Finally. The Perfect Vanilla Cake Recipe.

vanilla cake recipe by sugar and sparrow

I have a little confession to make: when I first started making cakes, my secret go-to for far too long was the box vanilla cake mix by Betty Crocker.

Phew. Now you know. 

Since I became accustomed to the light and fluffy texture of said box mix, every time I tried to make a vanilla cake from scratch, the result seemed off. Blame it on the lack of Propylene Glycol Mono (or the handful of other ingredients in box mixes that you’ve never heard of), but my from-scratch vanilla cakes always ended up too dense, tasted a little cornbread-ish, and just didn’t have that fluffy appeal. Finding a go-to vanilla cake recipe from scratch felt like a mountain I had to climb, but after (what felt like) five hundred tries and a whole lot of not giving up, I’ve found a recipe that is beyond my wildest cake dreams. 

fluffy vanilla cake from scratch recipe

This vanilla cake is light and airy, so easy to whip up, and tastes like a dream. The secret to it’s perfect texture is the cake flour, which produces a much softer, fluffier cake than all-purpose because of it’s lower protein content (the more protein in your flour the stiffer the dough and less ability to maintain moisture). You can find cake flour at most grocery stores, but if all you’ve got is all-purpose flour in your pantry I’ve included a note on how to make your own cake flour in a pinch.

moist vanilla cake from scratch recipe

from scratch vanilla cake tastes like box mix

To make this cake even more moist I’ve added a little sour cream and whole eggs for good measure. There’s also an entire tablespoon of vanilla extract in there to really up the flavor, because yum. It pairs well with so many buttercream flavors, but if you want to keep things on the vanilla spectrum, try pairing it with this Vanilla Buttercream Recipe. It does not disappoint! 

best vanilla cake recipe from scratch

I always do triple or quadruple 6-inch layers when making cakes (I like ‘em tall!) so if that’s the case with you, just double the recipe. If you’re more of a two-layer 8 or 9-inch cake maker, that’s exactly what this recipe will yield. 

5 from 7 votes
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Perfect Vanilla Cake Recipe

An easy vanilla cake recipe that's light, fluffy, and flavorful. It's got the perfect texture you'll find from box cake mixes, without all the ingredients you can't pronounce. 

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
cooling time 2 hours
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups (265g) cake flour, sifted before measuring
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (169.5g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cup (358g) granulated white sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (112g) sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) whole milk, room temperature

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare two 8-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with a cooking spray (Baker's Joy is my favorite) and a wax paper circle fitted to the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, you can grease and lightly flour the pans. 

  2. Sift the cake flour and then measure by spooning and leveling it in your measuring cup. Add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside. 

  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), cream the butter for on high for two minutes until it's light and fluffy. Add in sugar and continue to mix on high for another two minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix for one minute on high, scraping down the bowl and paddle once more. 

  4. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the milk slowly and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a few stirs to make sure there are no lumps (without over-mixing). The batter will be slightly thick, but pourable. 

  5. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans (about 2/3 of the way full) and bake for 30-35 minutes. They're done when they spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for five minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack for an additional few hours of cooling. Make sure they're entirely room temperature before applying any frosting. 

Recipe Notes

*DIY Cake Flour Recipe: To make your own cake flour, spoon and level one cup of all-purpose flour and remove 2 Tbsp. Add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. Repeat per the amount of cake flour you need, then sift the flour and cornstarch mixture 4 times (don't skip that step!)After sifting, spoon and level to re-measure the amount of cake flour you need. 

Make ahead tip: These cakes can be baked, cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap, and left out at room temperature up to two days ahead of decorating. Unfrosted cake layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for up to two months before thawing and frosting. 


 

23 Comments

  1. Your tips and tricks are the best! It’s like you know the questions I would ask before I ask them! You have the gift of teaching and a huge talent for creating!

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Megan! I’m so happy to be able to share all of this with you!

  2. Hallo Whitney,
    I like your Blog!!!! I am from Berlin. Please, how big (ml) is one cup? Wir have another cups in Europa.
    Thank you very much
    You inspire me
    Elena

    • Hi Elena! Thanks so much for the kind words about my blog and I’m so happy you’re inspired! I just looked up the conversion from cups to ml online and it appears that 1 cup = 236.6ml. Hope that helps!

  3. Hey!
    This recipe is so yummy and!!
    I was just wondering how many times the recipe you’d need to make this cake for around 100-160 people (5 inch tall tiers) ahah I’m being ambitious and making this for my 21st birthday! eeeekkk

    • Hi Laura! Wow, you’re really going all out for your birthday! I applaud your ambition 🙂 This recipe serves 12 comfortably, so if you’re thinking about serving 100 or so, here’s what I would do:

      1.5x this recipe makes a 6 inch diameter, 5 inch tall cake. 2x this recipe would make a 8 inch diameter, 5 inch tall cake. And 3x the recipe makes a 12 inch diameter, 5 inch tall cake. Three tiers in those dimensions would serve 100-115. That would mean 7x the recipe total. Phew.

      • Thank you so much Whitney! You are amazing! and yes very ambitious ahah lets hope it all goes to plan and my Australian ingredients don’t mess with this gorgeous recipe! xx 🙂

  4. I made this today and it came out soooo well (despite me forgetting to add the milk into the cake mixture!!) – the cake is moist and delicious, you can really taste the vanilla, it’s lovely and solid and has smooth outsides perfect for decorating. Thank you so much!!!

    • Yay Lia!! I am so happy to hear that you loved the recipe 🙂 Can’t wait to see how you decorate!

  5. Pingback: Rainbow Funfetti Cake Recipe - Sugar & Sparrow

  6. Hi Whitney !
    I live in Spain and we don’t have sour cream. What do you recommend I can substitute the sour cream with?

    Thank you!

    I love your blog!!

  7. Thank you for the recipe, Whitney! I’m from Brazil!
    I’ve never bake a cake like this and I’d like to start with a 4 inch on.
    How many layers of cake should I use?
    If do you use 4 layers with 4 inch each this recipe have a perfect size right?

    • Hi Lana! For four inch cakes, I typically use three layers but have used four layers for taller designs. It’s totally up to you! When using a 4 inch pan, this recipe yields 8 layers of cake, so you could easily choose the perfect amount of layers after they’re baked.

  8. Nagina Khalid

    Hello Whitney! I just wanted to ask a question based upon I use springform cake pans and I was wondering how could I adjust this recipe to create two 10” cake, which I will cut into 2 which will become a 4 layer cake?

    Thank you x

    • Hi Nagina! I have never made this cake in a taller cake pan (mine have 2 inch sides), so I am not sure how the baking times will be affected. I would definitely triple the recipe to accommodate that amount of cake batter, but you’ll need to bake them for longer than the recipe specifies since there will be more volume of cake batter in the oven. How long do you usually bake cakes of that size? I would set the timer for however long you’re used to with those pans and keep an eye on the cakes to make sure they don’t cook for too little or too long.

  9. Jasmine Readon

    I want to thank you for sharing this recipe! I have been looking for a GREAT vanilla cake recipe and this was it! I made this for a thanksgiving party and paired it with a Hershey milk chocolate buttercream and it was gone before everybody got a chance to get a piece
    I must admit I did make 2 changes, I used buttermilk instead and added an extra tbsp of vanilla.
    Everyone LOVED it! Thank you once again for sharing this amazing recipe!

    • Hi Jasmine! I’m SO happy to hear that this was a hit!! Glad you loved the recipe and consider it a great one. I’ll have to try it with the buttermilk and extra vanilla! Thanks for letting me know!

  10. Nicola Straker

    Hi there
    I love the sound of this recipe. My twins have asked for a unicorn cake (one each) for their birthday. It has a fondant unicorn head on the front. As I’m making 2 cakes I want to make two quite small ones (to prevent waste) with a bit of height to accommodate the unicorn head, so multiple layers will be required. Any help on how to adapt this recipe would be very much appreciated (tins cooking times etc). The smallest tins I have are quite high sided 6inch tins but I could buy 5 inch. Many thanks. Nicola.

    • Hi Nicola! This cake recipe works well with smaller sized pans. Although I’ve successfully made it with 4 inch pans, 6 inch pans, and as cupcakes, I’ve never tried it with a taller sided cake pan, so I have no idea what the baking time would be. For the 6 inch pans (2 inch tall sides), I baked for 40 minutes. I would be sure to fill the pan no more than 2/3 full and check it at 40-50 minutes to see if it needs more time for the taller sides. The reason the 8 inch pans need less baking time is because the layers aren’t as tall as my 6 inch pan.

      • Nicola Straker

        Many thanks. Looks like my pans are 3 inches high so hopefully that won’t make too much difference to baking
        times. Will let you know how I go!

        • Oh perfect! For some reason I read that as you having a pan with 6 inch tall sides 🙂 For a 6 inch cake with 3 inch sides, just check it at 40 min and gauge whether or not you need more time. My estimate would be about 50 min total, but let me know how it goes!

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