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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.
  • Oil has more water than butter, so the wet batter bakes up into a very moist cake. 
  • 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.

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

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

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.


  • 2 1/2 cups (11.25 oz, 315g) cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 240 ml) vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 240 ml) buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (16 oz, 448g) granulated sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of three 8" round cake pans with parchment paper, or butter and flour the bottom of the pans (don't butter/flour the sides). (see note)
  2. Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda and set aside.
  3. Combine the oil, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.
  6. Cool completely before filling and icing.


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.

Did you make this recipe?

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

a vanilla chiffon cake on a cake stand
Vanilla Chiffon Cake
A frosted cake on a cake stand
American Buttercream Frosting


Monday 12th of April 2021

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!


Thursday 18th of March 2021

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!

Eileen Gray

Thursday 18th of March 2021

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.

Roy "Blu" C.

Friday 26th of February 2021

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!!

Hilary Van Drunen

Monday 22nd of February 2021

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.

Eileen Gray

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

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.


Friday 15th of January 2021

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.