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This vanilla cake is soft, fluffy and delicious! Covered in vanilla buttercream frosting, this vanilla cake is really the best.
Classic Vanilla Cake
This buttery golden vanilla cake is moist and delicious. Covered in vanilla buttercream, it is a great classic recipe for any occasion.
It’s no secret that I have been on the hunt for the perfect, the best vanilla cake recipe. It’s become a joke between my friends that I’m going down the rabbit hole again. At this point, it’s not uncommon for me to show up to a friend’s house how with multiple vanilla cakes labelled by number for them to rate.
So here’s the deal.
Everyone has their idea of the best vanilla cake. Apparently no one can agree. My ideal cake, is one that both tastes delicious but is sturdy enough to decorate. So it’s important to note that this recipe does have a slightly denser texture than a sponge cake. While you want a cake that is “light and fluffy,” you also want something that is not going to fall apart when it’s time to decorate it.
So after 5,349 attempts (I lost count) at a vanilla cake recipe, I have finally created my perfect one. I tweaked my original recipe based on feedback from others.
I also learned a lot about what each ingredient in cake batter does and how it can impact the recipe. I’ll share with you why the different ingredients are important, methods for making the best vanilla cake and tips to make sure you are successful.
Why is this Vanilla Cake so Good?
This is what makes this vanilla cake so good:
- Tender cake that is still sturdy enough to stack into layered cakes and handle the weight of buttercream frosting.
- Golden edges perfect for naked cakes
- Stays moist from the sour cream and good quality butter
- Lovely vanilla and buttery flavor
- Bakes flat so no levelling is required
Traditional Creaming vs Reverse Creaming Method
There are two common methods for making a cake batter: traditional creaming and the reverse creaming method. It’s important to understand the difference each method.
The traditional creaming method starts by beating the butter and sugar together. The eggs are added one at a time. Then the flour and liquid ingredients are added to the butter mixture. As soon as the flour is added, the gluten (protein in the flour) starts to form. When the cake is baked, the air trapped in the butter expands and creates a light and fluffy cake.
The reverse creaming method starts by beating the flour, sugar and butter together. The flour particles are coated with the fat (butter) which reduces the gluten formation. Then the eggs and liquid ingredients are added. Since this process slows the formation of gluten, it makes a more tender, finer crumb.
This cake uses the traditional creaming method to produce a light and fluffy cake. It’s not as fool-proof as the reverse creaming method so pay close attention to the steps and length of times when mixing.
Cake Batter Ingredients
If you want a detailed baking coursing explaining the science behind each ingredient and what is does to the batter, I highly recommend checking out the Baking Science: Cake Batter posts.
Here is a quick overview of what each ingredient does in the cake batter:
- Flour – Flour provides structure in the cake. A low protein cake flour produces a cake with a light and tender texture.
- Eggs – Eggs do a few things in cake batter. They egg yolks are emulsifiers and help stick ingredients together. The egg yolks also provide a bit of fat and flavor. Eggs also provide moisture in the cake since they are a liquid. The egg whites also provide structure and help leaven the cake.
- Butter – Fat is a tenderizer and adds moisture and flavor to the cake. Butter allows the cake to create air pockets which makes it light and airy.
- Sugar – Sugar provides obviously sweetness, but is also a tenderizer for the cake. It bonds to water molecules and suspends them in the structure to lock in moisture. By weaking the bonds of proteins in the flour and eggs, it breaks down the structure a bit to create a tender crumb. Although too much sugar and the cake can fall apart.
- Baking powder and baking soda – These chemical leaveners use carbon dioxide gas to lighten and lift the cake.
Did I lose you? Ok, science class is over. Let’s get back to baking.
Tips Before You Get Started
- Follow the recipe – Read the instructions before starting. Read them again.
- Bring ingredients to room temperature – Make sure that your eggs, butter, sour cream and milk are at room temperature. I usually set out my ingredients about an hour before baking. This helps the ingredients come together better. Cold ingredients do not come together well in cake batter. Don’t skip this step.
- Weigh your ingredients – If you don’t have a digital food scale, get one. Weighing your ingredients will ensure everything comes out consistently. It is amazing how inaccurate cups are in baking. You can easily overmeasure the flour in a cup, but grams on a scale are always accurate. By not measuring your ingredients, it can set you up for failure. Get the dang scale.
- Use a high-quality butter – Butter quality matters when it comes to flavor. The butter I use has an 82% milk fat content. Most American butter contains 80% butterfat. I recommend the Kerrygold butter brand if you are in the U.S.
- Know your oven – Understanding your oven is a huge advantage in baking. You can get a digital oven thermometer to see what temperature it is really baking at. You may need to adjust the temperature based on your oven.
- Preheat for 30 minutes – You should also preheat your ovens for at least 30 minutes. You can do this while you’re waiting for your ingredients to come up to room temperature.
How to Prepare Pans
- Step 1: Use room temperature butter and your fingers to coat the inside of the pans. Don’t forget the sides!
- Step 2: Put about 3-4 tablespoons of flour into the pan. Use your hands to tap the flour around the pans to make sure there is a light even coat of flour.
- Step 3: Dump the excess flour into the next pan and repeat. Discard any remaining flour.
- Step 4: Cut circles of parchment paper and place at the bottom of the pans.
How to Get Flat Cakes
This cake recipe bakes up fairly flat. However, I do use the Wilton Bake-Even Strips to ensure they bake flat. You wet the fabric strips and wrap them around the cake pan while it is baking. If you have a cake recipe that tends to dome up, these are perfect for keeping the cake flat.
Note: If you are looking to do a naked cake and need golden brown sides, I would not recommend using the cake strips.
How to Decorate Your Cake
The beauty of a vanilla cake is that you can go super simple or go all out with the latest trends. You can add a fault line using different layers of buttercream frosting. You can add some horizontal stripes using different colors of frosting to create a striped cake look. You can paint the buttercream for a really stunning, but easy to create look.
For this cake, I used the Wilton icing combs to create some texture around the sides. I added some spring flowers around the sides. You can use these different tips to create some beautiful buttercream flowers. The rosettes are just swirled on and then you pipe different color flower stars to fill it in.
For this cake I used these tools:
Here’s another buttercream cake example of the rosettes in another color combination.
What if I Need Another Size Cake?
This recipe makes three 6 inch cake layers. This recipe will make two layers of an 8” inch cake. If you want a larger cake with three layers, I suggest you double the recipe. Use any remaining batter to make cupcakes. Note that with a larger cake, the baking times may be a little longer. Be sure to keep an eye on your cakes as they bake.
If you like this recipe, try these:
- 2 cups cake flour (280 g)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 4 egg whites
- 2 sticks of butter (226 g) - room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups sugar (280 g)
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup milk room temperature
- 1/2 cup sour cream (130 g) - room temperature
- 1 cup butter (227 g) room temperature
- 1/2 cup shortening (Crisco) (100 g)
- 6 cups sifted powered sugar (750 g)
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- Butter and flour three 6 inch cake tins and line with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 340°F/170°C.
- Sift all the dry ingredients (cake flour, salt, baking powder) in a medium bowl and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix the milk and sour cream together. Set aside.
- Using a handheld or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed (4) for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Slowly add the egg whites one at a time to the mixture on low speed (2) and increase the speed to medium (4) for about 2 minutes until combined. (May look curdled but it will smooth out as you beat). Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the vanilla.
- On low speed, add half of the dry ingredients and mix until barely incorporated. Then add half of the milk mixture and mix for a few seconds. Then add the remaining dry ingredients mixing for a few seconds and then add the remaining milk. Turn off the mixer and mix it by hand with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is combined. Do not overmix the batter.
- Pour the batter evenly into the pans. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until the cakes are cooked. Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake, if it comes out clean then it's done.
- Allow cakes to cool completely (15-20 minutes) and then gently remove from the pan and allow them to rest on a wire rack.
Make the Buttercream Frosting
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes). Add half of the powdered sugar and beat of low speed for 30 seconds. Add a 1/4 cup of the milk and mix on low. Add the remaining powdered sugar. Add vanilla. Mix on low for 30 seconds and gradually increase the speed to high and beat for 2 minutes. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar. If is it too thick, add more milk.
- Add a layer of buttercream between each cake layer. Cover the cake with a thin layer of buttercream. Use an offset spatula and a bench scraper to smooth the frosting. Put the cake in the fridge for at least 10 minutes and then apply another thin layer of frosting to the sides and top of the cake. If desired, add food coloring to a small amount of frosting and pipe buttercream flowers on the sides.