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.
Really good cake! I had forgotten to add the buttermilk.. I only noticed when I added the last dry mix increment. So I dumped all of the buttermilk in at once and it folded in nicer than I expected. For this reason I feel the cake was slightly denser than it was supposed to be (over mixed) but it was still so delicious. Toothpick test passed but cake didn’t bounce back perfectly, I still took it out and it was baked through. Thank you for the recipe- I shared it with 6 people and everyone raved about it. 😊 I will definitely make again and not forget the buttermilk.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so glad it still turned out nicely for you, Abby! Thanks for the review 😊
Hello, going to try this recipe. I made another recipe for vanilla cake, and it came out tasting like cornbread, not sure what I did wrong. Anyways, I do not have buttermilk. Nor do I have lemon juice or vinegar to make buttermilk. Would like juice work to make buttermilk? Or what would be the result using whole milk instead of buttermilk?
Hi Liz! Unfortunately a cornbread tasting cake is most likely the result of over-mixing or over-baking. Lime juice could potentially work to make the buttermilk substitute.
Wow! Just made this recipe and I was a bit skeptical. I’m used to making sponge cakes and don’t like the flavor of vanilla boxed cake. I put in twice the amount of salt because I misread it hahah… anyways, I got some tasting from leveling the cake and I can say it’s super moist and tastes amazing! The extra salt wasn’t too bad of a mistake 🙂 definitely a fool proof recipe. I can’t wait to frost it tomorrow. Will be using this recipe from now on!
I don’t prefer to consume vegetable oils. I saw you said olive oil wouldn’t be great in this.. I would be open to using coconut oil, but wonder if that would affect taste?
Can I use ALL butter?
If not these options do you happen to have another suggestion for delicious cake made with no oil – or perhaps another recipe without oil?
Hi Michelle! Some readers have reported using coconut oil with success! In the past I have shied away from using olive oil but I myself am starting to also avoid these ingredients in my kitchen and think I would probably just use olive oil if I were making this today (and I’ve been meaning to test it this way — soon!). Sounds silly, but I would recommend sniffing your olive oil and if the scent isn’t unpleasant or too strong (some can be very strong, others are more mild) it likely won’t bother you in the end result. Also, if you’re covering the cake with frosting, that will also help detract from any olive oil flavor as well. You can also use all butter, but it does tend to make the cake more dry, unfortunately. I hope that helps! 🙂
Thanks for getting back to me! Look forward to trying this – one last thing thoughts on applesauce as an oil sub in this recipe?
I don’t personally love applesauce as a substitute and haven’t done it in quite some time so I’d be hesitant to advise. 🙁
I I purchase whole fat buttermilk to make the wonderful cake recipe and froze the rest to bake another cake later.Is there any reason it wouldn’t work well? I know the fat and the liquid in the buttermilk will separate but will it work just as well?
Hi Alma! Honestly I have never tried freezing buttermilk, but I think it could work. 🙂
Tried your vanilla cake recipe and it’s Truely the best recipe I’ve ever tried. Thank you for sharing. The crumb, flavor and the moisture is wonderful. Was really pleased with the moistness. It’s moist but not so moist that you feel like you could nearly squeeze moisture out of it. I’ve been looking and trying recipes for years and I finely found it. It rates 5 star (I think higher) Thanks again. I did purchase buttermilk for the recipe. One question best way to store and how long will it stay fresh?sorry I guess that’s two.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much, Alma! It can be stored at room temperature in an air tight container for several days. 🙂
Can you use this recipe to make a pineapple upside down cake?
Hi Barbara! I actually have a pineapple upside down cake that I would recommend. It is very similar to this recipe just slightly modified a little bit. 🙂
You’re cake recipe uses buttermilk, buttermilk is thicker then
sour milk or powdered buttermilk. I don’t usually keep fresh buttermilk so can I use sour milk or powdered buttermilk?
I’m somewhat concerned that the thinner batter might throw things off. I haven’t baked your cake yet but sounds wonderful but with prices as they are I want my ducks in a row.Please answer
Hi Alma! If you don’t have buttermilk on hand I would recommend making my buttermilk substitute. I haven’t ever tried buttermilk powder and I’m not sure how sour cream would work here. The buttermilk substitute may be a bit thinner but it will work. 🙂
So good and it uses ingredients I always have.
I LOVE this recipe. It’s my go to now and everyone loves it! Thank you so much for sharing.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so happy it’s such a hit for you, Amy! 😊
Very happy with the results, made cup cakes. First batch perfect, second batch had oily under surface. What went wrong.
I’m not sure I fully understand, do you mean the pan was a little oily underneath?
We don’t get that sort of buttermilk in my country, would subbing with the milk and vinegar work better or subbing with equal quantity of yogurt as you mentioned in the notes. Please let me know for this recipe which would be best
I would recommend the buttermilk substitute made from milk and vinegar. 🙂
I have tried about 5 different recipes & I always come back to this one. I don’t even frost it, I just sprinkle it with powered sugar. The cake itself is delicious & I don’t need or want frosting on it.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so happy you love the cake, Lisa! Thanks for the review 🥰
Hi Sam, I made this cake with your white chocolate buttercream for my son’s 5th birthday, and it was delicious! He asked for a cake with something strawberry related but I wanted to avoid pink, so I made this combination with small clumps of strawberries, blueberries and gum paste worms (he loves the little creatures) crawling across the cake. The whole family loved it! P.S. it’s really difficult to find all-purpose flour in South Africa, so I used cake flour and just made sure I measured by weight as you suggested. Perfect!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We really appreciate you using our recipe, Helen! Your version sounds adorable and delicious 😊
I noticed that the recipe calls for 3 cups of all purpose flour. Most all purpose flour brands are 120 grams per cup. Therefore, 3 cups would be 360 grams. Your recipe has 375 grams listed. Should it be 360 grams?
Hi Cliff! 125grams per cup is the standard that I use on my website (I have a post on how to measure flour where I go into more detail about it) and 375grams is the amount I use and recommend. I hope you love the cake!
how long does this cake last? and can it be kept room temp?
Hi Courtney! This is like most cakes, it will last about 5 days at room temperature in an air tight container. 🙂
Hey I was just wondering if this recipe is by any chance Halal? I’m making this cake for my brothers b-day and one of his friends eats Halal; If this recipe isn’t Halal that’s ok I’ll just make his friend a cupcake, but it would be so much more convenient if this recipe was Halal!
Hi Julia! I *believe* it is halal, but it really depends on the particular ingredients you use. For example, you’d have to make sure the specific milk you are using is considered halal as some include ingredients that can make it haram.
Hi, this recipe looks amazing and I was thinking of trying it out for an upcoming event and I was wondering if I could substitute the butter for margarine?
Hi Gretchen! Margarine will work here.
Made this cake this morning. Followed the video precisely and used a kitchen scale to weigh the flour in grams, which I think is key. I used my regular measuring utensils for the other ingredients. Batter had a lot of little lumps in it when incorporating the flour mixture in with a spatula, but I resisted overbeating to get it smoother. Cake baked up beautifully with a nice flat top and tasted delicious!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Thanks for trusting our recipe, Paula! We’re so happy you the cake was a success for you 😊
Can you make this with two 8 inch square pans? I don’t have round tims.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Kathryn! 8″ square pans hold more batter, so you would need to increase the recipe by 50%. Otherwise the layers would be thin. Hope this is helpful!