Vanilla Birthday Cake with Old-Fashioned Vanilla Buttercream

4.5 stars based on 179 votes
Tested & Perfected Recipes

This moist and delicious birthday cake recipe is adapted from one of my favorite baking books, Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri.

vanilla birthday cake

My daughter is turning eight years old this week and 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 by my great-grandmother.

What you’ll need to make vanilla birthday cake

how to make vanilla birthday cake

How to make vanilla birthday cake

To begin, combine the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Whisk well to combine.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

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

how to make vanilla birthday cake

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.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Next, add one-third of the milk/egg mixture.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Continue alternating adding the flour and milk mixtures, scraping down the bowl as necessary. The batter will look like this.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth the tops.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

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.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

While the cake cools, make the frosting. Begin by combining the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Beat until well combined.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Then beat in the vanilla and salt.

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.

If the frosting is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk or cream.

how to make vanilla birthday cake

When the layers are cool, frost the cake.

how to make vanilla cake

You can spread the frosting smooth, or swirl it casually with a butter knife. Since it’s an all white cake, I like to scatter some festive nonpareils or confetti sprinkles on the edges for color.

how to make vanilla cake

Or for a change, try topping the cake with heaps of shredded sweetened coconut — it’s amazing.

vanilla birthday cake

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Vanilla Birthday Cake with Old-Fashioned Vanilla Buttercream

This moist and delicious birthday cake recipe is adapted from one of my favorite baking books, Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri.

Servings: Makes one 8-inch 2-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
  • 4 ounces 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°F. Spray two 8-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Cut two 8-inch rounds of parchment 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). When cake layers are completely cool, transfer to cake plate and frost with vanilla buttercream. (I always flip the bottom layer of the cake so that the domed side is facing down and touching the plate. That way, the surface that you're icing is flat and will minimize any separating between the two layers when you put the other layer on top of it.)

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.
  3. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cake can be frozen, without frosting, for up to 3 months. After it is completely cooled, double-wrap it securely with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place it in heavy-duty freezer bag. Thaw overnight on the countertop and then frost before serving.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (12 - 14 servings)
  • Calories: 571
  • Fat: 23 g
  • Saturated fat: 14 g
  • Carbohydrates: 88g
  • Sugar: 73 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Sodium: 167 mg
  • Cholesterol: 63 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • My family and I love Jen’s recipes but found this icing recipe to be unbearably sweet. I would recommend starting with two cups of icing sugar and increasing from there. I used a 9-inch pan and cooked it for 35 minutes. It did not rise much but not sure if it was due to the increased pan size.

    • — L Jensen on July 21, 2021
    • Reply
  • Jenn is usually my go-to so I expected this to be a hit….unfortunately it was very dry. I was careful with measuring and watched the time.

    I won’t make it again. Something nice : the icing was good!

    • — Miller on July 19, 2021
    • Reply
  • Jenn is my secret weapon in the kitchen, and I love everything she does, but for some reason this cake was not a home run for us. I did use two 9” cake pans (and baked for less time) which gave the cake less height, but for some reason the cake was too dense for our taste. I followed measurements and procedures very carefully, and my batter looked exactly like the pictures, but sadly we did not love this cake at all. Frosting was sweet and wonderful, but the rest left a lot to be desired. Cakes can be hard, so maybe a couple more tries might get it right. Every recipe of Jenn’s is so incredible, I was beginning to think there was some black magic in these recipes. Thankfully this one threw me off! 😉

    • — Rachel Anderson on July 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • I love this blog and have many recipes saved from it that I’ve made more than once, but this one didn’t work for me as the cake tasted very much like cornbread.

    • — Sarah on June 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • Can I make this cake the night before?

    • — Alex on June 12, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Alex, it’s at its best the day it’s made, but you can get away with the night before. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 12, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi! What happens to the egg yolks? Do they just go to waste or can they be used in this recipe?

    • — ET on June 11, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi ET, they can’t be used in this recipe. If you don’t want them to go to waste, you can use them for Creme Anglaise. It would be nice on these molten chocolate cakes. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on June 11, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    How do you think this would do in a 13×9?

    • — Mary on June 7, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Mary, It should work but if you’d like a vanilla cake that’s made in that sized pan, I’d recommend this one. Hope that helps and that you enjoy if you make it!

      • — Jenn on June 7, 2021
      • Reply

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