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

Cake ingredients including eggs, vanilla, and cream cheese.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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

Dry cake ingredients in a glass bowl.

Whisk well to combine.

Whisk in a bowl of dry ingredients.

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

Butter and sugar creamed in a stand mixer.

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.

Flour in a stand mixer with creamed butter and sugar.

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

Milk mixture added to a stand mixer.

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

Smooth, light cake batter in a stand mixer.

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

Round cake pans filled with batter.

Bake the layers for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are set and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the layers in the pans for five minutes, then unmold onto racks to finish cooling.

Two round cakes on a wire rack.

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

Unmixed butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Beat until well combined.

Cream cheese and butter mixture in a stand mixer.

Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth.

Sugar in a stand mixer with a cream cheese and butter mixture.

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.

Vanilla buttercream in the bowl of a stand mixer.

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 25 to 30 minutes, until they are set 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 layers can be frozen, without frosting, for up to 3 months. After they are completely cooled, double-wrap them securely with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place 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, 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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  • Big hit at my cousins birthday party and while I was afraid the frosting would be too sweet I could not get enough of it.

  • This is a fantastic recipe! The cake is flavorful and moist and the frosting is the best buttercream I have ever made. My whole family devoured it! This is perfect for a family birthday and truly delicious.

  • Everyone who ate this cake raved about it! This recipe reminds me of the cakes I ate as a kid. Thank you Jenn!

  • Hi Jen,

    I am planning to bake this for my best friends birthday but she is allergic to eggs. Can I replace something else for eggs? I have no clue. What do you suggest? Many thanks as always!


    • Hi Sheetal, Two of the best substitutes I’ve heard about (I haven’t personally tried either of them) are a combination of water, oil, and baking powder, and carbonated water. Scroll down to the bottom of this article for more information about both. I would assume many recipes would also work with some kind of store-bought egg substitute. Hope that helps and your friend enjoys the cake!

      • Read the article.
        I can give try with carbonated water 😊. Thanks again!

  • I have a zillion cookbooks and recipes. I now turn to Once Upon a Chef for most everything!
    I made the birthday cake however for my son’s birthday and it was quite dry.
    Is it made with just the egg whites and not the yolks? So many great reviews for it – not sure where I went wrong. Thx.

    • Hi Brenda, So glad you like the recipes! Yes, the cake is made with just egg whites. I’m sorry that you found it to be dry. Dryness is usually caused by measuring the flour incorrectly. Did you use the spoon and level method to measure the flour? Even a few extra ounces can make a big difference. This article/video explains it nicely. Also, did you serve it on the same day? Like most homemade cakes, it doesn’t stay fresh for long.

    • Hi Brenda, just saw your review. If measuring is a problem I’d suggest getting a digital kitchen scale. It makes following recipes so much easier and efficient. And the great thing about Once Upon a Chef is that Jenn’s recipes are all written in weight! Happy baking!

      • — Jennifer Patzer
      • Reply
  • I made this yesterday for my Dad’s birthday. It was a huge hit! The cake tasted even better this morning!

  • Hi there, the reviews for this sound amazing. I don’t need a huge cake, I have a 7″ springform pan that I made a cake in over Christmas. I was actually able to slice it into two layers creating a smaller layer cake. Do you think this would work with this cake as well? Any recommendations on cutting down the recipe? I know I could just cut in half and only make one layer but I still kind of want a two layer cake, just smaller as it is only for two.

    • Hi Cat, unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend using a 7-inch springform pan for this. While it may work, I’d be concerned that it would bake unevenly. Sorry!

  • Hi Jen, I live 5280 ft….high altitude. Any adjustments necessary to your recipe would be appreciated.

    • Hi Bev, Thanks for your note. I don’t have experience baking at high altitudes so, unfortunately, I don’t have any wisdom to share – I’m sorry! You may find these tips helpful though.

  • This cake really is ALL that. We make this cake just for fun, sometimes, because who can wait for a birthday to roll around before eating it again? My boys clamor for this, and I can’t argue. It’s adorable, and it’s just what you want when you think of a classic birthday cake.

  • A perfect birthday cake! Also good with chocolate icing!

  • This cake batter was so gorgeous and moist. The buttercream really put it over the edge. Big hit at our home – perfect classic birthday cake.

    • — Sarah Bertrand
    • Reply
  • This is such a good cake! The almond extract with the vanilla extract are just perfect!

  • This cake has become everyone’s birthday cake! My girls and I love to make it together and put a lot of love into it! We used to just make box cake and boy, am I happy that we decided to try to bake a cake from scratch! The first time, we didn’t know how it was going to turn – one daughter added too much salt and the other didn’t remember how much flour she added! It is delicious!!! Each time, the cake gets better and better (and better looking)! The vanilla buttercream frosting is amazing and we always leave a little extra on the side to enjoy with graham crackers! The girls love to decorate it for the special birthday recipient!

  • Hi, I want to make a Funfetti cake for my niece and this cake recipe looks really good and wondered if I could just add sprinkles to it without any impact on the final result of the cake? I see that you have a Funfetti cake also on your post but ingredients are different and this one seems really moist.

    • Hi Nancy, while you could get away with adding sprinkles to this, if you want a really moist cake I’d actually go with the other one (it includes egg yolks which makes it a bit richer). Regardless of which you choose it should be good. Hope your niece enjoys!

  • Do you bake both round pans at the same time in the oven? Have you ever used cake strips around the pan? I guess you soak them in water and wrap around pan and bake. Supposed to prevent cake from cracking and a more even top.

    • Hi Rena, yes, you bake both pans at the same time. And no, I haven’t used cake strips when baking this. Hope you enjoy if you make it! 🙂

  • Our children asked that I make this delicious cake on many special occasions over the years. My husband and children love this. Delicious! I love to decorate the frosted cake with raspberries in the Spring. Thank you Jen!

    • — Damienne Dunham
    • Reply
  • My daughter made this for my birthday. It was wonderful. Reminded me of my favourite cake when I was young.

    • Glad you enjoyed it (and happy belated birthday)!

  • Made this tonight exactly as stated. Turned out beautiful….but I would NOT say it’s the BEST cake ever. Good but not excellent. Perhaps after reading so many rave reviews, my expectations were too high.

  • Love your recipes Jenn! I’ve never separated egg yolks…can i cheat and use a carton of egg whites? If so, do you know how much I would use? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Elisha, I don’t recommend store-bought egg whites — sorry!

      • No problem! Thanks for clarifying Jenn. So helpful!

  • Hi Jenn,
    I only have salted butter. Would I just omit the salt from the recipe, or should I add maybe 1/8 tsp?

    • Hi Elaine, While it varies by brand, most salted butter has approximately 1/4 tsp. salt per stick, so you can use the salted butter and reduce the salt in the recipe as needed. Hope that helps!

  • All I have are 9inch pans. Wondering if I can use these instead of 8inch? And if so, should I shorten the time in the oven?
    Thanks so much!

    • Yes, you can use them. Bake time should really be the same if not a minute or two shorter – just keep a close eye on them. Hope you enjoy!

  • How do I store this after making and before serving?

    • You can store it covered on the counter. (Technically, it should be refrigerated, but I haven’t done that and it’s been fine.) Hope that helps!

  • When do you add the buttermilk?

    • Hi Amber, the recipe doesn’t actually require any buttermilk. 🙂

  • Hi Jen,

    Is it possible to make the frosting in another color? Maybe a light pink? If yes, what do you recommend and how much of it?
    Thank you,

    • Hi Janelle, you could add food coloring to the frosting to make it pink. Hope you enjoy!

  • Hi Jen,

    Where did you buy the sprinkles from? I love the colorful/pastel star shape sprinkles 😃

    • Honestly, I’m not 100% sure! They may have just been in my pantry; if not they likely came from my local grocery store (Giant or Safeway). Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

  • Hi jenn can i used cakeflour instead of all purpose flour.
    I want to make cake for a wedding.
    Thanks again

    • Hi Fanny, for the most predictable results, I’d stick with all-purpose flour – sorry!

      • Can I use the whole egg instead of the whites? How many whole eggs? and how does it change the taste/texture?

        • Hi Diana, I wouldn’t recommend it for this cake, but if you’d like a cake that uses whole eggs, I’d recommend this one. (It can be made into a layer cake.) Hope that helps!

      • My cakes turned out totally flat. I used room temp ingredients and new container of baking powder. Would nonstick baking pans be the cause?

        • Sorry to hear you had a problem with this! No, non-stick pans shouldn’t have caused a problem. Did you make any adjustments to the recipe or is there a chance you made a measuring error?

  • If I was using 4” or 5” baking rounds, how would you recommend I adjust the baking time?

    • Hi Jack, I think you’d probably need four 4-inch rounds to fit all the batter. The baking time may be a few minutes less so keep a close eye on them! 🙂

  • Can I use 1% milk? I’m anxious to make this cake as my sister has given this cake rave reviews!

    • Sure, Carol, that will work. Hope you enjoy!

  • Perfection. I have baked many cakes over the years but this cake is by far my favorite. Thank you for sharing all of your amazing recipes.

  • I have just followed this recipe to the exact instruction but I’m disappointed it hasn’t risen very much at all. The smell is heavenly and the texture will be nice and I assume the taste (won’t eat it until tomorrow), but theyre just quite flat unfortunately. Not sure what’s gone wrong!?

    Not total failure as once they are iced and stacked they’ll look ok I’m sure 🙂

    • Hi Kath, Sorry to hear these didn’t rise very much. Did you use 8-inch pans? Is your baking powder really old or expired? And was the butter room temperature before beating with the sugar? This is what makes the cake light and fluffy.

  • Hi Jenn,

    Can a hand mixer be used for this recipe?

    Thank you,


    • Sure – you just may need to increase the speed a bit. Hope you enjoy!

  • Hi Jenn! I have cake flour at home, can I use it instead of all purpose flour? Will it make any difference? Thank you!

    • Hi Maria, I haven’t tried cake flour with this recipe, so I can’t say for sure it if it would work. I’d stick with all-purpose for the most reliable results.

      • Hello Jenn – We just made this cake today (third time maybe!) and we did half Swans Cake Flour and half King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour and it came out moist and delicious! 🎂

  • Who knew that vanilla cake could be so amazing? It took me a long time to make this cake. Vanilla cake is never this good. But this cake is wonderfully flavourful. Just fantastic!

  • I am planning to make this recipe to my father’s birthday. It looks delicious!! Is it better to make it the day before or the same day? Thank you.

    • Hi Rachel, if you can make it on the same day you plan to serve it, that’s best but you can get away with 1 day ahead. Hope your father enjoys!

      • Thank you for the reply. If I did the day before or even the same day, should I keep the cake on the fridge until time to serve? Thank you.

        • Hi Rachel, Technically, because of the frosting it should be refrigerated, but I always store it on the counter and it’s been fine.

  • Love your cake! Two year old now wants cupcakes…please tell me how long to bake them. Thanks

    • Hi Kathy, Glad you like this! I’d start checking cupcakes for doneness at 25 minutes.

  • Could I use 2% instead of whole milk? Also would this recipe work in a 9×13 pan instead of two round pans? Would baking time need to be adjusted?

    Thank you! Excited to try this recipe. I made your strawberry cake last week and it was so good !

    • Hi Lilly, Yes, you can use 2% milk, and regarding the baking pan I haven’t tried this recipe in a 9 x 13 and not certain it would rise evenly.

  • Hi! My daughter would like vanilla cupcakes with chocolate chips inside for her birthday. Which of your recipes do you think would be better suited to add the chips? This one? Or the vanilla cupcakes? Thank you!

    • Hi Lesley, I’d probably go with the cupcakes. I’d toss the chips in a tiny bit of flour and fold them into the batter at the end. (And I’d suggest mini chips as due to their lighter weight, they are less likely to sink.) Please LMK how they turn out if you make them!

      • Thanks for answering so quickly! I ended up making the Vanilla Cupcakes topped with the Old Fashioned Vanilla Buttercream. I used mini chips and they did not sink and the kids loved them. But I made a few without the chips and they rose higher and the texture was better, just to compare. The taste was delicious! The buttercream was so tasty and easy to decorate with. My daughter was very happy 🙂

  • Hi-

    If I only have 2 9 inch pans will that work? How much would you adjust the baking time ?


    • Hi Ali, Bake time should really be the same if not a minute or two shorter – just keep a close eye on them. Hope you enjoy!

    • This cake came out too dense for my liking. You need to tweak the butter in the recipe. Too dense!

      • — DANI on September 25, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jen
    I love this cake, it comes out beautifully. My question is this, my friend the other day said she was craving Sanders caramel cake … could I use this vanilla cake recipe, and then take your caramel sauce from the caramel corn add butter and some confectioner’s sugar and make a caramel frosting?

    • — Julie Facca-Ferrerio
    • Reply
    • Hi Julie, Glad you like the cake! I think you can definitely use the cake recipe, but for the frosting, I’d use a recipe that’s specifically for that instead of trying to tweak this one — I’m just not confident with how it would turn out — sorry!

  • I don’t have almond extract, is there any way I could substitute or miss the ingredient out?

    • Hi Maliha, you can just replace it with additional vanilla extract. Enjoy!

      • Hi there! Can I substitute oil for the butter? And if so how much?

        • Unfortunately, oil won’t work here, Siobhan. Sorry!

  • This recipe was outstanding! I made the cake for a friend’s birthday gathering. I followed the recipe for the cake and buttercream, but because I didn’t want all the egg yolks to go to waste, I made vanilla pastry cream. I split the cake layers, filled them with the pastry cream, and scattered fresh homegrown blueberries on top of the filling. I swirled blueberry jam thru the buttercream, iced the cake, and arranged a cascade of blueberries and mint across the top and down one side of the cake. It was delicious and beautiful! Thank you, Jenn, for another wonderful recipe.

    • Hum, that description sounds GORGEOUS and needs a picture!

      • — K & G Baking Team
      • Reply
  • Delicious! My family was impressed. I added pink food colouring to the icing for my daughters birthday.

  • I love this cake recipe. I have made it many times and it turns out perfect! I want to make it for my husbands birthday but he wants a chocolate layer. Can I convert half of the batter to chocolate? If so, how do you recommend doing it?

    • Hi Beth, Glad you like the cake! I wouldn’t recommend trying to tweak this recipe to make it chocolate, but you can halve it and halve this chocolate cupcake recipe. Hope that helps and that your husband enjoys!

  • Hi!

    I am about to try your recipe for the first time. I only have 1 baking pan, can I bake it once and slice it into 2 or should I bake twice?

    Thank you

    • Hi Charlane, I’m not sure the batter will fit in your pan; I’d play it safe and bake twice.

  • I baked this cake for my mom’s birthday, and it turned out amazing! It was absolutely delicious, and, overall, it is one of the best cakes I have ever made. The cream cheese frosting is also so unique, and it definitely adds to the flavor profile of the cake. I cannot wait to make it again! Thank you!

    • — Bethany Schley
    • Reply
  • I’m planning to make this cake next week for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. Is there any way to add raspberry puree into the frosting to make it pink – and add a little fruity flavor? If so, can you recommend how much and when?

    • Hi Gabriella, I wouldn’t recommend adding raspberry purée into the frosting as it will introduce more liquid (and don’t think it would add that much color). You could decorate the top of the cake with fresh raspberries or if you can find freeze-dried raspberries, you can use them to color the frosting and add a fair amount of raspberry flavor. Here’s a post that will give you a little guidance.

  • Hi
    I would like to make this cake for my son’s birthday next week but we are a small group. Can you give me the recipe for 1 layer cake instead of 2? thx

    • Hi Arveena, You can just cut all the ingredients in half if you just want one layer. Happy early birthday to you son!

  • This cake was very easy to make. I don’t have a lot of time with Distance learning with twin 6 year old but I needed to make a Birthday cake. I believe from start to finish it took me 1 hour to prep and bake. Thank you for the recipe.

  • My 3 year old and I made this for my 1 year old son’s birthday! It was SO delicious my husband requested it for his birthday this weekend! Later this week, we are making two of these cakes! One for hubby’s birthday and one to drop off for my dad for his birthday the next day! 🙂

  • Hi Jenn!

    I love your recipes! This one looks delicious too. I have a little boy who’s begging for a lemon birthday cake. Can I adapt this by adding lemon zest to the batter? If so, any recommendations as to how much to add? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Heather, so glad you like the recipes! 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. Hope that helps and happy birthday to your son!

      • Hi Jenn,
        Just a quick question about converting this into a lemon cake, please.
        A. What would happen if you added fresh lemon juice to the batter?
        B. Would the icing convert well to lemon buttercream, and if so, how?
        Thanks very much for your advice!

        • Hi Savanna, I wouldn’t add lemon juice to the batter, but you could add 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon zest. And you could add some lemon flavor to the frosting by adding some lemon zest and a few tablespoons of lemon juice to it (you may need to add a bit more sugar if the additional liquid makes the frosting too thin). Hope that helps!

          • Thank you! This cake looks delicious and I plan to make it very soon. Your Late Summer Plum Cake and Blueberry (rhubarb) Coffeecake were a bit hit with my German grandmother, who is a Kaffee und Kuchen connoisseur! Thanks again for the great recipes!

            • — Savanna Faith
    • Dear Jenn, I tried the French apple tart and the french apple cake. Both had positive reviews and I found a new hobby because of your genuinely beautiful website.
      The way u describe and teach how to do each step makes a first timer like me into a superhero 😁😁😁. Thank you so much for that.
      I would love to bake this cake soon and would like to know if I could add orange juice extract into it? If yes how much and when? I love the vanilla smell so was wondering if I can keep the vanilla and eliminate the almond extract?
      Thank you🙏🏽🙏🏽🌸🌸

      • Hi L, So glad you’re enjoying the recipes! By orange juice extract, do you mean orange extract? If so, you could get away with adding about 1/2 tsp. And it’s fine to replace the almond extract with more vanilla. Also, if you’d like to include some orange zest that will help to boost the orange flavor – I’d recommend adding up to 1 tsp. to the egg/milk mixture. Hope that helps and that you enjoy!

        • I’ve never made buttercream with cream cheese before… what is the main difference using your recipe in comparison to a more traditional version?

          • The cream cheese adds a little hint of tanginess. 🙂

            • — Jenn

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