Whip up a timeless favourite – this moist fluffy vanilla butter cake topped with rich vanilla buttercream frosting is guaranteed to be your new go-to.
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A basic vanilla cake recipe may be one of the first things you try your hand at in the kitchen, or it may be one of those recipes that you haven’t got around to mastering – a lot of people aren’t confident at cakes, so they stick to buying cooked cakes or using a tried-and-tested baking mix. Well, we think everyone should know how to make a vanilla cake recipe from scratch, so make this your go-to recipe. It’s perfect for birthdays and other celebrations and makes a great-tasting morning or afternoon tea cake too.
This classic vanilla cake recipe is a basic butter cake. This type of cake is based on a pound cake or quatre quarts in France (French for ‘four quarters’), which is traditionally made with similar quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. Butter cake recipes usually begin by beating softened butter and sugar together in a bowl – this is known as creaming, because the mixture looks pale and creamy after beating. Sponge cake recipes have a higher ratio of eggs to sugar and flour and begin by beating the eggs and sugar to incorporate air, then folding in flour and a little melted butter gently to avoid knocking any air out.
This is the best vanilla cake recipe to have up your sleeve because it’s easy to make and decorate any way you like. It includes a rich vanilla buttercream that can be left white or tinted with food colouring to suit your decorating plans. There are two layers in this cake, but you can make it a four layer cake by cutting each cake in half horizontally and making double the quantity of buttercream.
With any baking recipe, it’s a good idea to have all your equipment prepared before you start measuring and mixing. Make sure you turn on the oven first to give it plenty of time to preheat – it needs to reach 180°C before the cake goes in to ensure it cooks evenly. Next, prepare your cake pans. This recipe uses 2 round cake pans measuring 18 centimetres in diameter across the base, which you’ll need to grease and line with baking paper to stop the cake sticking. Using 2 pans is easier than cooking the cake in a single pan and cutting it in half after baking – as long as you divide the batter evenly between the pans you’re guaranteed to get nice even layers for your cake.
If you’re going to make a lot of cakes and other baking recipes, it’s good to invest in an electric mixer, such as a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. These make light work of creaming the butter and sugar, which takes longer than you may think – about 5 minutes. If you don’t have one, do it the traditional way using a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl, but it will take longer to beat in enough air to make the butter mixture turn pale and creamy. An electric mixer also helps you beat the eggs into the batter and whip up a light and airy buttercream icing to decorate the finished cake.
Another useful piece of equipment for baking is a wire rack. Cake pans retain heat after you remove them from the oven, so only leave the cake in the pan for about 5 minutes. This standing time helps the cake firm up slightly as it cools – if you turn it out while it’s too hot it can fall apart. Once the 5 minutes is up, turn the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely. This allows steam to escape and air to circulate around the cake so it cools faster and more evenly.
Other useful equipment includes a skewer for testing the cake and a palette knife for spreading buttercream over the top and sides – easier and more effective to use than a regular knife or spatula.
As the name suggests, butter is an important ingredient in this classic butter cake recipe. You’ll need a whole 250g block of butter for this cake. Make sure you remove the butter from the fridge well ahead so it can come to room temperature and soften. If the butter is too cold, it will be too firm and difficult to cream into the sugar, so you will probably have small lumps of butter in the cake batter when it goes into the oven. As the cake bakes, the lumps of butter will melt and there will be holes in the finished cake instead of an even crumb texture.
When the butter has softened, add it to your mixing bowl with 1 cup (220g) caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste and beat them for at least 5 minutes or until pale, creamy and aerated. Caster sugar is great for baking because it has smaller granules that dissolve more easily and cakes made with caster sugar have a finer crumb texture than ones made with regular white or raw sugar. Vanilla paste is ideal when you want a strong vanilla flavour with visible vanilla seeds, but it’s fine to use the same amount of vanilla extract instead.
To avoid curdling the mixture, bring the 3 eggs to room temperature before you get cracking and only add them one at a time, beating until well combined between additions. If the batter does split though, don’t worry too much – it should come together once the flour is added.
Some cake recipes call for a combination of flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda for the dry ingredients, but this easy vanilla cake just uses 2 cups (300g) self-raising flour. It’s important not to overworking the mixture after adding flour because this can make the cake tough, so switch from the electric mixer to a wooden spoon to stir the flour in gently. Do this in batches, alternating with ½ cup (125ml) milk, which helps to loosen the batter.
Now it’s time to divide the mixture evenly between the prepared pans – if you’re not sure how even they are, kitchen scales may be helpful. Don’t be tempted to bang the pans on a work surface after filling – this knocks the air out. Just smooth the surface of the mixture with the back of a spoon. Then bake the cakes for 30 minutes. To test if they’re cooked, insert a skewer into the centres – it should come out clean. Let the cakes stand in the pans for 5 minutes, then turn onto the wire rack and carefully remove the baking paper.
While the cakes are cooling, whip up a batch of vanilla buttercream. For this, you’ll need another 190g softened butter, 2 1/4 cups (360g) icing sugar mixture, another 2 tablespoons of milk and another teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. Start by beating the butter in a clean bowl until it’s very pale, then begin adding the icing sugar in batches, making sure you beat well after each addition to remove any lumps. Beat in the milk and vanilla, then tint with food colouring if you like – we used a few drops of pink liquid food colouring to tint this cake pale pink.
Make sure the cakes are completely cool before decorating – if they’re still warm, it can melt the buttercream. Trim the top of one cake to create an even layer for the base, place it on a serving plate, then spread buttercream evenly over the top and side. Put the other cake on top and spread the top and side with more buttercream. For a simple finish, decorate the top of the cake with sprinkles.
Master this moist vanilla cake recipe with our handy tips and you’ll be ready to create a crowd-pleasing cake for any occasion. Want to get creative with decorating but not sure where to start? Use this easy vanilla cake recipe to make the base layers for our watermelon buttercream cake and confetti fondant layer cake. Keen for more basic baking recipes? Check out our baked cheesecake recipe, classic banana bread and basic chocolate brownie recipe. Plus, find more must-try cakes in our dessert recipes collection.
Energy: 1720kJ/411 Cals (20%)
Protein: 5g (10%)
Fat: 22g (31%)
Sat fat: 14g (58%)
Carb: 50g (16%)
Sugar: 31g (34%)
Fibre: 1g (3%)
Sodium: 328mg (16%)