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Vanilla Birthday Cake with Old-Fashioned Vanilla Buttercream

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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 – we already have one crazy dog – but the cake’s easy. I’ve been making this simple vanilla cake every year on her birthday since she was two. The cake portion of recipe is adapted from one of my favorite baking books, Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri, and the frosting recipe was handed down from my great-grandmother.

What you’ll need to make vanilla birthday cake

how to make vanilla birthday cake

Step-by-Step Instructions

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


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
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract

For the Buttercream

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt


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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  • Hi Jen,
    I love your recipes–they are user friendly and uniformly delicious. I made this cake for my husband’s birthday yesterday. His request was a white cake with chocolate icing. I used your chocolate lovers’ chocolate cake buttercream with this white cake and i think i prefer a “harder’ icing for that cake, if that makes sense. Do you have a suggestion for me for next year? I have been searching for a white cake (not yellow) for years with no success until now but dark chocolate frosting is a must as well.

    • — karen on May 17, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Karen, so glad you like the recipes! Based on the texture you’d like to achieve, I’d look for a recipe for a traditional American buttercream. Hope you find something that works!

      • — Jenn on May 19, 2023
      • Reply
  • Hello – just curious this cake is only made with egg whites. Thanks

    • — June on April 27, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi June, it’s intended to be a white cake and whole eggs would give it more of a yellow tint. It’s also a bit lighter as a result of only using egg whites.

      • — Jenn on April 29, 2023
      • Reply
      • Thank you Jen. I love your recipes

        • — June on April 30, 2023
        • Reply
  • Hi! My daughter wants a galaxy cake with a vanilla chocolate layer cake… would you recommend a chocolate cake I can layer this delicious sounding vanilla cake?

    • — Adrienne F on April 25, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Adrienne, this would be a great option. Hope your daughter enjoys! 🙂

      • — Jenn on April 25, 2023
      • Reply
      • Thank you!!

        • — Adrienne F on April 28, 2023
        • Reply
  • My friend wants a funfetti cake. Can I add sprinkles to the batter? If so. How much?

    • — Jennifer on April 24, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Jennifer, you can add sprinkles to this but I have a funfetti cake that I would recommend instead. Hope your friend enjoys if you make it!

      • — Jenn on April 25, 2023
      • Reply
  • Can I use Swiss Meringue Buttercream instead?

    • — Maya on April 13, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yes, definitely!

      • — Jenn on April 13, 2023
      • Reply
  • “Combine the dry ingredients” no, don’t! You need the sugar for the butter! I wasted some ingredients but overall it turned out delicious.

    • — Pamela on March 24, 2023
    • Reply
  • Excellent cake, have made it twice with great results. Very easy & light cake that is now my go to cake recipe.

    • — BB on March 13, 2023
    • Reply
  • I made this cake with gf flour and it was amazing. One of best cakes I’ve had (bought or homemade).
    Highly recommend and will make again.

    • — Duncan on March 5, 2023
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, my son has requested a KitKat cake for his birthday, which I think just means sticking KitKats around the outside of a cake after it’s frosted. Would you recommend this cake or your yellow cake recipe for that? With chocolate frosting, of course. Thank you!

    • — Talia on November 28, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Talia, I’d go with this cake. Happy birthday to your son! 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 29, 2022
      • Reply
      • Was delicious – thank you!

        • — Talia on December 16, 2022
        • Reply
    • I have made this and love it!
      A family member requested an orange cake🤔. Would you recommend substituting orange extract for the almond in the frosting? Looking for any delicious recommendations. Thank you!

      • — Nursemissy on February 9, 2023
      • Reply
      • Yes that would work; you could also add a teaspoon of orange zest.

        • — Jenn on February 11, 2023
        • Reply
  • Hello! I’d like to make this cake for my son’s birthday this weekend. Do you think I could substitute whole milk for whole buttermilk?

    • — Krista on September 20, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Krista, I’d stick with regular milk here. Happy birthday to your son! 🙂

      • — Jenn on September 21, 2022
      • Reply
  • Made this for my 83-year-old mother today. Delicious.

    • — Nancy Zelick on July 31, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jenn, we love this recipe! Do you think it would work if I substitute the sugar for honey? Thank you.

    • — Cesia on July 20, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Cesia, I think you could substitute some of the sugar for honey, but I wouldn’t replace it all; I’d probably use about 1/3 of a cup. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it.

      • — Jenn on July 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Do you think this buttercream would hold well with a fondant overlay? If not, do you have another buttercream recipe you’d recommend?

    • — Adrienne on June 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Adrienne, I think it would work — I’d just make sure to keep it cool after you assemble it. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 22, 2022
      • Reply
  • Too much sugar everywhere??!!! I found other sponge cake texture like recipes much easier

    • — Molly on June 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn. Love your cookbook and recipes, you are my go to tried and true. Question, if I would like to make a 3-layer 9 inch cake for my sister’s birthday. I was thinking I could try to increase your quantities by 1/3. Have you ever tried to make a three layer cake? 3 cups of flour instead of two, nine egg whites instead of six, etc. thanks.

    • — Emma Blankenbaker on March 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Emma, thanks for the nice words about the recipes and support of the cookbook! I do think you could increase the quantities by 1/3 and make a three-layer 9-inch cake. The bake time may be slightly shorter as your cake pans are a bit larger. Just keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t overbake. Hope your sister enjoys!

      • — Jenn on March 22, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can you taste the cream cheese on this frosting or does it just take away some of the sweetness of it? I am needing to make some chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with colored vanilla buttercream so need to know if this would pair with them and be pipeable too. Could you let me know?

    • — Nancy A on February 22, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Nancy, You really can’t taste the cream cheese all that much; it just adds a slight tang which is very nice with all the sugar, but I don’t recommend it for piping. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on February 22, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi there,
    Would you happen to know what would the cooking time would be for a 9 inch round cake tin??? Wanting to make 2x 9 inch round cakes to make a bunny rabbit cake for my daugthers birthday. Thanks so much!

    • — Nichole on November 30, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Nichole, The bake time should really be the same if not a minute or two shorter – just keep a close eye on them. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 30, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Long time reader, first time commenter. I absolutely love all of your recipes–you never disappoint!

    Two questions:
    1. I used this buttercream frosting with your vanilla cupcake recipe. Do I need to refrigerate the cupcakes eventually? I’ve read conflicting things about baked goods with buttercream.
    2. For some reason, the cupcakes tasted SO MUCH better the next day after they had been sitting in an airtight container overnight. Why is that? Google hasn’t really given a useful explanation. I’ve noticed this with other baked good as well, like cookies.

    Thanks very much! I’m sure my son will love these for his birthday tomorrow 🙂

    • — Kelly D. on October 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Kelly, so glad you like the recipes! Your answers:
      1. While technically these should be refrigerated because of the ingredients in the frosting, I never do and it’s always perfectly fine.
      2. I happen to think that cupcakes are best on the first day when they’re the freshest so it’s hard for me to say. Maybe the flavors have had a little bit more time to meld??

      • — Jenn on October 19, 2021
      • Reply
  • Good Morning Jenn,

    My grandson wants me to make him a lemon birthday cake. Would I be able to adapt this one, and I would think, the frosting as well?

    Thank you,

    • — Doreen M Sanders on September 2, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Doreen, You could swap out the almond and/or vanilla extract in the batter for lemon extract and add a teaspoon of lemon zest to give this cake a lemon flavor. If you’re looking for a true lemon cake, I’d recommend this one<. Hope your grandson enjoys whatever you make 🙂

      • — Jenn on September 3, 2021
      • Reply
      • Thank you Jenn!

        • — Doreen M Sanders on September 3, 2021
        • Reply
  • I love how this recipe uses egg whites (and I can save the yolks for ice cream). I also appreciate how your recipes and site allows you to toggle between metric and cups measurements that can otherwise be confusing! 🙂

    • — Brandy Pan on August 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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
    • LOVE IT, MY NEW GO-TO SCRATÇH VANILLA CAKE RECIPE. Love the flavor and texture! The only ingredient I left out was the almond extract, bc I didn’t have any. But, if you’re going to make this one, be sure to follow the instructions and ingredients TO A TEE! Things like salted vs. unsalted butter and using cold ingredients vs room temperature ones can give u very unsatisfactory results! I guarantee if you follow this recipe correctly you will love the results!

      • — Deva on August 26, 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?

    • 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!

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