Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake is the old fashioned layer cake we all know and love. The cake has a moist, fine crumb and lovely vanilla flavor.

an uniced vanilla buttermilk cake on a cake stand

I love this cake because it has a very soft and moist crumb that is reminiscent of a cake made from a box-mix.

WHAT??? How dare I talk about cake mix in this everything-baked-from-scratch-all-the-time blog. 

But wait, stay with me a minute. While I’m convinced that I can always spot a cake made from a mix because there is a certain artificial flavor that comes through, cake mixes do have one thing going for them. 

Cakes made from a mix have a the super soft, very fine crumb that many, many people think of as the quintessential old fashioned layer cake. It’s the kind of cake that I grew up with, and maybe you did too.

But we don’t have to resort to using cake mix.

Why is Vanilla Buttermilk Cake so soft and tender?

  • There are two secret ingredients in this recipe that create the type of super-fine crumb you get from a cake mix — buttermilk and oil.
  • Buttermilk is acidic and acidic ingredients tenderize the cake crumb.
  • Buttermilk has a lovely tangy flavor and helps moisturize the cake.
  • Oil stays liquid at room temperature and when chilled, so cakes made with oil are softer than cakes made with butter.
  • We don’t “cream” the batter as we do with a butter cake, The air in the batter comes from emulsifying the batter and from the leavening. This means we get lots and lots of tiny air bubbles in the batter. That translates to a very fine and even crumb that melts in your mouth.

Scroll through the step by step process photos to see exactly how to make Vanilla Buttermilk Cake:

sifted dry ingredients for baking a vanilla cake
Sift the dry ingredients to remove lumps, aerate and distribute the salt and leavening.
a closeup shot of eggs and oil in a mixing bowl for cake batter
Emulsify the eggs, oil and sugar. This helps create an even crumb and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
a bowl of batter for a vanilla cake recipe make with oil
Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until combined. This is a fairly wet batter, which makes a very moist cake.
three cake pans filled with vanilla buttermilk cake batter
Divide the batter between 3 pans. If you only have 2 pans, put 1/3 of the batter in one pan and 2/3 of the batter in the other. Torte the larger cake after baking.
three vanilla buttermilk cake layers on a cake stand
I always trim the crusts from the layers before filling and icing.
By trimming away the browned edges, you’ll have a really pretty slice of cake.

For all you chocoholics, try this Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake with Old Fashioned Chocolate Frosting to satisfy your cravings.

Got buttermilk? Try these other fabulous cake recipes that use one of my favorite ingredients: Buttermilk Bundt Cake, Buttermilk Spice Cake, Blueberry Crumb Cake.

For a real old-fashioned slice of heaven, fill and frost this cake with simple-to-make American Buttercream. If you prefer your frosting less sweet, try Italian Meringue Buttercream or Ermine Frosting.

You’ll also love my Genoise Sponge Cake recipe , White Cake Recipe and moist and tender Vanilla Butter Cake.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, I’d really appreciate a 5-star review.

a slice of vanilla buttermilk cake on a plate
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4.69 from 354 reviews

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake Recipe

The is the perfect old fashioned buttermilk Cake. The cake has a moist, fine crumb and lovely vanilla flavor. It's perfect filled and iced with Old Fashioned American Buttercream.
Prep Time20 minutes
Bake Time30 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
16 servings
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Ingredients

  • 11 ¼ oz cake flour (2 ½ cups, see note)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 oz vegetable oil (1 cup)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 8 oz buttermilk (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 16 oz granulated sugar (2 cups)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line the bottom of three 8"x3" round cake pans with parchment paper, or butter and flour the bottom of the pans (don't butter/flour the sides). (see note)
  • Sift 11 ¼ oz cake flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon table saltand ¼ teaspoon baking soda and set aside.
  • Combine 8 oz vegetable oil, 4 large eggs, 8 oz buttermilk, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 16 oz granulated sugar in a mixer bowl. Mix on medium speed to combine the ingredients, continue mixing for 2-3 minutes to emulsify the ingredients. With the mixer running on low, add the flour mixture.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the pans. Bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
  • Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.
  • Cool completely before filling and icing.

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Notes

If measuring the flour by volume use the “dip & sweep” method. That is, dip the measuring cup into the flour bin, overfill it, then sweep away the excess.
If you only have two pans you can bake 1/3 of the batter in one pan and 2/3 of the batter in the other pan. Allow extra time for the thicker cake to bake. Once the cakes have cooled, split the larger cake in 1/2 horizontally for a total of 3 layers.

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice | Calories: 333kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 42mg | Sodium: 148mg | Potassium: 56mg | Fiber: 0.5g | Sugar: 29g | Vitamin A: 83IU | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 0.4mg
Have you tried this recipe?Mention @eileen.bakingsense or tag #bakingsense!

86 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Question: Are the oz measurements weight or volume? Dry ingredients weight and wet ingredients volume?

    I like weighing my dry ingredients so I converted 2 1/2 cups of flour into grams (using google). I did the same with the sugar.

    This recipe is great. I made it as cupcakes for my daughter’s third birthday. I’m using german buttercream icing for something a bit less sweet. My daughter helped me make the first batch but in the chaos I forgot to add the eggs! They still came out delicious, a bit dry and crumbly. The second batch we executed perfectly 🙂

    Thanks for sharing all of your baking expertise!

  2. I bake this cake in 2 x8 inch pans for 35 mins. The cake rose nice n flat as I also use baking stripe . On cooling the top of the cake feel damp . Can’t please advice ?

    1. Did you cover the pan as it cooled? Personally, I just peel off the top crust since I don’t like the texture of it under the icing. That being said, if you just leave the cake at room temperature uncovered for a short time I think the top will dry.

      1. Did you “liason” the chocolate into the cream as described and illustrated in the post? Was your chocolate completely cooled and beginning to set?

    2. @Eileen Gray, thank u for your quick reply. I did not cover the cake as it cools . The top feels damp when it was completely cooled. I like yr recipe because the cake rises nicely and has a flat top with the baking stripe.
      Do u advice to bake a bit longer for a browner top ?

      1. Well, you do risk the possibility of over-baking. I’d rather have a pale top than a dry cake. Again, I just peel that top crust off then ice the cake. It would also be your oven. Do you have an oven thermometer? Maybe bake on a higher rack?

  3. Hi, thank you for this recipe!

    I just made it, and the flavor was really good.

    I think I made a mistake somewhere though, I made 2 batches of this, and both came out with a bit of a dome, and I think the edges are too brown/hard as well. There were also little wells when I flip the cake over, not a smooth and flat bottom.

    Did I do something wrong in the process? I was afraid that maybe I overmixed the batter on my first try, so I was much more careful on the second, but the result was almost the same.
    Hope for some troubleshooting tips when you have time, thank you!

    1. It sounds like maybe they baked a little too fast because of the browned sides and domed top. Do you have an oven thermometer? I know my oven runs hot and need to monitor it with an oven thermometer.

  4. I’ve made this cake for several birthdays with rave reviews. Everyone loves it! I’d like to make a slightly taller cake this time…have you ever increased the recipe amounts with any success? I don’t need to double it. Maybe just 25 to 50% more batter? I can do the math, but it makes for some weird measurements, and I’m not sure which ingredients to round down and which ones to round up.

    1. Do you need more cake or just want a taller cake? If you just want a taller cake you could bake more layers in smaller pans. If you baked two 8″ cake you could bake three 6″ cakes for a taller cake. If you let me know what pan sizes you want to use I can suggest how to multiply the recipe.

  5. I’m looking for a cake recipe to use Buttermilk before it goes bad. My question is :
    Can I bake this in a Bundt pan instead of layers ? If so, should I grease & flour (baking spray) the whole inside of the pan, esp. beings you said not to grease the sides of the pans ? I want to do this right for my family and me, of course. Thanks !!!

    1. Always grease and flour a Bundt pan as the cake will stick in the crevices. For regular round and square cake pans I don’t great the sides because I can easily run a small spatula or knife around the cake to release it from the pan. You could make this as a bundt cake, but I have a recipe for Buttermilk Bundt Cake which has a more typical Bundt cake texture.

    1. Yes, the cake can be frozen. Double wrap it in plastic to prevent freezer odors from getting into the cake. Will keep for at least a month if properly wrapped. The baked cake can be stored at room temperature for 2-3 days (refrigerate if you fill it with a perishable filling).

  6. Can you mix in the dry ingredients by hand instead of using the mixer? I don’t want to over mix and end up with a dry cake. My mixer throws flour when mixing flour into a running mixer. Any tips

    1. Just to clarify, over mixing doesn’t necessarily cause a dry cake. For certain recipes, over mixing can cause a tough cake. Yes, you can mix the flour in by hand. I would use a balloon whisk to avoid creating lumps of flour. If you’re using a stand mixer the pouring shield really helps avoid flying flour.

    2. @Eileen Gray, so would it be better to stir the dry ingredients in just enough so flour ingredients is wet and then use the mixer as instructed

      1. It’s a fairly wet batter so you could certainly mix it completely by hand. Whether you work by hand or mixer just mix until the flour is completely incorporated. The most important step in mixing this batter is getting the wet ingredients emulsified. The emulsified batter translates into an even and tender crumb for the cake. So as long as you use the mixer to emulsify the wet ingredients then adding the flour either by hand or mixer will work.

  7. I found the cake a bit too sweet for my taste. Just wondering if you can reduce the sugar? 2 cups seem like a lot to me. I love the texture and added raspberry jam in centre with buttercream icing.

    1. Yes. What I was saying is that you’ll either need to bake fewer layers or use a small pan since you’ll have half as much batter.

  8. Loved it. I am trying to learn how to bake and this recipe worked well for me. I made strawberry jam and used that in the center and then made American Buttercream frosting.

    1. Do you mean jello powder? That might work but it would also add sugar so you might want use it to replace some of the sugar in the recipe.

  9. I used a 9×13 inch pan instead of the recommended ones. It was still very moist and tender. I would definitely make this again.

  10. Hi, is it possible replace some flour with cocoa powder or add cocoa powder to make it chocolate buttermilk cake?

  11. I LOVE this recipe and have made it many times and it ALWAYS turns out great. I have a family member who loves almond-flavored white cake with raspberry filling, but I find the cake recipe I have for that is temperamental, so I never know how the final product will be. I was wondering if I could make this cake using just egg whites and without completely ruining the texture. Have you ever tried that?

  12. So happy to see a cake recipe that leads to a moist cake! I reduced the oil and sugar a little bit, and reduced the oven temperature slightly to account for that. The cake still came out nice and soft. Next time the only thing I might do differently is use a combo of vegetable oil and extra virgin olive oil (or coconut) to give it a bit more flavor. Some members of my family with discerning taste buds don’t care for the flavor from just vegetable oil. This one is a keeper!

  13. Hi, could I also use butter or vegetable butter instead of oil? How would this affect the cake? And how mich should I use? Love your in depth information of how all the ingredients work together!

    1. Oil has more liquid and behaves differently in the batter so the results would be different using butter instead of oil. I couldn’t say what the exact outcome would be without testing it. The cake would probably be OK, but the texture would be different. Oil cakes are softer and moister than butter cakes.

  14. I was looking for a buttermilk cake recipe to remind me of what my grandmother made for me on my birthday. Believe me when I say this is THE ONE! Just like Maw used to make!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this BIRTHDAY CAKE!!!! Thank you sooo very much! Buy the way, I iced this wonderful old time buttermilk cake with divinity icing, just like Gran-maw!!

  15. You say to prepare 3 pans but then say: Divide the batter evenly between the two pans…just want to confirm if it’s 2 or 3 pans? Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the heads up, it’s been fixed. Divide the dough evenly between the 3 pans. If you only have 2 pans you can put 2/3 of the batter in one pan and 1/3 in the other. Split the thicker cake to make a total of 3 layers. You can also bake two larger layers for a two layer cake.

  16. Hi I’ve baked this cake before and I’ve noticed that mine had a crust of sugar on the outside (the outside was sweeter than the inside) do you know why that would happen? Thanks.

    1. Hi! I’m still looking for an answer to this problem or if anyone else experienced this? also do you use the whisk attachment or the beater attachment?

      1. Hi Haley, sorry I didn’t respond sooner. I don’t always see new comments. First of all, I use the paddle attachment on my stand mixer for this recipe. What do you mean by “a crust of sugar”? Do you mean the brown crust around the sides or a crust on the top of the cake. There could be undissolved sugar in the batter. If the sugar did not completely dissolve the excess sugar could rise to the surface create a thick crust. Did you take the time to let the batter mix for 2-3 minutes and emulsify as instructed in step 3? If you rush this step it could compromise the texture of the cake.

  17. Hi Eileen,
    I would like to make a strawberry cake. Which vanilla recipe would you recommend and can you please provide the ingredients needed? I have tried your carrot, chocolate and red velvet cake recipes and OH MY GOD!! so delicious! Thank you .

    1. How do you plan to flavor the cake? With fresh strawberry puree? If that is the case I couldn’t say without extensive testing. The extra liquid from the strawberries plus the acidity would change the texture of the cake quite a bit. My first guess would be to replace some of the buttermilk in this recipe with strawberry puree.

      1. Hi Elieen, I am not sure if puree or freeze dried. I have search and tried others with puree and freeze dried but the texture was not good. I really hope you can help me out. All your othe recipes so far are excellent. Thank you.

        1. Freeze dried strawberries are great for adding berry flavor without too much moisture. I use them for my Strawberry Bundt Cake and Strawberry macarons for exactly that reason. For the bundt cake I tried folding in ground freeze dried strawberries and I didn’t like the color of the cake. I’ll be honest with you, while strawberry cakes can look pretty with the pink color, I generally prefer to flavor my fillings rather than the cake itself. The flour in the cake tends to mute any subtle flavors and I think you get more bang for your buck with highly flavored syrups and fillings.

  18. Hi Eileen,

    If I use 1/2 melted butter and 1/2 oil will I still get the moist texture or will it change the composition completely. I like the taste of butter and just wondering if I can mix the two.

  19. Love, love, love this cake! I had to adjust to my dairy intolerance (Silk almond milk plus lemon to make ‘buttermilk’). I also decided I wanted an almond flavored cake so I added a scant tablespoon of almond extract as well as the vanilla. The cake is so moist! And has so much flavor. I tasted the batter before I made it a vanilla cake and I could have eaten the batter just by itself. Yum! I made it in a 9×13 pan baked at 350 for 45 minutes and frosted with chocolate frosting and it was perfect. I think next time I will frost with the vanilla buttercream. My go to white cake vanilla or almond. It’s 9:45 in the morning and I have to go have a bite or 2 because I’m reviewing this cake 😉

  20. Hello, I’d like to use three 6” inch pans. How would I change it? Would I have to half the ingredients? Please help!

    1. An 8″ round pan has an area of 50.24″ (1/2 the 8″ radius squared x 3.14). A 6″ pan has an area of 28.26″. If you divide 28.6 by 50.24 you get 56%. So that means a 6″ pan has just a little more than 1/2 the area of an 8″ pan. So if you halve the recipe you should get a good result.

    1. Yes. I wrap the sides of a semi-naked cake with plastic wrap when storing it to prevent the sides from drying out.

  21. Dumb question: I’m just wanting a great, moist vanilla layer cake. Would you recommend this one or your Vanilla Butter cake recipe? What’s the difference in flavor/consistency between the 2?

    1. This cake will be a bit softer and lighter and Vanilla Butter Cake will have a more “melt in your mouth” texture. It’s really a matter of taste. If you prefer something with a texture closer to a cake mix this would be the choice. If you want something closer to a pound cake (but a little lighter) the Vanilla Butter Cake would be the choice.

  22. Hi! I’m baking this recipe for my daughters first year 🙂
    Is it okay if I use only one pan for baking all the batter together?
    Thank you!

    1. You’d have to use a larger pan to accommodate all the batter. If you fill the pan more than 2/3 full it doesn’t bake evenly. What size pan did you have in mind? Something like a 9″x13″ baking pan would work.

  23. I want to use this recipe to make a funfetti cake for my daughters birthday. Is it ok to just add the sprinkles before baking? Will this affect the final product in anyway?

  24. Pls can I add cornstarch to my all purpose flour to get cake flour and can I use plain milk and vinegar to get the buttermilk?

  25. Hi Eileen,
    Just made the cake and the texture came.out great. If I reduce the amount or sugar by half, will this affect the texture of the cake when baked?

    1. Yes, you can stack just about any cake if you have the proper supports in place. I always use bubble straws.

  26. Wonderful cake recipe! When you trim your crusts, how do you ensure that crumbs don’t get in the frosting. I would really like to perfect this when I do my next cake.

  27. Hi Eileen,
    Why do some of your cake recipes call for the sugar to be added to the wet ingredients (such as your vanilla cake) and other recipes call for it to be added to the dry ingredients. Also, why do you only butter and flour the bottom if your pans and not the sides.
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Elaine, when you add the sugar depends on how you’re mixing. If you use the “creaming” method the sugar goes in with the butter. For reverse creaming the sugar goes in with the dry ingredients. For this cake the sugar goes in with the eggs so the liquid can start to melt the sugar and the wet ingredients can emulsify with the eggs. In my White Cake post I explain why I only butter/flour the bottom of the pans. Actually, I always use a parchment round, but it’s the same idea. I find I get a better rise with the sides of the cake clinging to the pan.

      1. Hi Eileen,
        I hate to sound redundant, but is there a particular reason you added the sugar to your dry ingredients for your red velvet cake and not to the wet ingredients as you did in the vanilla buttermilk cake.
        Thanks

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