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How to Make Perfect Vanilla Butter Cake

This is the only Vanilla Butter Cake recipe you’ll ever want or need. Mixing technique can make a big difference when making cake batter. Find out the best way to get a light and tender cake.

Closeup of three forks with a bite of cake at the end of each fork. Gray background
Three different ways to mix the same vanilla cake.

When I was developing the base recipe for my wedding cake business I wanted a tender and melt-in-your mouth layer cake that could be stacked into a multi-tier wedding centerpiece or carved into a detailed 3-d creation. This Vanilla Butter Cake recipe was the basis for most of the cakes I sold at Cake Art Studio.

Step 1, Choose the ingredients:

Every time I develop a new cake recipe I rely on something called the “Baker’s Percentage” to help me balance the ingredients in the recipe. You can find the exact percentages for this Vanilla Butter Cake recipe in this all-encompassing post describing how to create the best cake recipes.

The ingredients in this recipe are fairly standard for a vanilla cake. But there are some special choices that I made. I use sour cream in place of the more typical milk to tenderize and add richness to the batter.

Instead of just using whole eggs I use extra egg yolks for richness and I whip the whites and fold them into the batter for an extra light and soft cake crumb.

But the biggest difference between this recipe and many of the other basic yellow cake recipes you might have tried is they way the batter is mixed.

Step 2, Work on your technique:

I always make my butter cakes using the “reverse creaming” method of mixing. Honestly, when I developed this recipe for my cake business I only tested it using the reverse creaming technique since that’s the only way I make butter cakes.

A short explanation – The traditional “creaming method”, which you’re probably most familiar with, starts by whipping together the butter and sugar to incorporate air into the batter.

Reverse creaming starts with the butter mixed into the dry ingredients to prevent gluten formation. How does it work?

Gluten won’t start to form until the flour comes in contact with water (in the egg whites). Coating the flour molecules with butterfat before the eggs are added creates a barrier which slows the formation of gluten. Less gluten means a softer cake crumb.

(To learn all about cake batter mixing methods visit the Cake Batter Mixing Methods Post.)

One Recipe, three very different cakes

Because showing is always better than telling, I figured I should do a quick kitchen experiment to back up my claims that reverse creaming is the way to go for this cake.

I used the same ingredients and mixed them with traditional creaming, reverse creaming and reverse creaming with the eggs separated and the whites whipped and folded in.

Some differences were immediately noticeable. The batter made by the traditional creaming method was a darker yellow and felt a little more dense than the other two batters.  The traditional cake baked up shorter than the cakes made with the reverse method.

The Proof is in the tasting!

But the true test would be the tasting, and there were distinct differences between the three cakes.

Cake 1 (traditional creaming method) had an open and regular crumb, but was not as tender as I would like and it had a slightly oily mouth-feel.

Cake 2 (reverse creaming) was very tender, velvety and soft.

Cake 3 (reverse method with whipped whites) had a slightly irregular but very tender crumb. It was not quite as velvety as cake 2, but it was lighter and quite tender.

Three cakes on a cooling rack with kitchen in the background.
Three cakes with the exact same ingredients, but different mixing methods. Three different outcomes. Left=Traditional Method, Middle=Reverse Creaming, Right=Reverse with Whipped Whites
Three pieces of vanilla cake on a white background. Each cake has a different texture.
The bottom cake=traditional, the middle cake=Reverse, the top cake=Reverse with whipped whites
Three slices of vanilla cake side by side on a white background.
The cake on the left=Traditional, middle=Reverse, Right=Reverse with Whipped Whites.

For Vanilla Butter Cake I still like my method of reverse creaming and whipped eggs whites to get the best of both worlds; a tender cake with a light and airy crumb.

This is a really great all purpose yellow cake that is tender yet strong enough for stacking or carving. For more information about cake batter, visit the Baking School page.

a four layer vanilla cake on a white cake stand

Watch the recipe video to see how to do the “reverse creaming” method for a light and tender cake.


If you love classic recipes like this, you’ll love my new book: Easy Baking From Scratch: Quick Tutorials, Time-Saving Tips, Extraordinary Sweet and Savory Classics. The book contains over 100 recipes that have been well-tested and are presented in simple, clear language. It’s available now on Amazon.

Now that you’ve made this recipe what should you do with all the extra egg whites? Check out this collection of recipes that use extra whites for some great ideas.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, please consider leaving a 5-star review.

A four layer Vanilla cake on a white cake stand.

Vanilla Butter Cake

Yield: 12-16 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Perfectly tender and buttery vanilla cake layers. Super soft, yet strong enough for sculpted or wedding cakes.

Ingredients

  • 6 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 224g) sour cream at room temperature, divided
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (9 oz, 255g) cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 340g) granulated sugar, 1/4 cup separated
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 sticks + 2 tablespoons (9 oz, 255g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 8" round cake pans with a circle of parchment paper or butter and flour the bottom of the pans only, not the sides.
  2. Combine the yolks, 1/2 the sour cream and the vanilla in a small bowl, whisk to combine, set aside.
  3. Into a mixer bowl put 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, sift in the flour, leavening and salt. Mix on low speed for 10 seconds to distribute the leavening. Add the butter to the flour mixture. Mix on low until the butter is incorporated and the batter looks like a paste. Add the other 1/2 of the sour cream to the flour and butter mixture. Increase the speed to medium and mix about 3 minutes until the batter lightens in texture. If you're using a hand mixer add another minute or two to the total time.
  4. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer on low, add 1/2 the egg yolk mixture. Mix until mostly incorporated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the rest of the egg yolk mixture. Scrape the bowl and mix until incorporated.
  5. In another bowl, whip the egg whites on medium high until they form soft peaks. Turn the mixer to medium low and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Turn the mixer to medium high and whip the whites to full peak. Fold the whites into the base in 2 parts, folding just until there are no streaks of egg whites.
  6. Divide the batter between the 2 pans and spread so it's level.
  7. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.
  8. Cool 10 minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a cooling rack. When fully cooled, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight before filling and assembling the cake.

Notes

The cake is very soft the day that it's baked. If you'd like to trim the crust and split the layers allow it to chill in the refrigerator until it's firm enough to handle without breaking. The filled cake can be kept at room temperature for several days (unless it has a perishable filling). The cake cake be frozen for several months.

Did you make this recipe?

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Teni

Wednesday 14th of April 2021

I would like to try your recipe today. Can I use a mix of all purpose bleached flour and cake flour?

Teni

Wednesday 14th of April 2021

@Eileen Gray, thank you

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 14th of April 2021

You can, but if you have cake flour I would just use cake flour as listed in the recipe. If you don't have quite enough cake flour the, yes, you can fill it in with bleach ap flour.

Leigh-Ann Williamson

Monday 5th of April 2021

Hi! Thank you so much for sharing your recipes, you have really helped me take my baking to the next level! I have just a few questions: First, I've made this Vanilla butter cake both as cupcakes and as the recipe directs (both turned out perfectly). I'm making a 6-inch birthday cake next, and was wondering if I should divide the recipe in half for three 6-inch pans? Second, your American Buttercream recipe from your blog is amazing! I recently purchased your cookbook from Amazon and I noticed the recipe differs in your cookbook from the one on your blog, just wondering which recipe you would recommend. I live in Key West, so it is VERY warm and humid here, if that makes any difference as to which recipe you would recommend. Last, this is more of a side note for any potential readers- the first time I made the IMBC, I used salted butter, typically I prefer the extra salt in my stuff, but it RUINED the buttercream. My friend recommended I try it again with unsalted butter, and it made all the difference! The salted butter caused the frosting to taste like a straight stick of butter. Yes, I should definitely follow the recipes as written, but never has substituting salted for unsalted butter made such a difference before! Thank you for reading.

Shelby

Wednesday 31st of March 2021

I am interested in baking in a sheet pan. Would this recipe work in a half sheet pan? I'd like to still have the ability to cut in half for layers. I'd like to use this base cake for different flavors of flavored layers/icing.

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 31st of March 2021

Yes, you can bake this recipe in a half sheet pan.

Kemi

Saturday 27th of March 2021

Also do I need to double the recipe to make 3 8x2 inch cakes? Thank you

Kemi

Saturday 27th of March 2021

@Eileen Gray, so it will be fine right?

Eileen Gray

Saturday 27th of March 2021

This recipe make a four layer cake. I bake it in two 8" pans and split each cake to have four layers.

Kemi

Saturday 27th of March 2021

Thank you for sharing your recipe. I would like to ask what do you think of subbing heavy cream for the sour cream? Or use half of both ? Thanks

Kemi

Saturday 27th of March 2021

@Eileen Gray, thank you

Eileen Gray

Saturday 27th of March 2021

Heavy cream would give a different outcome since you won't have the acidity you have with sour cream. Also, there would be more moisture. The cake might be fine, but it would have a different texture. I would say that greek yogurt would be the best substitution.