Finally. The Perfect Vanilla Cake Recipe.

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. 

vanilla cake recipe from scratchThis 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, here are instructions for how to make your own cake flour in a pinch.

best vanilla cake recipe from scratch

from scratch vanilla cake recipe by sugar and sparrow

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! 

vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream recipe

vanilla cake recipe by sugar and sparrow

I whipped up a video to show you the process of making this vanilla cake recipe and share my favorite baking tips for success. Take a look before you dive in:

Update 2019: I’ve changed the measurements in the recipe below to make exactly enough batter for three 6-inch cake pans or two 9-inch cake pans. I always do triple 6-inch layers when making cakes (I like ‘em tall!), and since I get so many questions on how to convert the original recipe into three 6-inch layers I thought I’d just do the math for you. So same great recipe, with the most requested amount of batter! 

vanilla cake recipe from scratch
5 from 11 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 3/4 Cups (290g) cake flour, sifted before measuring
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Cup (226g) 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 1/4 Cup (296ml) whole milk, room temperature

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 6-inch cake pans or two 9-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 (no more than 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. 


89 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. 5 stars
    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.

      • 5 stars
        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. 5 stars
    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. 5 stars
    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. 5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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!

  11. Hi there! So excited to try this recipe! I plan on using a 6″ cake pan – does this recipe still yield two 6″ cakes? Just with longer cook time? If I want a 3 layer cake, am I going to have to make another half recipe? Thank you so so much! Your directions are so helpful! 🙂

    • Hi Catie! So excited for you to try this recipe too! It will yield two 6 inch cakes as is (bake for about 40 minutes), or if you want a third layer you can 1.5 the recipe. If you eliminate the sprinkles from this funfetti cake recipe the measurements for a 3 layer 6-inch cake are perfect (it’s the same vanilla cake recipe, only with sprinkles added at the end): https://sugarandsparrow.com/funfetti-cake-recipe/

  12. Chad E Peterson

    5 stars
    Another great one, thank you! I too have been looking everywhere for a good light and fluffy vanilla cake and this fits the bill. This is the third this month from your blog and all have been fantastic. The cake sank slightly while cooking but after leveling it off it turned out great, I might of opened the oven to check at the wrong time or maybe because I used 6″ silicone pans, I never know why it sometimes sinks. I did your buttercream but added a little passionfruit concentrate for flavor and was awesome.

    • Hi Chad! I’m so happy that these recipes are working well for you! The addition of passionfruit to the buttercream sounds heavenly. I’m gonna have to try that! And about the sinking – I’ve never tried silicone baking pans so that could be it, but also opening the oven door before the batter is set can cause a cake to sink slightly. Not entirely sure what happened but I’m glad it was perfect when you leveled it!

  13. Looks divine! I will try this recipe next as the last recipe I tried turned out way too dense . Would it be okay to substitute the butter with vegetable oil? Or even half butter, half oil? If will it be the same measurements? Also would this recipe work well with cake strips? Thank you!

    • Hi Roxane! I haven’t tried this recipe substituting the butter with vegetable oil before, so I can’t recommend it. This recipe is really light, fluffy, and flavorful as-is. And yes, you can totally use bake strips with this cake recipe. I hope you love it!

  14. Omgosh! I have made vanilla cakes and they all taste like cornbread:( Im so excited to make this!!!!!!! But, can i use ap flor instead of cake flour? Would therr be any difference?

    • Hi Iris! I can’t wait for you to try this recipe! The reason it calls for cake flour is because that’s what makes it soft and fluffy – all purpose flour tends to make vanilla cake dense and cornbread-y in my experience, so I wouldn’t recommend substituting the cake flour with all purpose. You can make your own cake flour in a pinch if you can’t find it at your grocery store. The recipe is in the notes section of the recipe.

    • Hi Dora! I have never tried the recipe with yogurt as a sour cream substitute, but I think as long as you go with a full fat yogurt you should be alright. The purpose of the sour cream is to add extra moisture, and only a full fat substitute will do that.

  15. Jasmine Readon

    5 stars
    Hi Whitney! It’s Jasmine again‍♀️. I hope all is well with you! I wanted to ask if by any chance you know how many cups of batter the recipe makes? I am making cake pops 2 different ways (in the cake pop maker and old fashion mush and squish ) and cupcakes but it is a very small quantity that I need. I was thinking of making one batch of batter and splitting it between all 3 treats.

    • Hi Jasmine, I don’t know how many cups of batter this recipe makes, but I’m sure one batch will accommodate all of those treats. If you want to make absolute sure that you have enough, you can always make this version that is 1.5x the batter (same recipe, just omit the sprinkles) to have a little bit more: https://sugarandsparrow.com/funfetti-cake-recipe/

  16. Helllooo there! I was wondering how many batches I would need to make a two tier cake? The bottom needs to be an 8 inch round and 3 layers and the top tier is a 6 inch round also 3 layers

      • Hi Jillian! For a two tier cake of that size, I would triple the recipe. That’ll give you a little bit extra batter, but it’s better to have a little more than you need than a little less. These cakes do bake relatively flat, but I always use a cake leveler after baking them to make sure each layer is perfectly even. Hope that helps!

  17. I just made this cake and i’m quite pleased with it! The layers baked up perfectly, its got good flavor without being TOO sweet. It is a smidge on the dense side, but i really think i should have baked it a few minutes longer, which probably would have helped. I’ll try that the next time. Overall, i think i may have found my new go-to recipe. Also, this post is how i found sugar&sparrow, i’m enjoying exploring.

  18. Vicky Adjei

    Hi, I’m Vicky and new to baking. I’m eager to make this cake for my lil girl’s 3rd birthday…but I’d like the cake to be 8inches wide and stacked up three levels with butter cream in between. I read from the comments that I may have to double all my ingredients. Will I have to double the creaming time too? Say from 2 mins to 4 mins? And will I have to double the recipe for the butter cream too?

    • Hi Vicky! For a three later 8-inch cake, I would 1.5 the recipe. It’s the same recipe and measurements as my funfetti cake recipe, only don’t add sprinkles into the batter at the end (unless you want to!). You’ll find all the instructions and measurements you need here: https://sugarandsparrow.com/funfetti-cake-recipe/

      You will have to double the amount of buttercream to fill and frost a cake, unless it’s part of a recipe that specifies that it’s meant to fill and frost a cake of that size. Hope that helps!

  19. Hannah Liz

    Hey Whitney! I was super excited to try this receipe (and the batter was delicious!) but things didn’t go as planned. About 20 min into baking the pans completely overflowed. I used two 9×1.5 in cake pans. Do I need taller? My oven is also pretty old, so perhaps that factored into the issue. Any idea where I might’ve gone wrong? I’d like to try it again!

    • Hi Hannah! So sorry to hear that your cake pans overflowed! The pans I use are a little over 2 inches deep, I’m sure the shorter pan has something to do with it. I would recommend only filling a pan of that depth 1/2 full instead of 2/3 full. Let me know how it goes next time and I hope these ones can be salvaged!

  20. Hi, Whitney.
    Thanks. I have a question
    Doesn’t this cake need any egg?
    Thank you for responding.

  21. Hi Whitney,
    If I want to make 2 or 3 layers, but only have 1 9″ pan, will the batter be okay sitting out while the first layer bakes and cools, or is it meant to go in the oven right away after mixing?

    Thanks!
    Heather

    • Hi Heather, the batter is totally ok sitting out at room temperature while the other layers bake. I do that all the time. Just be sure to cover your mixing bowl with a cloth or paper towel while the other layers are baking.

  22. Hello! This looks so delicious! I’d like to make this cake with 6 inch diameter pans (each pan has 3 inch tall sides) to make a more narrow and tall cake with three layers. Would you recommend increasing the recipe or changing the baking time if I did this? Thanks!

  23. Hey can you please tell the substitute for eggs in this recipe..please

    • Hi, Meenu! Unfortunately, I’ve never made an eggless version of this recipe, so I can’t recommend a substitute. I would either find an eggless vanilla cake recipe to try or do some searching to see what is most commonly recommended for substituting eggs in a cake recipe.

  24. Julissa

    I just tried your recipe and it is the perfect vanilla cake recipe, it’s the recipe I’ve been looking for! Thank you

  25. Jessica

    Hi Whitney! I would like to make this recipe for my friends sons birthday party, but I was asked to make 2 dozen cupcakes and a large cake. I was planning on doubling the recipe for the cake (I will be using a 14×2 in square pan), but do u think I should double the cupcakes as well? Also, what do u think the baking times should be for the cupcakes and the cake? Thank you, Jess

    • Hi Jessica! The instructions for using this recipe as cupcakes is here: https://sugarandsparrow.com/vanilla-cupcake-recipe/ and it yields 24 cupcakes. I’ve never made this recipe in that large of a pan, so I would recommend using a flower nail or heating core to make sure everything bakes evenly. If it’s going to be a one layer cake, I would use the recipe ratios as-is and check the cake at 40 minutes to see if it needs more time than that. If it’s going to be two layers, I would double the recipe. I hope that helps!

  26. Hi, Just wondering, how many batches will i need to make 100 serves?

  27. Hi Jess, this cake recipe serves 12 comfortably, so you’d need to make about 8 batches to serve 100.

  28. 5 stars
    I wanted to try out this recipe beforehand for my daughter’s first birthday. So I halved your recipe (to make one 9” round) and used your DIY cake flour recipe. I also used your basic vanilla buttercream to frost. It turned out amazing! So I’ll definitely use this for her birthday cake! I will buy some cake flour though bc sifting was too much for me HA! Thanks for this simple and easy recipe!

    • That’s so wonderful to hear, Rekha!! I’m so happy you love the recipe and happy first birthday to your daughter!!

  29. Sharmila

    Hi Whitney,
    Do you think I could use eggs replacer in this recipe to get similar results?

    And….have you got any tips for eggless/vegan cakes please?
    Thank you so much for sharing your tips.

    • Hi Sharmila! I’ve never tried egg replacers with any of my recipes so I can’t say for sure how it will turn out. Someday I hope to try making vegan cake recipes but until then I don’t have any tips myself! I’ve heard a LOT of great things about Minimalist Baker’s vegan cake recipes though, so I’d give some of those a try: https://minimalistbaker.com/tag/cake/

  30. Iovanah Fielding

    Hi Whitney. Just wondering if it’s ok to use self raising flour instead of plain with soda, powder and salt? Thank you. :0)

    • Hi Lovanah! I don’t use self-rising flour because it doesn’t have the low protein content of cake flour and has additives like baking powder (hence the term self rising). If you substitute self-rising flour, it would add too much leavening agent to this recipe which would actually make it sink in the middle once you bake it. Instead, I recommend store bought cake flour, or if you don’t have that on hand, you can convert all-purpose flour into cake flour using this recipe: https://sugarandsparrow.com/homemade-cake-flour-recipe/

  31. Hi Whitney,

    I was just wondering how to ensure the sides of the cakes don’t get too dark? I’ve noticed from following a lot of Instagram bakers that the sides of their vanilla cakes are not much darker than the rest of the cake. I made your funfetti cake for my daughters birthday which was delicious but the sides of the cake were quite dark and a bit over cooked even though I only kept them in the oven long enough to be cooked properly in the middle.

    Thanks heaps

    • Hi Renee! The only reason that the sides might get darker is if your oven temp is actually hotter than what the display reads. This cake (which is the same recipe as the funfetti cake minus the sprinkles) should only get golden brown on the edges and top when it’s done cooking. You can buy an oven thermometer to read the actual temp and adjust accordingly.

    • Hi Mel! I’ve actually never tried this as a 9 x 13 sheet cake, so I’m not sure how it will turn out but my hunch is that it will work. Just make sure to fill the pan no more than 1/2 full, bake at 350, and check it at 35 minutes to see if it needs longer. Let me know how it turns out!

  32. Hi, This was my first time making a cake and I ended up using this recipe. The cake turned out amazing!
    I can’t wait to try it again
    The steps were very easy to follow
    And I will definitely try some of your other cakes
    Thanks so much

  33. I made birthday cake following all the parts of the recipe including vanilla Butter cream frostin. It was great,just felt little too sweet.to adjust that what should i do?

    • Hi Atiya! Glad you loved the recipe! If you want to reduce the sweetness in the cake, you can reduce the amount of white granulated sugar to 1 1/2 Cups. If you want to reduce the amount of sweetness in the frosting, you can either use salted butter instead of unsalted, or add a little more salt at the end. You can also try reducing the amount of powdered sugar by 1/2 Cup but it will be less thick.

  34. Hi, I just randomly found this recipe on Instagram and am so excited to try it out. I was wonder, since the recipe uses cake flour, does that mean the sponge will be a little softer than other normal sponge cakes? Will it be stable enough to stake and add fondant figurines on top of the cake? Thanks!

    • Hi Kim! Happy you found this recipe – it’s one of my all time faves! The sponge of this cake is soft and fluffy, but it’s definitely stable enough to stack and add fondant figures to the top. I’ve done that many times before 🙂 Enjoy!

  35. Hi Whitney 🙂 I am going to use this recipe tonight and cant wait! I only have 7″ tins and I would like to for 5/6 layers? should I double the recipe? Also – I have a fan assisted oven, would you lower the temp in degrees Celsius?

    thank you so much 🙂

    • Hi Emily! For 5-6 layers in a 7 inch cake pan I would double the recipe. You’ll have just enough for that amount! And as far as a fan assisted oven, I’ve never used one but I read online that the oven temp should be adjusted downward by 20ºC. Hope that helps!

  36. hi! Do you know how tall 3 layers of the 6″ round cake ends up being? Need to bake for a friend and would love to know so I can get an appropriate cake box would be a travesty to make such a pretty cake and not be able to transport!

  37. I’ve just found this recipe- and have used it twice already for birthdays! It is delicious!
    Thank you so much for all the tips and tricks- you make understanding the recipe very easy!

    • Hi Jennifer! That is so wonderful to hear! I’m glad the recipe is a hit and you’ve found a good go-to 🙂

  38. Hi I followed your recipe but my cake batter curdled and when baked the cake was very greasy. What am I doing wrong?

    • Hi Lisa! That’s interesting, I’ve never had or heard of issues with this cake batter curdling. Did you substitute any ingredients?

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