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.
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, here are instructions for how to make your own cake flour in a pinch.
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!
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!
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.
- 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
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 6-inch 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.