The classic vanilla cake recipe is by far the most perfect cake. Yes, this is my opinion, but I feel that the vanilla cake is so versatile! I mean there is so much that can be paired with it! I think the next best thing is making a homemade vanilla cake recipe. I think it just gives the birthday party, holiday party, and special occasion that much more pizazz!
This cake was specifically made for my second son’s first birthday party. I wanted to create something simple. I went above and beyond with my oldest birthday party (he was our first).
Like I went crazy with it! He loved dogs, so with the help of my ever so crafty and always down for anything dad, we made a big dog house and a fire hydrant. Yep. We went all out. I made him his own down bone cake out of cupcakes, and puppy chow for gift bags.
I’d like to saw the madness stopped there, but it didn’t. For halloween that next year he was a race car.
We built a cardboard race car for him. Fully decked out with straps, lights, and sponsor stickers. I then repurposed it for his birthday–he is a HUGE car and truck fanatic– and we had a car/truck themed second birthday party.
So why do I share ALL of that. ha.
It’s safe to say that after moving across the country 3 months prior, I wanted an EASY first birthday party for my second.
So, I made this super good vanilla cake–yes a made from scratch vanilla cake– and served it to all our 20 guests at the neighborhood splash pad.
The second thing I wanted to make sure was that I could have a stress free birthday party day. I didn’t want to run around the house like a chicken with my head cutoff. I wanted to enjoy my friends and family. I wanted a simple recipe that could be made the night before.
So that’s what we have here. I made this recipe the last night before the party. I covered it with plastic wrap overnight and in the morning I frosted and put the sprinkles on.
I am all for make ahead desserts!
So let’s get into the ingredients and what is needed to make this simple vanilla cake.
All purpose flour: Make sure to measure and level your ingredients. It is important to get the right ratios. You can also use cake flour for this recipe to make a lighter cake.
Buttermilk: I use buttermilk instead of milk in this recipe, because buttermilk gives a cake that extra fluff needed! Plus it’s super moist. If you cannot find buttermilk, you can substitute with whole milk. Buttermilk will need to be at room temperature for this recipe.
Real vanilla extract: Real vanilla extract will give your cake a nice vanilla flavor that imitation vanilla won’t. You can also choose to use vanilla bean paste for this recipe, if you have that.
Salted butter: You will want to use room temperature butter in this recipe. It is best to do this by leaving the butter on the counter for about 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to baking. If I know I am going to make this cake, I will get out all the ingredients that need to be room temp that morning, so they are ready to go when I need them.
If you do not have salted butter, you can substitute for unsalted butter. Be sure to add a 1/4 teaspoon of salt for every 1/2 cup of unsalted butter you use.
NOTE: you can also use the microwave to warm the butter to room temp. Start with 8 seconds and only increase by 2 seconds after that. You will need to be careful as the microwave can easily over melt the butter. Remember, butter melts from the inside out. I do not recommend this method, but it is great to use when in a pinch or you forgot to set it out.
AND! If you are baking this cake when it is hot outside, leave the butter on a dish (still wrapped) or in a glass butter tray outside for about 15-30 minutes. I’m telling yah, it works. I usually try to avoid the microwave method, but if I forgot to get the butter out to come to room temp, I will set it outside. It’s amazing! Truly amazing!
Other ingredients: baking powder , baking soda, salt, sugar, and eggs. You will need 4 whole eggs at room temperature for this recipe.
How to make the best vanilla cake recipe:
Before you make this easy vanilla cake recipe, make sure you are using room temperature ingredients. Cold ingredients can disrupt the way the ingredients interact with one another. It also prevents the vanilla cake batter from mixing together easily and rising well in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray 2 9 inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and set those aside. I use round cake pans for this recipe, but you can use square as well. For a more secure cake removal, you can also line the baking pans with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together just until combined. Set this bowl aside.
In a liquid measuring cup, stir the buttermilk and vanilla together, set this aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed using an electric mixer. You can use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer.
Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. Scrape sides of the bowl and continue mixing, if needed.
This is an important step to making this easy vanilla cake recipe.
You will need to add the ingredients together, but alternate them. Let me explain.
Alternating the ingredients when mixing them together helps reduce the amount of mixing time. The longer the flour mixes the more gluten is developed and a firmer cake is created. I know crazy stuff.
Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Don’t mix yet.
Then add 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture to the butter mixture.
Mix on low speed for 10 seconds then mix on medium until slightly combined.
Then add the rest of the BUTTERMILK mixture and the rest of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as needed and mix until the mixture JUST comes together.
Once the cake batter is mixed and there are no more air or flour pockets, pour the vanilla cake batter into your prepared cake pans. Bake the pans on the center oven rack for 20-25 minutes.
The cake will be done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
If you want to turn this recipe into vanilla cupcakes, go for it! Bake in cupcake pans lined with cupcake liners for 15-18 minutes at 350 degrees F.
NOTE: Bake times will vary depending on the time of year, elevation, and your oven. Keep a close eye on your cakes so they do not over bake.
Why should I use room temperature ingredients when making a cake?
First, room temperature ingredients such as: eggs, milk, and butter form an emulsion. This traps are within the cake batter. So when the cakes are baking in the oven that trapped air expands and creates a fluffy baked good.
Second, room temperature ingredients mix together better and rise more easily when baking.
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- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup salted butter softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 inch round baking pans with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together to combine. Set aside.
- In a liquid measuring cup, stir buttermilk and vanilla together. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, on medium speed, beat butter and sugar together until combined. About 2 minutes.
- Mix in eggs, one at a time, until mixture becomes very light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again briefly.
- Add 1/2 the flour mixture and 1/2 the buttermilk mixture into the butter mixture.
- Mix together for a few seconds.
- Add the BUTTERMILK mixture and the rest of the flour mixture into the large bowl.
- Mix together until just combined and batter is smooth.
- Pour cake batter into prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes. The cake will be done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
- Once cooled, frost! See frosting ideas below.
Do not over mix or over bake. Baking times may vary, so keep an eye on the cake.
You can choose to leave your cake “naked” with just a crumb coat of frosting, or you can choose to create a completely frosted cake. Whatever you decide to do with your perfect vanilla cake recipe is totally up to you! Here are some frosting ideas for you.
What to frost your vanilla cake with:
Swiss meringue buttercream
Cream cheese frosting
Vanilla buttercream frosting
Need some ice cream to go with your cake?
Here are some no churn ice cream recipe ideas: