Every home cook needs a good vanilla cake in their repertoire. It's also versatile, perfect for birthdays, fancy dinner parties, or a simple summer cookout.
Photography Credit:Cindy Rahe
Featured in 12 Desserts for Your Easter Table
This vanilla cake is my absolute favorite for making fancy layer cakes. It bakes up with little-to-no dome and has a soft yet sturdy crumb, both of which make it ideal for stacking.
I also love the flavor of this cake—classic vanilla with the slight tang of buttermilk. (By the way, the acid in the buttermilk helps keep the cake tender by inhibiting gluten formation!)
Because the flavor is simple, cake is also incredibly versatile and pairs well with pretty much any frosting or filling combination.
USE THE REVERSE CREAMING METHOD
I use a reverse creaming method for this cake, which means the butter is blended into the dry mixture until it becomes sandy in texture, and then the liquid is added to create the batter. This is the opposite of the more conventional method, which involves creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding the dry mixture and liquid in alternating stages.
Reverse creaming coats the flour with butter, which (along with the buttermilk) helps make a tender cake with a fine crumb, but that’s still dense enough to handle stacking. I also find that this results in a cake that remains moist and tender even if it’s baked ahead and not served for a few days.
FAVORITE FILLINGS FOR VANILLA LAYER CAKE
- Lemon Curd
- Strawberry Jam
- Meyer Lemon Marmalade
FAVORITE FROSTINGS FOR VANILLA LAYER CAKE
- Swiss Meringue Frosting
- Cream Cheese Frosting
- Extra-Rich Chocolate Frosting
Vanilla Buttermilk Layer Cake Recipe
If you would like a cake with super tall layers, bake the cakes in 3 8x3-inch baking pans. If using the smaller pan, you may need to add an additional 5 to 8 minutes to the bake time.
- 3 cups (374 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (397 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 5 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Stand mixer
- 3 9x2-inch cake pans
1 Heat the oven and prep the pans: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray 3 9x2-inch baking pans with nonstick spray (or butter and flour) and line the bottoms with parchment rounds.
2 Mix together the butter and dry ingredients (reverse cream): In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and Kosher salt on low speed with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer).
Add the softened butter and mix on medium speed until the butter is incorporated and the mixture becomes sandy in texture, about 30 to 45 seconds.
3 Mix in the liquid ingredients: Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract together in a large measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the liquid mixture to the butter-flour mixture in two separate additions. Beat well after each addition and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue mixing until you get a smooth batter.
4 Bake the cakes: Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and smooth the tops. Tap the pans against the counters once or twice to force out any large air bubbles.
Bake on a single rack in the center of the oven for 20 to 35 minutes -- begin checking at 20 minutes and continue baking until the cakes pull away from the sides, the top springs back when touched, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5 Cool the cakes: Set the cakes in the pans on wire racks and cool for 15 minutes. Turn the cakes out of the pans and allow to cool completely.
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The Best Vanilla Cake I’ve Ever Had
Out of all the cake recipes on my website, there’s a glaring absence. There’s white cake with a pristine soft crumb, vanilla naked cake with a flavorful tight crumb, and checkerboard cake with a whimsical design.
What about a classic 9 inch vanilla cake draped in vanilla buttercream? I already have homemade vanilla cupcakes and a 6 inch vanilla cake covered. Now in all its crowning glory (and after plenty recipe testing catastrophes), I present you with cake perfection:
This is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had.
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ⅓ cups buttermilk
- 4 egg whites
- 1 ½ cups white sugar
- 2 ½ cups prepared frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 2 9-inch round baking pans.
Beat butter and vanilla extract together in a bowl until creamy. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a separate bowl. Beat butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk, into flour mixture until fully incorporated.
Beat egg whites in a glass or metal bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until medium peaks form. Lift your beater or whisk straight up: the tip of the peak formed by the egg whites should curl over slightly. Fold egg white mixture into batter until just combined. Pour batter evenly into the prepared baking pans.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.
Spread frosting atop one of the cakes and top with second cake. Spread the remaining frosting over the top cake and around the sides of both cakes.
How to Stack Cake Layers | Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
As many of you know, I struggle with making "pretty" food. Each time I try, there seems to be some hang up along the way that sends my brilliant (not really) ideas into droopy lopsided pitifulness. However, I was determined to make a birthday cake for Matt and his dad, and figured it was the perfect opportunity to try making something as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate.
I still encountered some problems, as you'll no doubt notice when you see the finished product, but I did finally learn how to successfully flatten and stack a somewhat level layer cake. Here's what I did.
I started with a couple o' 6 inch cake pans, filled only halfway with vanilla buttermilk cake batter. The recipes for everything I used are at the bottom of this post. I whacked the pans on the counter a few times to let any air bubbles rise to the top.
Once the layers were baked, I let them cool for about 15 minutes on a wire rack, while still in the pans.
I use 3 things to determine cake done-ness:
1. A clean toothpick inserted in a few different places on the cake.
2. A golden but still moist top.
3. Edges that are just slightly starting to pull away from the pan.
After the cakes cooled for a bit, I removed them from the pans. To do this, I placed one hand flat against the top of the cake and inverted the pan in my hands. The layer came right out. Depending on the size of your cake, however, you may want to use a large flat pan instead of your hand. My cake was small, only 6", so it was easy to hold the entire layer in one hand.
Once removed from the pans, the layers went back onto the wire rack to finish cooling completely. I added a layer of parchment paper to prevent wire marks on the cake bottoms.
Next, we'll need to cut off the domed top of each layer so that our cake will stack evenly. I use this cake knife from Wilton that makes this step a cinch.
I placed one layer on a cardboard cake circle. This'll allow you to easily move the cake around once it is stacked. Then, I crouched down so that I was eye level with the cake. I put one hand flat on top of the dome while holding the knife in the other hand, parallel to the counter. Slowly (because you don't want to mess up the edges of the layer) cut across the top and whack that dome right off.
I'm sure you'll find something to do with the leftover piece. I haven't the slightest clue what that might be, but you're a smart group of peeps. You'll think of something.
Now it's time to add your filling! You can either add a flavored filling, or you can fill it with whatever frosting you are using for the outside of the cake. I used a simple chocolate buttercream, and spread on a good layer using an elongated spatula.
By this time, you should have leveled off your other layer as well. You'll want to invert that layer and place it on top of your filling, so that the bottom is facing upwards. This gives you the flattest possible surface on the top of the cake. This seems like such an obvious step, but I can't tell you how many cakes I've made where I simply stacked both layers on top of each other, crumb-side up. You can imagine the crumbs that would get into my frosting as a result of that.
So there you have it.. an easy way to stack a level cake! The next step is to add the frosting on the outside, and that's your chance to fill in any gaps between the layers and the filling and give you nice even sides. This is where I knew I would have difficulty. I struggle with frosting consistency and usually end up with lumpy sides. I also tend to use too much pressure when frosting the outside, which ends up knocking my top layer off-center and makes the whole thing lopsided.
All of those above things happened with this cake. Sigh. I'll get there one day.
I used a vanilla buttercream using 100% butter, so it was getting a little droopy and needed to chill. Here's my lumpy, slightly lopsided cake hanging out in the fridge for a lil' while before serving.
The silver lining is that it was super tasty.. buttercream is one of the most delicious substances on Earth, don't you agree? I could eat a vat of it just by itself! The little pearls are these luster decorating pearls from Williams-Sonoma. Matt gave them to me in my stocking last Christmas and I'm finally getting a chance to use them!
Overall, I think I finally have a handle on stacking layers, and I'll continue to learn how to successfully frost a cake without making things all lopsided and uneven. I'll conquer this feat one day, I'm sure of it!
Here's your recipes! I used my favorite recipe for vanilla buttercream, and the cake came from Smitten Kitchen.
Ingredients in my Best Vanilla Cake recipe
Here’s what you need to make this plush, soft vanilla cake. No cake flour, no buttermilk, no sour cream. Tried them all – this cake is better with plain / all purpose flour and just milk.
Plain / all purpose flour – compared to cake flour, the flavour of the butter and vanilla comes through better, the crumb is slightly more velvety AND it keeps slightly more moist too. Bonus: no need to hunt down / pay a premium for cake flour! Do not substitute with self raising flour or gluten free flour.
Eggs – whipped to aerate, these are key to make the cake extraordinarily light and fluffy. You don’t get an eggy flavour
Baking powder – not baking soda (bi-carb), it doesn’t rise as well. This is our safety net, extra helping hand to make the cake rise.
Milk, full fat – just plain cow milk. Low fat works as well but rises marginally less. Do not substitute with non dairy milk or buttermilk
Sugar – best to use caster / superfine sugar if you can because it dissolves better in the eggs. But regular / granulated sugar works just fine too – you may just end up with some little brown spots on the base
Oil – just 1 tablespoon adds a noticeable hint of extra moistness, especially on Day 4, without weighing down the cake in the slightest. Don’t be tempted to add more – I tried an extra tablespoon and it didn’t rise as well
Vanilla extract – the best you can afford. Imitation will work just fine, but the flavour isn’t as pure or real. I use Queen Vanilla Extract. Don’t waste your money on vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste – it’s not worth it for cakes.
Buttermilk Layer Cake with Praline Icing
To prepare the cake, coat 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray, and line bottoms with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray, and dust with 2 teaspoons flour.
Combine the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs and egg white, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition beat in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour, baking soda, and salt stir well with a whisk. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture beat well after each addition.
Pour the batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack remove from pans. Carefully peel off wax paper, and cool completely on wire rack.
To prepare the icing, combine the brown sugar and the next 4 ingredients (brown sugar through dash of salt) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, and simmer until slightly thick (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Pour brown sugar mixtureinto a large bowl. Add powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Cool 2 to 3 minutes (icing will be thin but thickens as it cools).
Place 1 cake layer on a plate, and spoon 1/3 cup icing onto the cake layer, spreading to cover. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle top with pecans. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.
- For the cake:
- 3 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 8 oz butter, softened plus more for greasing pans
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 2 egg yolks, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 2/3 cups buttermilk, room temperature
- For the soaker:
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup instant espresso powder
- For the icing:
- 5 egg whites
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 lb. butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup instant espresso powder
- Optional: dark chocolate shavings for decoration
Best Buttermilk Birthday Cake
Ah yes, a pastel vanilla sprinkly cake! Hehe. But wait, before you wonder why the heck I’m sharing yet another vanilla cake recipe, it’s because this is truly, honestly, 100% the only vanilla birthday cake recipe you will ever need. A bold statement, but I vow that this cake is where my heart lives. Guys! While it’s not radically different than the vanilla cakes I’ve shared over the years, it’s that it really is the most tender, flavourful and spot-on, go-to, childhood-memory-evoking cake I’ve made. Aside from being perfectly unfussy and simple to make, it’s just the textures and flavours that dreams are made of.
A classic, pastel, 3-layer birthday cake! I think no matter how many innovations and creativity are brought to the world of baking and caking, having a “perfect” vanilla cake + birthday cake frosting recipe is a huge win. It’s what brings us all back to those days of childhood, and warms our hearts. I love adding just a tiny bit of colour and a good dose of sprinkles (in this case, too many really would be too many) to give it a real bakery feel. There’s just nothing that speaks to me more as a baker (and little girl at heart), than this aesthetic and flavour combination.
So the cake layers in the Best Buttermilk Birthday Cake are, well, buttermilk cake layers. But whoa, they are so buttery and soft. This is a slight modification from the Buttermilk Cake in the Sweetapolita Bakebook, and that cake is one of my favourites in all of the book! With a generous 5 eggs, lots of buttermilk, butter, premium vanilla bean paste and more, it’s an incredible base for really any cake you want to build–adding other flavours or even pairing it with virtually any filling, frosting or topping. The best building block in my vanilla cake repertoire.
You can see the tender, delightful crumb the cake yields, and now let’s talk about the frosting…
So, as you probably know, I love a good fluffy sweet frosting, and as much as I love Swiss Meringue Buttercream, there really just is a time and place for a super creamy but sweet frosting. Again, it’s that sweetness and fluffiness that airdrops me directly to my childhood birthdays. Mom used to get my cakes at the grocery store, at my request. A girly heart-shaped vanilla cake with stark white frosting, adorned with pink buttercream borders and topped with a few pink roses and, of course, a neatly scripted, pink gel “Happy Birthday Rosanne.”
So with that in my heart, I was so eager to try Christina Tosi’s “Birthday Cake Frosting,” from her Momofuko Milk Bar cookbook. You’ve likely all seen her famous and pretty-darn-awesome naked Birthday Layer Cake, based on those very grocery store birthday cakes I am referring to. While making her full recipe for the Birthday Layer Cake is near the top of my t0-bake list, I was most eager to try her frosting. So, I took her frosting recipe and modified it slightly to work with what I stock in my cupboards, and with some of the little frosting habits I can’t abandon, I whipped up what I consider to be the best bakery-style frosting I have ever tasted.
While this frosting recipe isn’t that much of a departure from my most-used party frosting, I think what makes this frosting so magical, is the use of shortening (and butter), light corn syrup, dollops of cream cheese and tiny bit of acidity.
Christina’s recipes calls for glucose (a very thick clear sugary syrup) and corn syrup, and she also calls for a pinch of baking powder and citric acid. These are the ingredients I opted out of using, and instead I simply used light corn syrup (no glucose) and I used a few drops of lemon extract for the subtle zing.
The result is fluffy, smooth, creamy and so light. Sweet, with an underlying zing of cream cheese, but if you didn’t know there was cream cheese in there, you might not even be able to pinpoint that. There is nothing dense or thick about this frosting, which also makes it a dream to work with, both for frosting the actual cake and for piping. (As I always say, the consistency of your frosting is 90% of the battle when it comes to applying frosting to a cake or piping lovely borders.)
Just for fun, I added our Sugar Cookie Sprinkle Medley, which is a vegan, gluten-free, Kosher certified sprinkle mix that is ideal for adding to cakes and frosting, as the colours won’t bleed. The texture and taste of the coated chips in the frosting are reminiscent of the Betty Crocker Rainbow Chip Frosting I used to eat by the spoonful as a teenager. The chips soften up just the slightest bit, but the sprinkles remain crunchy. Basically it’s everything we daydream about. We add the sprinkles in between the layers and then into the actual frosting for a little hit of sprinkled cuteness.
Overview: How to Make a Vanilla Semi-Naked Cake
Let’s focus on a semi-naked cake because that’s how I decorated the cake in today’s photos and video.
- Make the cake. To begin, you’ll need a layer cake. You can use any of my layer cake recipes, the vanilla layer cake recipe below, or any layer cake recipe you love. The vanilla cake recipe I include below is similar to my vanilla cake recipe, but it has more structure to support the naked cake decorating style. Cake recipes that yield three or four layers provide enough height to work with, but you can easily decorate a two layer cake this way. Tiered cakes are great too– like my homemade wedding cake.
- Add berries. I dotted fresh raspberries between my cake layers. Admittedly, I only dotted them around the edges because I ran out of raspberries. Oops! But I love how they peek out the sides. The fresh raspberries also provide a lovely texture variation. If you decide to do this as well, be warned that the raspberries will leak some juice around the edges after a day or so. I would leave the berries out if you’re making this cake in advance for a party or celebration.
- Frost the cake. Vanilla buttercream is my favorite for the half-dressed cake style. It’s simple and shows off the semi-exposed cake layers as well as the cake’s decorative pieces. The frosting recipe below is similar to my vanilla buttercream recipe, only with a higher ratio of ingredients to make a larger amount of frosting.
Buttermilk Layer Cake
This is a delicious pre-fermented white cake that I have decorated up with a cultured chocolate whipping cream frosting to get in that probiotic kick.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 6 ” cake 1 x
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Fermented
- 1/3 cup butter
- 2 cups of ripe banana, smashed (about 2 large bananas)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup flour (or GF flour mix)
- Mix the flour and the buttermilk in a glass container and leave somewhere warm for 12-24 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven and grease and flour two 8″ cake pans. (The batter will be quite acidic and start to act on the baking soda right away so you’ll want to work quickly once you mix the ingredients together.)
- Cream the butter and sugar together. Mix in the eggs and vanilla.
- Sprinkle the baking soda and powder over the prefermented flour. Add the butter and egg mixture.
- At this point all of the ingredients will be mixed together. If you are using all-purpose flour, then it may have developed some gluten structure so you will need to use the pincer method as you mix. (See notes).
- Bake at 350 F for 25-35 min (until a tooth pick comes out clean).
- For gluten free cakes I use a mix of 3 parts rice, 2 parts potato starch, 1 part tapioca starch.
- If using store-bought buttermilk for the recipe, make sure it was cultured (or it won’t preferment the flour).
- To mix the ingredients into a dough that has developed a gluten structure use the pincer method(described in my sourdough techniques post).
- To make the chocolate whip cream frosting, use 2 cups of cultured whip cream. Fold in 1/2 cup icing sugar, 5 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tsp vanilla and a pinch of salt.
Keywords: traditional, soaked, prefermented, gluten free