Ultimate Vanilla Cake Recipe

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This vanilla cake recipe has been years in the making and was rated the best vanilla cake recipe by The Kitchn in taste tests against Magnolia Bakery, Stella Parks, Divas Can Cook, Recipe Tins Eats, and Martha Stewart.

While a yellow cake or a white cake can be the same as a vanilla cake, my version is differentiated by the fact that it has a strong vanilla flavor – it has real vanilla beans in the batter and gobs of vanilla extract. It tastes like the very best vanilla bean ice cream in cake format!

a slice of vanilla cake frosted with vanilla frosting, on a cream plate
Vanilla cake image from iambaker, who test baked this recipe

After I posted my ultimate vanilla cupcake recipe, I was asked about converting it into a cake recipe at least twice a month.

That cupcake post has over 400 comments, most of them talking about how it’s one of the best vanilla cupcake recipes ever. It’s definitely my favorite and I’ve used it as a base recipe for countless other cupcake recipes.

So, here’s my vanilla cake recipe! It’s the same as the cupcakes you know and love, but in cake format!

Key Ingredients That Set This Recipe Apart

vanilla beans
  • Vanilla Bean: Incorporating a vanilla bean into the cake batter imparts a rich, unmistakable vanilla flavor. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, you can omit it without making any other changes to the recipe. The cake will still be delicious, just with a milder vanilla taste.
  • Butter and Oil: The use of both butter and oil in this recipe ensures the perfect balance of flavor and texture. Cakes made solely with oil may lack the depth of flavor that butter provides, while those made with only butter can sometimes be too dense and dry. This combination results in a cake that’s both flavorful and moist.
  • Sour Cream: Adding sour cream to the cake batter enhances the recipe with a bit more fat and a subtle tanginess. If you don’t have sour cream, yogurt is an excellent alternative and works just as well.
  • Cake Flour: Opting for cake flour instead of all-purpose flour yields a cake with a lighter and finer crumb, making it delightfully tender and soft.


vanilla cake
Image from iambaker, who test baked this recipe

Use any mild vegetable oil for this recipe. I’ve used canola oil, generic vegetable oil, and safflower oil. While I love using flavored oils in baking, keep in mind that they will change the flavor of the recipe. You can experiment with using non-neutral oils and try baking with pistachio oil, for example, to get a totally different taste.

While I am a huge fan of vanilla bean paste, I have not noticed any improvement to the cupcakes when I use it in the batter. Use normal vanilla extract here and save the expensive paste for your buttercream.

How It’s Made

Preheat your oven to 350 F before beginning.

First, scrape the inside of a vanilla bean (the seeds) into sugar and thoroughly mix everything up. Using this vanilla sugar will give the cake a strong flavor and you’ll end up with visually appealing vanilla bean specks all over!

Scraping a vanilla bean on a cutting board to make vanilla sugar
Using a real vanilla bean adds both flavor and visual appeal to the vanilla cake.

Whisk together the vanilla sugar with the rest of the dry ingredients (cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) in the bowl of a stand mixer. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use an electric hand mixer or even mix by hand.

Tip: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute all-purpose flour in equal amounts; the cupcakes will end up a little bit denser. Cake flour is a finely milled delicate flour and it is best for desserts that are lighter and airier.

Whisking dry ingredients together in a glass bowl
Always mix dry ingredients together thoroughly.

Mix in the butter.

Adding unsalted butter to dry ingredients
Using a stand mixer is the easiest way to make the best vanilla cake.

Whisk together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. These include sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract.

Whisking eggs, sour cream, and vanilla
The vanilla cake gets more moisture and a nice tang from the addition of sour cream.

Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients.

Tip: It’s very important to not over-mix the batter at this point. Mix until just combined. A cake with an over-mixed batter will end up squat and dense – something you definitely don’t want here. (See my post on overmixing cake batter for more information.)

Cupcake batter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the blade lifted

Add milk to the batter, again mixing until just combined. This batter is very thin – almost liquid.

Tip: While whole milk will provide the richest flavor, any milk you have in the house will work fine.

Completed cupcake batter
Vanilla cake tastes best when the batter is thinned out with whole milk.

The recipe yields about 3 1/4 cups of cake batter. Divide the batter into two 8-inch round cake pans, using just over 1 1/2 cups per pan. While a perfect dome is essential in a cupcake recipe, it’s not always the best result for a cake maker. You can use these tips from Amanda at iambaker to help create a level cake.

Bake the cake at 350 F for 25 minutes (19 minutes if you are using a convection oven). Since baking times vary, check a few minutes early to see if it is done by inserting a toothpick into the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. Make sure the cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan as well.

Allow cakes to cool to room temperature in the pan, then invert onto a wire rack.

Chill the layers prior to frosting. If the cake is too soft when applying frosting, it can tear and crumble.

vanilla cake

Expert Tips and FAQs

What Makes a Cake Light and Fluffy?

After lots of trial and error, I learned that a mix of butter and oil made for the lightest cake while still maintaining a great flavor. Also, using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour helps to lighten up the cake.

What is Cake Flour?

Cake flour is milled from soft wheat and contains the lowest amount of protein when compared to other flours, around 5 to 8%. I recipe tested this recipe with cake and all-purpose flour and the cake flour made a huge difference.

Can You Replace the Sour Cream with Yogurt?

Yes! You can replace the sour cream in this recipe with Greek yogurt. I did a ton of testing on replacing sour cream with yogurt and found that you can barely tell the difference.

What is the Best Frosting for Vanilla Cake?

If you want to stick with the full-on vanilla experience with your best vanilla cake recipe, I suggest frosting this vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. My vanilla frosting is loaded with actual vanilla bean seeds so it tastes like melted vanilla ice cream; you won’t find a homemade frosting that is easier to make.

You might also like trying rolling this cake in sprinkles to make a sprinkle cake! It can be decorated any way you like. It’s a great base for an occasion cake like a baby shower cake, too.Vanilla buttercream frosting on a mixer paddle

Did you make this recipe? Leave a review!
vanilla cake
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4.41 from 171 votes

Best Vanilla Cake Recipe

This is the best vanilla cake you will ever have!
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 29 minutes
Servings 16 servings
Calories 180kcal
Author Stefani


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 2 large large eggs room temperature
  • 1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup canola oil you can also use vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract use pure, not imitation
  • 2/3 cup whole milk


  • Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
  • In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean. (For those of you who are new to using vanilla beans, check out this video to learn how to get the seeds out of the bean.)
  • Using the back of a spoon, move around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
  • Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes. Because there is so little butter, you’ll end up with a very fine crumb texture.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
  • Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the mixture as needed to make sure that everything is incorporated into the batter.
  • Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined. The batter will be liquid. (Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s supposed to be that way.)
  • Divide the batter evenly between two 8″ round cake pans.
  • Bake for 20 minutes (16 minutes if using a convection oven) and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it. The cakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean. They should not turn a golden brown. If they are not done, test again in two minutes. If they are still not done, test again in another two minutes.
  • When the cakes are done, place them on a cooling rack (or just on your counter if you don’t own a cooling rack) to cool to room temperature. Then, refrigerate before frosting.


For the true vanilla lover, frost with vanilla buttercream frosting, using vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract.


Calories: 180kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 31mg | Sodium: 124mg | Potassium: 79mg | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 165IU | Calcium: 39mg | Iron: 0.3mg
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