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Velvety Soft White Cake

This White Cake is soft and velvety with perfect vanilla flavor.

Have you ever taken a bite of a beautiful white cake only to be disappointed by it’s rubbery texture and bland taste? With the proper ingredients and mixing technique you can make a great White Cake at home, from scratch.

A slice of four layer velvety soft white cake with white icing on a glass plate.

A reader told me she’d gotten some bad advice on the internet (shocking!) about making substitutions in a cake batter. She wanted to make a moist white cake, but her first attempt was a failure.

I gave her some suggestions to adapt my Vanilla Butter Cake recipe and she got a better, but not perfect, result. So of course this got me thinking that it was time to get in the kitchen and run a few experiments. Yipee!

I love a good kitchen experiment, so I’m always happy to have an excuse to take apart a recipe and tweak it to get the desired outcome.

How to make the best Classic White Cake.

I did extensive research and testing into what makes a good cake recipe for my “Cake Batter”  series. I knew that information would help me create a really soft and tender white cake that still had good vanilla flavor.

I detailed exactly how I use the Baker’s Formula create my cake recipes in this post. Take a look, there’s tons of really great information.

What the difference between white cake and vanilla cake?

  • Most of the yellow color in a vanilla cake comes from the egg yolks. My Vanilla Butter Cake recipe has extra yolks, which gives that cake great moisture, great flavor and a lovely pale yellow crumb.
  • To adapt my Vanilla cake to become a White Cake, obviously, I would start with the eggs.
  • So, the question is, how to eliminate the yolks without making the cake rubbery and tasteless.
  • I won’t go into all the details here. Any of you baking geeks who want in depth information about how eggs work in cake batter can visit the “Eggs in Cake Batter” class.
  • The synopsis: Eggs whites are full of protein, which helps create the structure of a cake. But too much structure can make a cake rubbery or tough, which is most often the problem with cakes made with only egg whites. Also, yolks have fat, so eliminating the yolks could make the cake taste drier.

I did 5 recipe tests to make the best Classic White Cake:

The first change I made to the Vanilla Cake recipe was to eliminate the yolks and use more whites; 6 egg whites instead of 6 yolks+3 whites.

I kept the sour cream in the recipe because it tenderizes the cake, adds flavor and of course does not interfere with the white color. 

For the first 3 test cakes I changed how I mixed the ingredients together. Mixing technique can make a BIG difference in a cake’s texture.

Check out the “Cake Batter Mixing Methods” class to find out why I use the “Reverse Creaming” technique for my butter cakes.

Testing the white cake mixing method:
  • For the first cake test I mixed the ingredients with the Reverse Creaming method, and I added the liquid egg whites directly into the batter.
  • For the second cake test I mixed half the egg whites into the batter as a liquid, and whipped and the other half of the whites and folded them into the batter.
  • For the third cake test I whipped all 6 egg whites and folded them into the batter.

You can see the difference in the first three cakes in the photo. The cake made with liquid whites had a very tight crumb and the cake with whipped whites had a lighter, more open crumb.

But even more importantly, the cake made with the whipped whites was much softer and more velvety than the other two cakes. That’s not really surprising.

Five slices of white cake from various test cakes showing the difference in texture.

Whipping egg whites has the same effect as cooking whites- the proteins unfold, reattach and trap water. Since whipped whites are already partially “cooked” they don’t contribute as strongly to the structure of the cake.

In my testing for the “Eggs in Cake Batter” class, I found that a cake has a softer texture when the whites were whipped and folded into the batter.

One other note on the egg whites, if you see in the recipe video the whites hold a peak but are not stiff and dry looking. If you over-whip the whites they won’t rise as well and you’ll loose some volume in the cake. 

Ok, now that I had the technique down, I wanted to see if making changes to some of the other ingredients could change the color or texture of the cake.

Next I would focus on the other “yellow” ingredient in the recipe, the butter.

Testing the best fat to use for a classic white cake:
  • I made one cake with 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening and the other cake with all shortening and no butter. There wasn’t much of a difference in color by substituting the butter with shortening. The textures were also pretty similar.
  • I definitely preferred the taste of the all butter cake to either of the cakes with shortening. But I know I have a deep love for butter which might have colored my opinion.
  • I had my husband do a blind tasting of the three cakes and he also liked the butter cake best. He described the flavor as “more creamy”. Well, yea!

So it’s butter for the win, again!

(If your butter has a very yellow color you can substitute all or some of the butter with shortening to get a whiter crumb. The butter cake tasted better, but the others tasted good. Once they’re filled with buttercream the difference would be less noticeable.)

Testing the vanilla extract versus vanilla sugar in classic white cake:
  • I made a cake using vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract to see if that would affect the color or flavor of the cake.
  • The flavor was good with both, but there really was not a noticeable difference in whiteness without the vanilla.
  • I don’t recommend “clear” vanilla since it’s not really vanilla at all.
An cross section of a four layer velvety soft white cake 1/2 on a glass cake stand.
A half-eaten slice of four layer velvety soft white cake on a glass plate

So, there you have it! A beautiful classic white cake that tastes as good as it looks. It’s moist from the sour cream and tender because of the mixing technique.

Keep those questions coming! I love them!

I love to fill and ice Velvety Soft White Cake with snow-white Ermine Frosting. You can get the recipe for Ermine Frosting in my new book: Easy Baking From Scratch: Quick Tutorials, Time-Saving Tips, Extraordinary Sweet and Savory Classics .  Order it on Amazon today.

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

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

velvety soft white cake

Velvety Soft White Cake

Yield: 16 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

It is possible to make velvety, soft white cake from scratch. How you mix the cake makes a big difference. By using the reverse creaming technique you'll get a white cake with a tender and moist crumb.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (9oz, 252g) cake flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 336g) granulated sugar, 1/2 cup set aside.
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 224g) sour cream at room temperature, divided
  • 2 sticks (8 oz, 224g) unsalted butter at room temperature (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
  • 6 fresh large egg whites (7 oz, 196g), at room temperature (do not use pasteurized egg whites or they might not whip up properly)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 8" cake pans (don't use non-stick pans) with a circle of parchment paper or butter and flour the bottom of pans only. Do not butter and flour the sides of the pan.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt with 1 cup granulated sugar. Mix the dry ingredients on low speed for 30 seconds to distribute the leavening. With the mixer on low speed, add half the sour cream and toss in the butter a tablespoon at a time.
  3. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer running on low speed, add the remaining sour cream and vanilla.
  4. Increase the speed to medium and beat about 3-4 minutes until the batter lightens in texture and becomes aerated. If your using a hand mixer this may take an extra minute or two. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure there are no pockets of unmixed batter.
  5. In another bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium high until they form soft peaks. Turn the mixer to medium low and slowly add the other 1/2 cup sugar. Turn the mixer to medium and whip the whites to full peak.
  6. Fold the whites into the base in 3 parts, folding just until there are no streaks of egg white. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and spread so it's level.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes until the center of the cake springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  8. Cool at least 20 minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

**The cake will "settle" a bit as it cools. That's fine.**

  1. Trim the brown edges off the cake, split each cake into two layers
  2. Fill and ice with vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream or your favorite icing.

Notes

Room temperature butter is between 65°F and 70°F. It should be slightly pliable but not soft and melting.

The assembled cake can be kept at room temperature for several days (unless it has a perishable filling).

Un-iced, the cake can be wrapped in two layers of plastic wrap and frozen for several months.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

Denise

Friday 3rd of September 2021

Instead of vanilla, would almond flavor work for this cake? I always use almond in my buttercream frosting and my family absolutely adores it. Just thinking about the unification of flavoring from cake to frosting.

Eileen Gray

Saturday 4th of September 2021

Sure, use any flavoring that suits your needs.

Ritika

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Also suggest for sour cream . Can I make it by adding vinegar in milk, will it work?

Eileen Gray

Monday 23rd of August 2021

You can use yogurt in place of sour cream. But there may be a difference in texture depending on how loose or thick your yogurt is.

Ritika

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Hey Elieen,I don't use eggs for cake. Can you please suggest me what to use in place of eggs?

Deanna

Friday 17th of September 2021

@Eileen Gray, There are recipes out there that use no dairy or eggs. A touch of vinegar helps with the rising but yes the recipes are completely different. I bake vegan treats often and that is a standard find in these recipes.

Eileen Gray

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Sorry, that's not a quick answer. Eggs do some pretty heavy lifting in this recipe and a simple 1:1 replacement is not realistic. It would take quite a bit of testing to develop a white cake recipe without eggs.

Chioma

Monday 9th of August 2021

Good day, I see you use cake flour à lot. This is not readily available in my area. Please can you write the recipe to make cake flour from all-purpose flour?

Eileen Gray

Tuesday 10th of August 2021

For each cup of cake flour use 3/4 cup of all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons of corn starch.

Rickster

Thursday 29th of July 2021

Hi Eileen, this cake, just by the photos alone, looks totally moist and amazing. Although I am a fan of just about any cake, I prefer chocolate. Do you have a recipe like this but for chocolate cake? Look forward to your reply.

Eileen Gray

Friday 30th of July 2021

Yes, this recipe is based on my basic vanilla butter cake. This Chocolate Butter Cake is also a version of the same recipe.

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