙂
What so I need to do to turn this recipe into a Yellow cake?
Hi Patti! I actually have a yellow cake recipe that I’d recommend. 🙂
Wonderful! Thank you for sharing the link 🙂
Great recipe! CAKE was moist and delicious. Chocolate Frosting recipe is perfect for this cake. Not too sweet👍😋
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Thanks for the review, Debra! We’re so happy you enjoyed it ❤️
Alison L Harris
Can i use cake flour?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Yes! We cover how to do this in the post under the ingredient section 😊
hello! i also forgot to add buttermilk to this recipe!
im re-reading your recipe and don’t see anywhere in the instructions to add the buttermilk?
O no! I’m so sorry this happened. You want to stir in the buttermilk in step 6. 🙂