How to Make the Best Vanilla Cake You’ve Ever Tasted

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Our Test Kitchen has created our best vanilla cake recipe yet. It's tender, moist and packed with rich vanilla flavor—a must for any special occasion.

Whether it’s a birthday, an anniversary, a baby on the way or just a job well done, having a great vanilla cake recipe in your baking repertoire is a good idea. A rich, moist and flavorful vanilla cake is a great people-pleasing dessert that can be dressed up for any special occasion. However, finding a recipe that manages to hit all those marks can be challenging—until now.

Maggie Knoebel, a culinary assistant in our Test Kitchen, spent months perfecting this white cake recipe. After dozens of practice cakes, she created the best vanilla cake any of us at Taste of Home have tried. It’s moist, lush and incredibly flavorful—a feat for vanilla cake. We’ll walk you through how to make Maggie’s masterpiece. You’ll definitely want this one on hand for your next celebration.

The Best Vanilla Cake Recipe

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To make this showstopping cake, you’ll need some kitchen basics as well as your favorite vanilla extract and paste. A double dose here makes all the difference! Maggie also recommends her luscious vanilla buttercream frosting to top it all off.

Here are some of our favorite baking supplies to help you get started:

For the cake:

  • 1-1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

For the frosting:

  • 6 ounces white baking chips
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, cubed

Step 1: Combine Your Vanillas

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Start this cake by combining both the vanilla extract and paste together in a bowl with sour cream. Let this sit for ten minutes.

This recipe uses two kinds of vanilla—extract and paste. Trust us, you want to use both here to get all the flavor. Many white cakes tend to be a bit mild, but this one brings great flavor thanks to this double dose. And make sure to use the good vanilla here—you’ll notice it.

As for the sour cream, it helps make this cake extra moist and tender.

Step 2: Mix Up the Cake Batter

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While the vanillas and sour cream are sitting, sift together cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together twice. You’ll want to sift twice just to make sure there are absolutely no lumps here and to ensure the cake is as fluffy and soft as possible (the cake flour also helps make the cake soft). Then add canola oil and softened butter and beat until the mixture is crumbly.

Next, add the egg whites one at a time to create the batter. Be sure to beat well after each addition. Then add the whole eggs—again, one at a time—and beat well. Be sure to scrape down the sides of your bowl occasionally. Finally, add in the sour cream and vanilla mixture and beat in your mixer until just combined.

Editor’s tip: If you forgot to take the butter out of the fridge, here are some tips on how to soften butter fast.

Step 3: Bake

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After you’ve mixed up your cake batter, it’s time to prep your cake pans. You’ll want to grease and line three nine-inch pans with parchment paper. If you don’t have three pans—don’t sweat it, you can make the cake layers in shifts.

Divide the batter equally between the three pans and bake in a 350ºF oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean. When the cakes are done, move them to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then turn them out of the pan, peel away the paper and let them cool all the way before frosting.

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Editor’s tip: If you’re new to baking cakes, you can get step-by-step instructions on how to grease a cake pan here.

Step 4: Make the Buttercream Frosting

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While your cakes are cooling, you can work away at the frosting. This modified Swiss meringue buttercream frosting is definitely a level up from basic American buttercream (that’s butter, confectioners’ sugar and milk), but it’s worth the extra effort. After all, if you’re going to make a special occasion cake like this, you may as well finish it off with decadent frosting.

Start making the frosting by melting the baking chips with cream until smooth. You can do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts. Once this mixture is smooth and melted, stir in the vanilla paste and extract. Set this aside to cool slightly.

While that rests, whisk the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in a heatproof bowl until well blended. Then place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water on medium heat. Whisk the mixture constantly until a thermometer reads 160ºF. This should take about six to eight minutes.

Editor’s tip: An instant-read thermometer, like our Test Kitchen’s favorite Thermapen, comes in really handy here. It’s a worthwhile investment for baking, cooking and grilling.

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When the mixture reaches that temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and beat on high speed until the frosting cools down to 90ºF. This will take around seven minutes, so be patient! Gradually beat in the butter a few tablespoons at a time on medium speed until the butter is well incorporated. Finally, beat in the cooled vanilla and white chocolate mixture until well blended.

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Editor’s tip: Not a white chocolate person? Don’t worry! The addition of white baking chips here just adds a bit of sweetness and richness. The vanilla imparts the most flavor.

Step 5: Frost the Cake

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With the tender vanilla cake made and the Swiss meringue buttercream frosting ready, it’s time to put them together. If you find that your cakes are a bit mounded on top and not quite ready for stacking, you can carefully even them out with a serrated knife. Here’s how to level cakes.

Once the layers are nice and flat, place the first layer of cake on your cake stand or plate. To help it stay in place as you frost, you can put a small dab of frosting on the plate and then place the layer on top. This will keep it from scooting around.

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Then using an offset spatula—one of our favorite baking essentials—frost between the layers. Once your layers are stacked, you can give the outside a quick crumb coat. A crumb coat is just a very thin layer of frosting that you spread over the whole cake. This thin coating helps contains any crumbs (hence the name) and serves as a good base for further decorating.

With the crumb coat finished, you can frost the outside however you like. You can opt for fancy piping or just simple swirls using that offset spatula. This cake will be gorgeous however you finish it.

Editor’s tip: You can learn about frosting a cake in-depth with our tutorial.

The Finished Cake: Total Perfection for Any Special Occasion

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Slice into this moist vanilla cake and you’ll be shocked it’s not from a bakery. The flecks of vanilla bean from the vanilla paste give it that decadent look and just makes your mouth water at what’s to come.

You can serve this cake up plain, but it would be divine paired with some fresh berries spooned over the top or even a scoop of your favorite ice cream. And if you need tips on how to get the perfect slices of cake (and you’ll want them with this beauty), learn how to (easily) cut a cake.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.