Vanilla Birthday Cake with Old-Fashioned Vanilla Buttercream

5 stars based on 6 votes

vanilla-birthday-cake

My daughter is turning eight years old this week, and for months she’s been begging me for two things: a puppy and her favorite vanilla birthday cake. The puppy is definitely not going to happen — I already have my hands full with this big guy.

But the cake’s easy. I’ve made this simple vanilla cake every year on her birthday since she was two. The cake recipe is adapted from one of my favorite baking books, Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri, and the frosting recipe was handed down to me from my great-grandmother.

I know baking a cake from scratch can be intimidating, and I won’t lie: it can be tricky. But it doesn’t have to be. The key – as long as you have a solid recipe like this one – is to follow the instructions carefully. If the recipe says the eggs should be at room temperature, make sure they are; if the recipe calls for adding flour in four separate additions and scraping down the bowl in between, make sure you do it. Without getting into the science of it — which, in all honesty, makes my head spin — I can tell you that all these little steps are important to ensure your cake bakes up tender and delicious. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and a good homemade cake puts all those boxed mixes and canned frostings to shame.

To begin, whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

Next, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg whites and milk. Be sure the eggs are at room temperature, otherwise your batter may curdle. To warm them up quickly, place them in a bowl of hot water before cracking them.

When the butter and sugar are creamed, beat in the vanilla and almond extract, then add one-quarter of the flour mixture and beat on low speed.

Then add one-third of the milk mixture.

Continue alternating adding the flour and milk mixtures, scraping down the bowl as necessary, then pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth the tops. Note that this cake can be made in either 8 or 9-inch cake pans; the former will be higher and the latter will flatter.

Bake the layers for 30-35 minutes, until they are well risen and firm. Cool the layers in the pans for five minutes, then unmold onto racks to finish cooling.

While the cake cools, make the frosting. It’s easy: just cream the butter and cream cheese together, then add the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.

When the layers are cool, frost the cake.

You can spread the frosting smooth, or swirl it casually with a butter knife like I do. Since it’s an all white cake, I like to scatter some festive nonpareils or confetti sprinkles on top for color. For a change, if you like coconut, try topping the cake with heaps of shredded sweetened coconut — it’s amazing.

That’s all there is to it. Enjoy!

Vanilla Birthday Cake with Old-Fashioned Vanilla Buttercream

Servings: Makes one 8-inch layer cake, or 24 cupcakes
Total Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

For the Cake Layers

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off with back edge of knife
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the Buttercream

  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

Instructions

For the Cake

  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spray two 8 or 9-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray (note: 8-inch cake pans will give you a much higher cake). Cut two 8 or 9-inch rounds of parchment or wax paper and line the bottom of each pan; spray the paper with nonstick spray. (To measure the parchment paper, just trace the bottom of the pan.)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until very soft and light. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg whites and milk by hand in a medium bowl until just combined.
  5. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one-quarter of the flour mixture, then one-third of the milk mixture, stopping and scraping down the bowl and beater after each addition. Beat in another quarter of the flour, then another third of the milk mixture. Scrape again. Repeat with another quarter of the flour and the remaining milk mixture; scrape. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture.
  6. Scrape the bowl with a large rubber spatula. Don't worry if the the batter looks a little grainy. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth the tops.
  7. Bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes, until they are well risen and firm and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on rack for 5 minutes, then unmold onto rack to finish cooling right side up (keep parchment paper underneath cake layers so they don't stick to rack).

For the Vanilla Buttercream

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese until creamy and well combined.
  2. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat in the vanilla and salt. If the frosting is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk or cream.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Serving size: Makes one 8 or 9-inch layer cake, or 24 cupcakes

Reviews & Comments

  • Can you successfully make your Vanilla Birthday Cake a sheet cake? Should I increase ingredients?

    - Felecia on September 11, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Felecia, Unfortunately, I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for certain if it would work. What size sheet cake are you thinking of making?

      - Jenn on September 12, 2014 Reply
  • I only have skim milk-will this ruin the cake??? Any suggestions?

    - MC on September 8, 2014 Reply
    • You could add a touch of cream or half and half if you have it but if not, no worries, skim milk will work fine!

      - Jenn on September 8, 2014 Reply
  • Hi There, I made this cake and i haven’t tried it yet but I found the cooking time in 8″ round pans was double for me at 350 degrees. I used liquid whites . Any idea why? (It is a new stove and works great)
    Any feedback would be appreciated!
    Thanks Katisha

    - Katisha on July 26, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Katisha, That’s very strange…I’m not sure. I don’t usually recommend liquid egg whites for baking but don’t think that would increase the baking time by that much. Was the oven fully preheated? Did the cake rise normally?

      - Jenn on July 27, 2014 Reply
  • Looks delicious – how would flavor change if you used the entire egg instead of just the white? Would it be richer?

    - Kristina on July 21, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Kristina, Yes it would be richer and more yellow instead of white, but you can’t use whole eggs with this recipe. If you’d like, I can email you a different (yet similar) recipe that uses whole eggs. Let me know :)

      - Jenn on July 21, 2014 Reply
      • 5 stars

        The cake looks delicious! But is there another recipe that calls for whole eggs instead because i would not know what to do with the remaining egg yolks.

        - Lyna on September 13, 2014 Reply
        • Hi Lyna, Yes, I will email it to you!

          - Jenn on September 13, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I have NEVER in my life tasted a vanilla cake like this before!!!! Unbelievable! So moist and buttery, and the flavor of the almond and vanilla are just perfect. Thanks again, Jenn, for another winner! :)

    - Kelly on July 19, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this cake for a certain little 8-year-old who is celebrating her birthday and requested a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. It is perfect!

    - Bonnie on July 17, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I have been on a quest for years for a white cake …. My quest us over! I think the key was following the advice (i.e., bring eggs to room temperature, add flour in stages, etc.). I am notorious for short-cuts…. I have learned my lesson (at least when baking…. marinades are a different story :)

    - Val on July 11, 2014 Reply
  • 4 stars

    My stepdad loves cake and this was a hit for him. The frosting is soft and creamy, and the cake was nice and moist inside. Definitely worth making again!

    - Amanda S. on July 10, 2014 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    I was wondering if you could provide a dairy-free version of your Vanilla Birthday Cake with Old-Fashioned Vanilla Buttercream?

    Thanks!

    - Jill von Allmen on June 30, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Jill, Unfortunately, this recipe cannot be made dairy-free but I will keep my eye out for a good dairy-free vanilla cake recipe.

      - Jenn on July 1, 2014 Reply
    • Also, you might try yummly.com – it’s a great site for finding recipes with or without specific ingredients.

      - Jenn on July 1, 2014 Reply
  • I was just wondering if you make this birthday cake as a 9 by 13 how long you would need to bake it. Thanks!

    - Jenni on June 25, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Jenni, Unfortunately, I haven’t tried this recipe in a 9 x 13 pan. I’m not sure it would rise evenly. I almost think you’d be better off using two 11 x 7 pans and stacking the layers. Hope that helps!

      - Jenn on June 30, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hi! First off, my husband LOVES this frosting! Thank you so much for the recipe :) Now for my question…I am making a cake with this frosting and a marshmallow fondant Olaf (not flat, sort of 3-d) and child’s name on it. I know you say we can leave a cake with this frosting out for a few days, right? If I frost this and put the marshmallow fondant character on top, will the colors from the fondant bleed onto the frosting if I leave it out overnight? I had that experience when I kept a frosted cake in the fridge in the past. The party is tomorrow, early afternoon, but I’d love to have this finished tonight, if possible.

    - Aly on June 12, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Aly, Sounds like a great cake. Would love to see a photo when it’s done! Unfortunately, I do think the colors may bleed onto the buttercream. I’d wait to add the character. Or maybe you could stick it on a base circle of white fondant over the frosting?

      - Jenn on June 12, 2014 Reply
      • Thank you so much for your quick reply! I’m not sure how to upload/send a picture to you, but I did assemble the cake at the last minute. I left the cake out for about 4 hours before serving and the frosting did get a bit soft, but that’s probably because I’m in South Florida and the a/c wasn’t as low as it should’ve been. Regardless, it was a great success. Again, thank you for your help and your wonderful frosting recipe!

        - Aly on June 13, 2014 Reply
  • Would it change the taste to eliminate the almond extract and use all vanilla extract? Does the cake have an almond hint to it with the almond extract?

    - Siobhan Wilson on June 6, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Siobhan, It’s absolutely fine to use all vanilla extract, although the almond extract gives this cake spectacular flavor. The almond is very subtle but nice.

      - Jenn on June 6, 2014 Reply
  • I have made soooooo many vanilla cake recipes, trying to find the perfect one that is moist, not too dense, and just plain yummy. I found it with this recipe!!!

    - Ali on May 16, 2014 Reply
  • I baked this cake and it was AMAZING! It was gone in one sitting. I bake often and my family loved this one. Changed the frosting to a cream cheese one.

    - Toni on May 8, 2014 Reply
  • How long would you cook these if making cupcakes? Thanks!

    - Alexia on March 31, 2014 Reply
    • Alexia, Bake cupcakes at 350 for 18-20 minutes, and be sure to spray the paper liners w/ nonstick cooking spray. Makes 24. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on March 31, 2014 Reply
  • This cake is as delicious as it is beautiful. I made it for my daughter’s bridal shower and decorated it with white spray roses. Everyone LOVED the cake. I baked it again recently, just because :), and it is a wonderful recipe. Thanks, Jenn!

    - Liz on March 27, 2014 Reply
  • I was wondering if you could incorporate sour cream into this recipe? Thanks.

    - Kayla on March 14, 2014 Reply
    • I’m afraid not, Kayla. Sorry!

      - Jenn on March 14, 2014 Reply
  • As an avid baker, I have been searching for a white cake recipe that is light, moist and flavorful. After years of searching, I have found it! I made this for my daughter’s 10th birthday party, and it was amazing. Thank you, Jenn (and Yummly) for this perfect recipe that will be my new go to!

    - Ali on February 9, 2014 Reply
  • Hi Jenn, I just wanted to knoe if you could just grease the baking pan with magarine anf flour instead of using the parchment paper and non-stick cooking spray.
    Thanks

    - Henry on November 29, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Henry,To be honest I’ve never tried it but this is a delicate cake so I’d stick with the parchment. I always err on the side of caution with cakes anyway…Nothing worse than putting all that effort in only to have the cake fall apart when you release it from the pan. Hope that helps!

      - Jenn on November 29, 2013 Reply
  • If I use food coloring do I still need to use egg whites only?

    - Jackie on November 1, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Jackie, Yes, it shouldn’t make a difference.

      - Jenn on November 1, 2013 Reply
  • Hi I would love to make the white birthday cake with almond for myy daughter’s birthday Sunday. Can I use food coloring to color the cake or does it need to stay white?
    Thank you

    - Jackie on November 1, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Jackie, It’s fine to use food coloring.

      - Jenn on November 1, 2013 Reply
  • Hi ! Silly question but I’m wondering if the frosting in the middle is the same as the one on the outside of the cake? And also will the frosting work if I want to pipe it? I really want to make a rose swirl cake but not sure if the frosting will pipe well :)

    - Dina on September 25, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Dina, Yes the frosting is the same in the middle and on the outside. It’s not a great frosting for piping as it’s pretty soft…it may work but you’ll have to make sure it’s cool.

      - Jenn on September 25, 2013 Reply
  • Hi there, are the measurements Australian Metric or US Metric? Thanks

    - Natalie B on September 24, 2013 Reply
    • US

      - Jenn on September 24, 2013 Reply
  • I made this for my dad’s birthday yesterday and it was SO YUMMY!!! Everyone loved it! The cake was moist and the frosting was amazing! I will be using that frosting recipe a lot. Thank you so much for sharing! This will be my go-to birthday cake recipe for sure. :)

    - MichelleM on September 20, 2013 Reply
  • Hi I bought a 24 cm springform pan to bake this recipe in. Will that work with this batter? Do you have any tips? Thank you! The cake looks so good, I will be baking it for my sons 3rd birthday :)

    - Natasha on June 7, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Natasha, I believe that’s 9 inches, so you’ll definitely need two pans. If you pour all the batter in one pan, it will not bake properly and may overflow and make a big mess in your oven.

      - Jenn on June 8, 2013 Reply
  • Jenn,

    We have a tree nut allergy in our house. I’m assuming you can make the cake without the almond extract but please confirm. Is there something else that should be substituted instead of the almond extract? Thanks.

    - carolyn on May 17, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Carolyn, It is totally fine to leave it out. You can use lemon extract instead if you like.

      - Jenn on May 17, 2013 Reply
  • I made these as cupcakes for my son’s second birthday. They were great! Thanks!

    - Amy on April 6, 2013 Reply
  • Hi! The cake look so scrumptious! I’m definitely going to try and bake this for my mum (: As I’m a very unexperienced baker, may I ask what “spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off with back edge of knifed” mean?

    - Susan on March 16, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Susan, Of course! It’s just the proper way to measure flour — you spoon it into a measuring cup (instead of scooping it) until it is overflowing, then you level it off with a straight edge. I know it seems nit picky but it actually makes a big difference. You get a lot more flour in the measuring cup by scooping it, and this would make the cake dry.

      - Jenn on March 16, 2013 Reply
  • Do you have to have a mixer?

    - Helen on March 16, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Helen, You at least need a hand-held electric mixer — just increase the speed a bit as it’s not as powerful as the stand mixer.

      - Jenn on March 16, 2013 Reply
  • Hi, Jenn: I plan to make this cake as cupcakes this afternoon. Just wondering what suggestions you have for using up the leftover egg yolks?

    - Liesel on February 8, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Liesel, Save them for Creme Anglaise (http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/classic-creme-anglaise). I’m posting Molten Chocolate Cakes this coming week, which would be perfect with it.

      - Jenn on February 8, 2013 Reply
      • Follow-up: Thank you for the suggestion to make creme anglaise with the leftover yolks. ( I ended up making some lemon curd to go with another dessert., but will try the creme when I make your molten chocolate cakes!!) The cupcakes turned out beautifully and the frosting is the perfect complement. Since I was baking for a “winter” party I decorated with white pearly sprinkles – love the white on white effect. Will try this recipe again as a whole cake. Thanks, Jenn.

        - Liesel on February 15, 2013 Reply
        • Sounds pretty, Liesel. So glad you enjoyed the cupcakes!

          - Jenn on February 15, 2013 Reply
  • this turned out perfectly…light, fluffy, moist, and soft but still seems to have a certain sturdiness and most of all delicious. everything a good cake should be. the only thing i really changed was used vanilla bean and cut back on the almond extract (only used 2-3 drops). i frosted mine with swiss meringue buttercream.

    - ariel on January 31, 2013 Reply
  • Hi Jennifer,
    I just made your cake and came out delicious. I was wondering how long the frosting can stay outside of the refrigerator? I would like to serve the cupcakes tomorrow for Hanukkah.

    Also curious if there is an easier way to measure the confectioners sugar, like is it 2 boxes? I kind of winged it but it came out fine.

    I dipped the frosting in coconut and they look really cute. Thanks for the great website!

    - Lori on December 8, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Lori, So glad you enjoyed! I think the frosting is about a box and a half, but it’s fine to wing it since it really is a matter of taste as to how sweet and thick you want it. As for refrigeration, it’s fine to leave it out for several days. If you want to refrigerate, that’s fine too; just be sure to take them out in time to warm up before serving.

      - Jenn on December 9, 2012 Reply
      • Hi – I want to use this recipe to make a little smash cake for my daughter’s first birthday. If I’m using a six-inch cake pan, what do you recommend for baking time? Also, what do you recommend for cupcakes? I will make some of those for our guests. Thank you!

        - Erin on January 3, 2013 Reply
        • Hi Erin, I had to look up “smash” cake; never heard of it but what a cute idea! I’d start checking the cake at about 20 minutes and see from there. As for cupcakes, bake them at 350 for 18-20 minutes, and be sure to spray the paper liners w/ nonstick cooking spray (makes 24).

          - Jenn on January 3, 2013 Reply
  • I just made this for my son’s 5th birthday party and everyone really liked it. I did have a lot more frosting than needed, but that’s OK.

    - Carmen on November 23, 2012 Reply
  • What’s a paddle attachment? The spiral for heavy dough?

    - Elke on November 19, 2012 Reply
    • The paddle attachment is the flat beater with a triangular shape.

      - Jenn on November 22, 2012 Reply
  • I made the cupcakes yesterday for no particular reason and they are out of this world! My dessert of choice is typically something chocolate, but this is worth every non-chocolate bite. The cake and frosting by themselves are truly awesome; put them together and they are magical. Thanks so much.

    - Dawn on November 12, 2012 Reply
  • Jennifer, I have a technical question. I have a stand mixer and mainly use it to mix batter, as you do. I usually whip cream with my hand mixer. I noticed in your pictures when making your pumpkin spice cookies that you used your whisk attachment, and when you did the vanilla cake you used the paddle attachment. Besides whipping eggs or cream, how do you decide when the whisk attachment should be used on the stand mixer. I know this is a picky question. Perhaps it is the nature of the pumpkin cookie batter being more light and “cake like” that made the whisk attachment being doable. Thank you.

    - Karen on November 11, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Karen, You are very observant! In most cases, I use the paddle attachment and only use the whisk attachment for cream and eggs. For those pumpkin cookies, I actually used the whisk by accident. By the time I realized it, the batter was done so I figured I’d bake the cookies and see how they came out. They were perfect so I left the photos and recipe as is. It worked because the batter was very light and cake-like; most cookie doughs would get stuck in the whisk. That said, I have also made those pumpkin cookies using the paddle attachment and it works just as well.

      - Jenn on November 14, 2012 Reply
  • What a lovely posting: wonderful photos of your beautiful family, the dog, and the most delicious looking cake! No birthdays coming up, but I will have to try that recipe very soon. PS/ You are creating such special memories for your children. What a great mom!

    - Liz on November 8, 2012 Reply
  • Cake looks amazing! Your mom is the best baker, happy b-day! I am going to try to bake this cake because I love cakes for any days.
    I was wondering, I would like to use this recipe for cup cakes. Would it work? Or how long in the oven to bake?

    Thanks Jenn

    - Liz on November 8, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Liz, I’ve used this recipe many times for cupcakes. Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes, and be sure to spray the paper liners w/ nonstick cooking spray. Makes 24. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on November 8, 2012 Reply
  • There is a very easy chocolate frosting recipe on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa can that I have been using for many years. Delicious!

    - Nancy on November 8, 2012 Reply
  • This sounds gorgeously simple! I usually pick chocolate cake when I have a choice, but it’s great to have options when the mood strikes.

    - Loretta | A Finn In The Kitchen on November 8, 2012 Reply
  • Beautiful cake and happy birthday to your daughter. My son has always requested a vanilla/vanilla birthday cake, too. I’m going to save your recipe and bake it up for his next one!

    - Jennifer on November 8, 2012 Reply
  • Wonderful! My Mom just told me how much she likes white cakes and this will be perfect for 81st Birthday celebration next week. Thanks

    - Berit on November 8, 2012 Reply
  • I cannot wait to make this!

    I don’t have a stand mixer, so no paddle attachment! Will this cake still come out okay if I use my handy dandy 20-year-old electric mixer?

    - Hope on November 8, 2012 Reply
    • Hope, it should work just fine – just up the speed on your mixer as it isn’t as powerful as a stand mixer.

      - Jenn on November 9, 2012 Reply
  • 2 questions.
    1.) How many ounces of cream cheese is 9 Tbsps?
    2.) Can I substitute evaporated milk for whole milk?

    - Cathy Jennings on November 8, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Cathy, Not sure exactly how many ounces but I’m guessing a little over 4 ounces — it’s 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon, so the small 8 oz. container should be enough. Definitely do not use evaporated milk — if necessary, you can substitute low fat milk, but the cake won’t be as moist.

      - Jenn on November 8, 2012 Reply
  • This cake sounds amazing. My daughters Birthday is coming up and I will try this recipe. I would like to try this with a chocolate frosting in place of the vanilla frosting since my daughter like this better. Do you have a chocolate frosting recipe I can use in place of the vanilla?

    - Liz Castellano on November 8, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Liz, Here’s my favorite foolproof chocolate frosting (from Cook’s Illustrated):

      Ingredients

      20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , softened but still cool
      1 cup confectioners’ sugar
      3/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
      Pinch salt
      3/4 cup light corn syrup
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips, chopped into small pieces, melted and slightly cooled*

      *The easiest way to melt chocolate is in the microwave, but you have to be careful not to scorch it. Place chopped chocolate in microwave-safe bowl, and cook in 20 second intervals, stopping to stir in between each bout of heat, until chocolate is melted.

      Directions

      In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, mix butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add corn syrup and vanilla and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Set aside until ready to frost cake.

      - Jenn on November 8, 2012 Reply
      • Thank you. I will give this a try.

        - Liz Castellano on November 9, 2012 Reply

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