A Vanilla Cake is more than just a dessert; it’s a canvas for culinary creativity. This recipe brings you a soft, airy cake that’s both simple and elegant, with a rich vanilla buttercream frosting. It’s the timeless allure of vanilla, transformed into a cake that’s perfect for any occasion, be it a grand celebration or a cozy family gathering.

I find a certain charm in the simplicity of a vanilla cake. It’s a recipe that speaks to the heart of baking – where the right ingredients, mixed the right way, create something truly delightful. This recipe makes a sweet canvas, the perfect base for add ins – get creative with different fillings, toppings, buttercreams and garnishes.

Vanilla Cake being served

The Chemistry of Vanilla Cake

The beauty of this vanilla cake lies in its delicate structure, achieved through the interaction of ingredients. The creaming of butter and sugar introduces air, giving the cake its light texture. Eggs bind the mixture, adding stability and richness. Baking powder acts as a leavening agent, releasing carbon dioxide when heated, which helps the cake rise. The addition of sour cream introduces moisture and a slight tang, balancing the sweetness.

Can I make this cake gluten-free?

Yes, substitute the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend instead. Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 is my favorite one.

How can I ensure my cake is moist?

Do not over bake, and the addition of sour cream in this recipe helps retain moisture. As soon as the cake no longer looks glossy, and a bit dull. It is probably done. Another way to check is to tap the cake pans, if they do not jiggle in the middle, that is a good sign they are done. If you still aren’t sure, the last test you can do is stick a fork in the middle, if a few moist crumbs come out, then it is done. If the fork comes out gooey, it needs to bake a bit more, if the fork comes out clean, its already over done.

Whole vanilla cake on a platter

Can I freeze this cake?

Absolutely! Wrap the cake layers in plastic wrap and freeze. I like to frost even while frozen, it makes it a lot easier to frost a firm cake. Then let the cake thaw back to room temperature before serving.

What variations can I try with this cake?

Here are some ideas, experiment with different frostings, or add fruits, spices or extracts to the batter. You could also add different fillings in between the layers of the cakes like custards, jams, puddings or ganaches.

Vanilla cake being served

What is in vanilla cake?

All-purpose Flour

Builds structure as it absorbs liquids and expands. All-purpose flour falls in the middle of bread flour (high in gluten) and cake flour (low in gluten). It’s exactly what it is named, all-purpose, the most universal flour that can be used in most baked goods.

Baking Powder

Puffs up your batter or dough instead of spreading it out. Baking powder contains a little bit of baking soda, an acid & cornstarch. Because of this, it only needs a liquid to react. It also consists of two different acids, so it’s double reacting. It reacts as soon as it’s mixed with a moisture and then again when it’s heated up.

Fine Sea Salt

Enhances flavor, adds balance, masks any bitter flavors. Salt is the most powerful and oldest preservative. Always make sure to use fine sea salt so it melts down at the right speed in the heat of the oven. If you use larger granule salt, it will not melt down fully when baked and will leave salt crystals throughout your treat, making it crunch like you dropped it into sand.

Cornstarch

Helps create a crumbly tender texture to toppings. Softens cookies, brownies and cakes. And it can also thicken sauces and fillings.

Unsalted Butter

It is always important to use unsalted butter when baking. If you use salted butter, you have no way of knowing how much salt you are adding to your dough or batter and it will result in an overly salted treat.

Butter adds fats to your dough or batter which helps with moistness, flavor and texture. Butter melts at body temperature, which creates a ‘melt in your mouth’ sensation.

When baking with butter the temperature is important. If the butter is too warm your treat will melt down too fast and overspread in the oven, leaving you with a greasy, flat mess. If your butter is too cold it will have the opposite problem and not melt down enough, leaving your treat too thick.

Eggs

Adds both a protein (egg whites) and fat (egg yolks). The egg whites help with rising because, when foamed, little air pockets get trapped inside the egg white mixture. The water content in egg whites encourages steam while baking, which helps with gluten formation, resulting in nice and thick treats. Egg yolks have emulsifying properties that bring batters and doughs together and help them from collapsing. Unless otherwise specified, always use large eggs.

Milk

Adds moisture to the batter or dough. Milk adds protein and sugar (lactose) to your treat. It encourages browning and adds a bit more sweetness to your baked treat.

Sour Cream

Is a very fatty dairy product. The extra fat will make your treat more moist and rich. It also is acidic so it will help baking soda react, which helps your treat rise.

Vanilla Extract

When using pure vanilla extract, as opposed to imitation flavoring, it will add the deep rich flavor that everybody wants in a treat.

Unsalted butter

Often the main ingredient of frosting, it adds structure to your buttercream. It also adds a smooth and velvety texture. Butter melts at body temperature, so it will make your frosting have a melt-in-your-mouth sensation.

Powdered Sugar

Is just finely ground granulated sugar. It will absorb moisture in your batter or dough. It dissolves easily, ensuring a smooth texture without grittiness. Because it is so fine, it can melt quickly in the oven and spread cookies out more. Powdered sugar also stabilizes and thickens the frosting, thanks to the small amount of cornstarch it contains.

Heavy Whipping Cream

Makes a softer, more spreadable frosting. When melted with chocolate it adds more fat and moisture to the mixture, resulting in a silkier blend.

Whole freshly baked vanilla cake

Storage Tips

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or refrigerate for a longer shelf life. In the fridge, the cake stays fresh for about a week, just make sure you store it in an airtight container. Frozen, it can last up to 3 months. You want to wrap the cake up well so that it doesn’t get freezer burn.

Making Ahead

Bake the cake layers a day in advance and frost on the day of serving for convenience and best texture.

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Why make vanilla cake?

This vanilla cake is versatile – perfect for birthdays, anniversaries, or any celebratory event, as well as for a comforting treat on a quiet weekend.

Recipes You May Love

Vanilla Cake

Author: Madison Reid
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 20
This soft and airy vanilla cake is the perfect dessert. So simple and elegant, topped with rich vanilla buttercream.

Ingredients 

Cake

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Frosting

  • 2 cups unsalted butter
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions

Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  • In a standing mixer add the butter and sugar and mix until combined. Once combined, whip on high for 2 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl every 30 seconds. The mixture should be lighter in color and texture when finished.
  • Add the eggs, milk, sour cream and vanilla. Stir until combined.
  • In a separate mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and cornstarch.
  • Turn the standing mixer on low and slowly pour in the dry ingredients. Mix until the batter is all combined.
  • Once combined, turn the mixer on medium speed for about 20 seconds until the batter is smooth.
  • Pour the batter into three 8" round cake pans or two 10" round cake pans. Be sure to grease the pans before and line them with parchment paper so that the cakes will be easy to remove when finished baking.
  • Bake the cake for 20 minutes, remove and let cool in the pan before removing.
  • Once the cake is cool enough to remove, wrap the cake layers in plastic wrap and place in the freezer to chill before frosting.

Frosting

  • In a standing mixer add the butter and whip until it is softened
  • Add the powdered sugar and mix until combined
  • Add the cream and vanilla extract, whip the frosting for 2 full minutes until light and fluffy
  • Frost the cake when it is chilled

Nutrition

Calories: 526kcal Carbohydrates: 62g Protein: 3g Fat: 31g Saturated Fat: 19g Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g Monounsaturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 105mg Sodium: 199mg Potassium: 51mg Fiber: 0.3g Sugar: 51g Vitamin A: 976IU Vitamin C: 0.1mg Calcium: 65mg Iron: 1mg

Have you tried this recipe?

I’d love to see it! Follow @_mrs.madi_ on Instagram and tag your photos with #mrsmadi.

Vanilla Cake titled