If I had to use only one word to describe this vanilla cake it would be flavorful. It's also moist and rich, with a tender, fluffy crumb that's somewhere between a chiffon and butter cake. But, what really sets this cake apart is its flavor.
If you're looking for a go-to vanilla cake recipe for wedding cakes, birthday cakes, shower cakes, anniversary cakes, or just because cakes, that will have everyone who tastes it coming back for more, this is it.
This is My Go-To Vanilla Cake Recipe
This has been my go-to vanilla cake recipe for years and years because it's just so very delicious.
Also, it's sturdy enough to hold up to whatever fillings and frostings you throw at it, the layers always rise beautifully, with a nice flat top that makes stacking and decorating a cinch, and - most importantly - in the hundreds of times I've served this cake, everyone always LOVES it.
Why this Recipe Works:
- Flavor-packed ingredients: butter, buttermilk, egg yolks, plenty of vanilla extract and the tiniest hint of lemon and nutmeg.
- Fold beaten egg whites into the batter right before baking. The extra air from the egg whites helps the cake rise and also gives it a super soft, fluffy texture.
- Buttermilk. Buttermilk adds flavor to this cake and gives it an extra soft and tender crumb.
What's the Difference Between White Cake and Vanilla Cake?
Most white cake recipes are focused on creating a cake that is super white. These recipes call for using all egg whites, a colorless fat like vegetable shortening or oil, and very little (if any) vanilla extract.
Egg yolks, butter, and vanilla might contribute a lot of flavor to cakes, but they also affect the color of the batter. So, if you want a super white cake, you really have to leave them out.
Personally, I could care less about how white my cake is. I just want it to taste good.
Is this vanilla cake still white? Yes. But, it's more of a warm white than a white-white. The recipe includes butter, a few whole eggs and a large amount of vanilla, because flavor, flavor, flavor.
It also contains a smidge of nutmeg and lemon extract, because they accentuate the vanilla and give the cake a warm, rich flavor.
If you're skeptical, I beg you to bake this cake just once as written. The touch of lemon and nutmeg aren't detectable except to make a better tasting vanilla cake.
The recipe only calls for ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg and a ½ teaspoon of lemon extract and the point of adding them is not to make this cake taste like a lemon or nutmeg cake. We are still baking a vanilla cake.
They add a touch of brightness and warmth that will have people telling you it's the best vanilla cake they've ever had.
Why Buttermilk is Important to this Cake's Flavor and Texture
Buttermilk is a magical ingredient. As with butter, whole eggs, nutmeg, and lemon, one of the main reasons to use buttermilk in this vanilla cake recipe is because it adds flavor.
Most recipes that call for buttermilk, like Red Velvet Cake or super fluffy blueberry pancakes, also contain baking soda. Baking soda is a leavener that will help baked goods rise IF it's paired with an acid, like buttermilk.
Baking powder, on the other hand, is a leavener that includes baking soda PLUS acid. To activate it, all you need to do is add a liquid - acidic or not.
In creating this recipe, I found that baking powder gave this cake the fluffiest, most tender crumb. So, the buttermilk in this recipe is not added to help the cake rise. The baking powder and beaten egg whites have that covered.
The buttermilk is there to contribute more flavor and create an even softer texture in this cake.
How to Bake a Vanilla Cake that's Soft, Fluffy, and Tender
There are a lot of different methods for mixing cake batter, each of them serving a different purpose.
This recipe uses beaten egg whites, stabilized with a bit of sugar, to add air to the batter. That extra air helps the cake rise while it bakes and also gives it a super soft, fluffy texture.
When you whip egg whites, the proteins in the whites unfold and then reattach to each other in a way that traps moisture. This process not only ensures a moist cake, it also keeps the proteins from contributing to the structure of the cake, giving it a soft and tender texture.
Here's what you do:
- Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy.
- Slowly pour in ¼ cup of the sugar, beating as you pour.
- Continue to beat until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the whisk from the beaten egg whites.
- Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter very gently so that you retain as much air as possible. Do not over mix! The goal here is to mix just until the beaten egg whites are mostly distributed throughout the batter. You should still be able to see a few streaks of egg white in the batter.
Pro tip! It's important to not allow the beaten egg whites to sit around for a long time before folding them into the batter or they will lose their volume.
To ensure the time between beating and folding is as short as possible, gather all of the ingredients for this cake before you begin making the batter. Alternatively, you can use a hand mixer to whip the egg whites right before folding them into the batter.
Make a Layer Cake or Vanilla Cupcakes with this Recipe
Generally, when I bake this vanilla cake, I opt for three thick layers. But, you can also make four thinner layers if you like.
You can also use this recipe to make Vanilla Cupcakes. You'll get somewhere between 24 and 32 cupcakes from this recipe, depending on the kind of cupcake wrappers you use and how much batter you use for each cupcake.
What Kind of Frosting and Filling Should You Use for this Vanilla Cake?
Most of the time, when I bake this cake, I stick to filling the layers and frosting the cake with Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream. It's one of those gorgeously classic combinations that's difficult to beat.
But, one of the best things about Italian Meringue Buttercream is how well it accepts flavorings. In the recipe for Italian Meringue Buttercream, you'll find a long list of options such as fresh berries, lemon, chocolate, caramel, and coconut. All of them are delicious with this vanilla cake.
For a cake with tropical flavors fill the layers with pineapple cake filling, frost the cake with cream cheese buttercream or mascarpone frosting, and decorate with some toasted shredded coconut and a few candied orange slices.
Three other favorite filling ideas:
Pro tip! The only thing I'd be cautious of when deciding how to fill and frost this vanilla cake is adding fresh fruit.
Fruit jam, preserves, or fruit flavored buttercream work really well. But, fresh fruit generally contains too much moisture. As the moisture leaks out of the fruit, it can soak into the cake layers making them kind of soggy and even causing the layers to slip, toppling your cake over.
If you want to serve this cake with fresh fruit, I'd suggesting adding it as an accompaniment when serving. A spoonful of fresh berries that have been tossed in a bit of sugar and lemon juice is a delicious way to top this cake.
More Popular layer cake recipes:
- Gluten Free Vanilla Layer Cake
- Coconut Cream Cake
- Funfetti Cake
- The Perfect Spice Cake
- Lemon Layer Cake with Blackberry Italian Meringue Buttercream
- Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream and Caramel Rum Sauce
- Classic Red Velvet Cake
- Perfect Devil's Food Cake
- Champagne Cake with Champagne Italian Meringue Buttercream
And, for those days when you're craving cake but only want a slice or two, this small cake recipe is perfectly portioned to serve one or two.
This Vanilla Cake is a Building Block Recipe.
Building block recipes are tried-and-true recipes that I consider foundational to great home baking. They are the kind of recipes I come back to over and over again, sometimes baking them as is, but often using them as a jumping off point to create something new. > Scroll through all Building Block recipes.
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
- 4 whole eggs, separated, at room temperature (how to quickly bring eggs to room temperature)
- 3 egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 ¼ cups (450 grams) granulated sugar, divided
- ¾ cup (6 ounces/ 170 grams) butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup (138 grams) vegetable shortening
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon lemon extract
- 3 cups (360 grams) cake flour (See note below for a cake flour substitution)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon table salt, OR 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup (8oz/ 227g) buttermilk, at room temperature (No buttermilk? How to make buttermilk.)
- Heat oven to 325 degrees F (176 degrees C). Grease and flour three or four 8 or 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper. (Here's how to grease, flour and line pans with parchment so the cake won't stick to the pan.)
- Separate the 4 whole eggs, placing the 4 yolks in a small bowl and the 4 whites in a separate medium size bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the 3 additional egg whites to the other 4 for a total of 7 egg whites. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy. If using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites.
- Slowly pour in ¼ cup of the sugar, beating continuously as you pour. Continue to beat until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the whisk from the beaten egg whites. Set aside. If using a stand mixer, scrape the beaten egg whites out of the mixer's bowl into a seperate bowl.
- Using an electric hand held mixer, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening, and remaining 2 cups of sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl a time or two. Beat in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
- Add 2 of the egg yolks and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining 2 egg yolks, beat for about 20 seconds, until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg to a large bowl and mix with a wire whisk just to combine.
- Beating on low speed, add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour: ⅓ of the flour, ½ of the buttermilk, ⅓ of the flour, ½ of the buttermilk, ⅓ of the flour. With each addition, beat on low speed, just long enough to incorporate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- With a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter just until distributed. You should still see some streaks of egg white throughout the batter. Do not over mix.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If baking 3 layers: bake for 40-50 min. If baking four layers, bake for 30-35 minutes. If baking cupcakes, bake for 20-28 minutes.
- When done, the cakes will be golden brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan. To check for doneness, stick a toothpick into the center of one of the layers. Remove the toothpick and look for signs of raw batter. If only cake crumbs stick to the toothpick, the cake is done. You can also scoop a tiny amount of cake from the center of one of the layers to check for doneness. (You’ll be covering the cake with frosting anyway.)
- Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 5 minutes in the pan, then gently turn them out of the pans onto the wire racks to cool completely. If you don’t plan on frosting the layers immediately, wrap each tightly with plastic wrap.
The layers can be stored at room temperature for 1 day, or frozen for up to 2 months.
- To make a substitution for cake flour, replace 2 tablespoons per cup of all-purpose flour with cornstarch. So, for this recipe, add all the flour to a bowl, remove 6 tablespoons, and then add 6 tablespoons of cornstarch. Whisk well to combine.
- It’s important to NOT allow the beaten egg whites to sit around for a long time before folding them into the batter or they will lose their volume. To ensure the time between beating and folding is as short as possible, get all the ingredients measured and prepped before you begin making the batter. Alternatively, you can use a hand mixer to whip the egg whites right before folding them into the batter.
- This recipe will make between 24 and 32 cupcakes, depending on the kind of paper cupcake liners you use and how much batter you use per cupcake. I love using the wave cupcake liners linked below, but their wavy nature means you'll use less batter per cupcake than traditional cupcake liners, giving you more, slightly smaller, cupcakes.
What kind of frosting is best on vanilla cake? My favorite options include:
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 398Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 76mgSodium: 320mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 0gSugar: 29gProtein: 5g