The Best Vanilla Cake

Thursday, August 12, 201081comments

The Best Vanilla Cake
The Best Vanilla Cake
The best vanilla cake recipe is something every curious baker spends plenty of time searching for. I've tried dozens over the years and have conducted many experiments, tweaking each recipe trying to get the result I want. This one is the best I've tried so far. It is quite moist and has a good density but not as dense as pound cake. I like the balance of texture that is achieved by using a combination of all-purpose flour and cake flour. It is important not to over measure the flour.

One essential ingredient in this recipe is real dairy butter; margarine just won't cut it. I've used whipping cream in other recipes but this one gets a lot of richness from using undiluted evaporated milk instead. Finally, the vanilla flavoring is crucial. DO NOT use artificial vanilla flavoring! In fact NEVER use it! Use the best quality, real vanilla extract that you can find for real, exotically fragrant vanilla cake.

The frosting on this cake is a family favorite which goes by many names but is referred to at our house as Marshmallow Frosting. It has been featured several times on this site. You can find it in our terrific recipe for Black and White Cake here. It is the perfect frosting for this cake.

The Best Vanilla Cake

Recipe by Barry C. Parsons
The Best Vanilla Cake - the recipe every baker searches for; a moist, tender, buttery, homemade vanilla cake recipe complete with Vanilla Marshmallow Frosting.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 12 servings
  • 1 1/2 cups cake or pastry flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup evaporated milk, undiluted.
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
Baking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Sift together both flours, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. For this recipe it is very important to be sure to sift the flour very well before measuring. Flour that is too compacted can cause a denser, heavier cake. If you do not have a flour sifter, put some flour in a bowl and whisk it for a minute before spooning the flour into the measuring cup to measure. Do this for both types of flour in the recipe.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after every addition.
  6. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  7. Gently fold in the dry ingredients in three equal portions, alternately with the evaporated milk. When adding dry and wet ingredients alternately in any baking recipe, always begin and end with the dry ingredients.
  8. Pour batter evenly into 2 well greased and floured 9 inch cake pans.
  9. Bake in a 325 degree F oven for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Watch it carefully, you will not want to over bake this cake, as soon as the toothpick comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven and let it rest in the pans for 5 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Frost with Marshmallow Frosting and serve.

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+ comments + 81 comments

August 13, 2010 at 5:21 AM

Barry, this looks delicious and I love vanilla cake, so would love to try and make it, however with living in the UK, some ingredients are always easily available.

Is cake & pastry flour one type of flour? I've never seen it here, and if so, would just plain flour do in a pinch (although I'm sure I might find pastry flour if I looked far enough).

Thanks for always sharing such fantastic recipes!

August 13, 2010 at 6:20 AM

Yes it is a type of flour. It is a softer flour that makes for very tender cakes or very flaky pastry. It is quite common in our supermarkets. I'm sure you will find it with no problem.

August 14, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Like you, I cannot imagine why anyone would use margarine or artificial vanilla. I'm always looking for a good cake recipe. I've never heard of using undiluted evaporated milk, but why not? I'm bookmarking this to try in the next few weeks. When I make it, I'll be sure to let you know. Nice blog!

August 14, 2010 at 2:36 PM

Thanks Debby! Coming from you, I take that as a great compliment.

August 15, 2010 at 5:11 PM

This definitely looks really good!! I've got to give this a go. I have a other recipes I've been dying to try. I've tried a LOT of vanilla cake recipes but no luck finding a good one. I hope this is going to be the best for me!!

August 16, 2010 at 5:50 PM

This looks yummy. Definitely have to try soon!

Jody - as an American living and running a bakery in the UK, I'm always wishing cake/pastry flour was available for convenience, but I'm yet to find it. I'm really not sure it's manufactured here at all. It kind of makes sense as American baking and British baking is quite different - American cakes are much softer, fluffier, and generally more moist, so the cake/pastry flour fits in with that tradition, where plain flour is more than suitable for a denser, drier British sponge.

However, as long as you're not needing it in large quantities, it's easy to make by replacing some of the flour with cornstarch (I use potato starch from my local Asian market) and sifting several times. The usual process is to remove 2 tbsp flour per cup of flour used, replacing it with 2 tbsp of cornstarch (oops, cornflour), and then sifting, generally at least 5 times, to really aerate it. Now, as you know, cups aren't really used here, but if you can get your hand on a pair you can get the weight of 1 cup of flour and 2 tbsp cornflour and work it out from there. Or, use to find estimates of weight for flour measurements.

August 16, 2010 at 8:04 PM

Hello from Orlando Florida where I am vacationing at the moment, Sarah. Just wanted to give you a quick shout out to say thanks for adding such an informative tip for our overseas readers. It's very much back to sun and fun; these kids are gonna wear me out!

August 16, 2010 at 8:08 PM

I have made lots of cakes, and everytime I make a cake it never looks like the picture of someone elses - its quite flat! It never rises quite as tall as ones pictured. I went out and bought new baking soda and baking powder, but each time it still never seems to quite rise up! Is there a secret to getting it that thick cake layer??

August 16, 2010 at 8:28 PM

Hi Alicia,

I'd say the biggest problem folks have is overmixing. Follow this recipe closely,try cake flour balance as suggested, make sure that you cream the butter and sugar and eggs very well, fold the milk and flour mixtures in VERY gently and always, ALWAYS begin and end the folding in of alternating wet and dry ingredients, with the DRY ingredients. You WILL have a denser cake if you end with the liquid. Hope this helped and please let us know if you have success with this recipe. Barry

August 18, 2010 at 2:19 PM

Being a vanilla gal to the core - I too have been looking for the ultimate vanilla and/or white cake. Yours looks fantastic, and thanks to all your leg work, I can't wait to try it! Thank you!

August 29, 2010 at 4:31 PM

I just baked this and it tasted like what my mum made. Sadly I don't have the expensive Vanilla but working on it.

August 31, 2010 at 8:28 PM

I made this cake last night. The frosting turned out perfect! And the cake looked perfect, but was a little dry. Any tips on how to make it more moist?? Also, did you double to frosting recipe?

September 1, 2010 at 9:26 AM

Hi Holly, you can try reducing the heat a little and be very careful not to overbake it.

September 10, 2010 at 12:59 PM

Could this be made as a sheet cake? How would I adapt the measurements and/or cooking time?

September 23, 2010 at 1:07 PM

Has anyone made this recipe for cupcakes?? Looking for an easy recipe for my daughter's 5th birthday. Thanks!


November 25, 2010 at 11:28 PM

Hi Barry,,
I have been looking for a nice vanilla cake for quite some time now...I sure hope this recipe works for me. I'm not too sure about the undiluted evaporated milk... To me it has a strong taste, would it interfere with the vanilla flavor?? Another thing should be mentioned is to sift your flour before measuring it, right? I will be trying your recipe soon...
Thanks... Sue PS love your page..

Anne H
February 16, 2011 at 12:09 AM

I made this cake on the weekend and it was fantastic! The evaporated milk makes it so moist and delicious, and the cake and pastry flour is definitely the way to go! The best vanilla cake I've ever had - period! Thank you for posting this recipe and making sure to explain why pure vanilla is important to use and also how to fold dry & wet ingredients - most helpful!

March 18, 2011 at 4:18 PM

Hi Barry, I want to try this to understand to the fullest...there will be 3 types of flour added to this recipe....cake, pastry, and all purpose flour..Also when adding up the total amount of flour when using all three, it totals to 4 1/4 cups of flour to this recipe........and undiluted evaporated milk is just can carnation milk without adding water to it... correct?....... Want to get this correct because i want a good vanilla cake recipe that is moist & not dry....... Question...what is your opinion about using buttermilk instead of evaporated milk?

March 19, 2011 at 8:12 AM

No, you've misunderstood "cake and pastry flour" is one type of flour. It may be just known as cake flour in your neck of the woods.
Good old carnation is perfect. I've never used buttermilk. I prefer to try a cake recipe as written before trying variations.
Happy Baking!

April 5, 2011 at 8:37 PM

Hi Barry, this recipe looks delicious.
Do you think this recipe can be used to make ice cream cake?
Thank you.

May 27, 2011 at 5:19 PM

Barry, this cake is AMAZING in both texture and flavor, by far the best recipe I've tried thus far. I took the liberty of steeping the evaporated milk with two vanilla pods with the seeds scraped into the milk because I am a huge fan of the vanilla bean. Keep up your wonderful posts, you inspire me with your recipes!

June 23, 2011 at 3:32 PM

Hello Barry - I live in the U.S. and I think your pictures and recipes are AMAZING!!!!
I have recently taken an interest in cooking..Im going to try baking this cake over the weekend.
I would like to add fresh strawberries in between. Do you think that will make the cake soggy?

June 23, 2011 at 3:37 PM

June 23, 2011 at 3:53 PM

Thank you Nia. I don't see a problem with adding the strawberries but I would not use the marshmallow frosting as shown in the photo, that might "melt" if moisture was added to it. I'd recommend a buttercream frosting instead.Happy Baking!

July 10, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Just curious if you have ever made this cake as a whole slab? Am attempting a full slab for the first time and was any different instruction for baking something that large?

July 11, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Don't remember making this as a slab cake. It's rare that I make a slab cake at all.You will have to be careful not to overbake a large cake,so just keep a close eye on it.

July 17, 2011 at 11:19 PM

I love baking, i was surprised to find your recipe which is exactly the recipe i use for my vanilla cakes! i also use evaporated milk, sometimes for a richer taste i half it by adding heavy cream!

July 18, 2011 at 7:47 AM

I've done the half and half thing too. Cream can help to make a moister cake, I've found.

July 23, 2011 at 9:44 AM

Hi, I'm wanting to make a rainbow marble cake for my daughters 4th birthday. You say over mixing will make a more dense cake but I'll have to divide the mixture to add the colours. Do you think this recipe will work for what I'm wanting to make?

July 23, 2011 at 10:53 AM

I'd definitely give it a try. Kids are more enthralled by the colors than texture anyway. ;)

August 6, 2011 at 3:20 AM

Great recipe! I tried it out recently with some added lime juice, and it came out great! Thanks for sharing. I'll be posting a recipe for the lime cake on my site with a link to this post :)

September 21, 2011 at 7:58 PM

I made this cake for a friend's birthday and it turned out perfect!! So much so that my girlfriend requested cupcakes made from the same recipe. Any pointers on converting cooking time (without having to open the oven and toothpick them every five minutes)?

September 22, 2011 at 8:14 AM

Cupcakes can be notoriously difficult not to over bake; oven temperatures, pan types and sizes and the amount of batter used can all be variables. Bake a couple first as a test to get the timing perfect. Even a minute over can dry out even the best cupcake recipe.

December 2, 2011 at 1:52 AM

I made this cake with the marshmallow frosting for my son's birthday. This is the best vanilla cake ever. The frosting is easy to make and delicious.
Thank you so much,

December 2, 2011 at 6:10 AM

So glad you enjoyed it. This remains one of the most popular recipes ever on my website.

December 14, 2011 at 1:24 PM

Hey Barry,
I was wondering, do you think it would be okay if i covered the cake and frosting with fondant after frosting the cake?
Is this frosting compatible with fondant ?

Leslie Edwardson
February 19, 2012 at 7:30 PM

I made this for my daughters birthday cake, and it was amazing!! I used a different frosting, but would still love to try this one next time. But I will honestly say that I will never again use a different recipe for a white scratch cake. It was so moist and so flavorful, everyone else at the party today has asked me to forward them the recipe, and my six year old has requested the same thing for his next birthday. Also, I did it as a slab cake and it was awesome. Thank you once again for adding to my list(there's quite of few of your recipes on this list) of favourites!!

February 19, 2012 at 8:27 PM

Thanks Leslie. So pleased to be able to be able to add a family favorite recipe to your repertoire
. That's why we do what we do. All the best, Barry.

February 19, 2012 at 8:53 PM

This may seem obvious to most - but is it 1 cup of evaporated milk in total? It says fold in alternately with the dry ingredients in "3" equal portions. I just want to be sure!

February 19, 2012 at 9:11 PM

1 cup in total, added 1/3 of a cup at a time. Happy Baking!

February 29, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Hey Barry,
im also looking forward to trying your recipe, looks amazing and going by all the comments tastes amazing too..

like Kristina i was wondering if you have ever tried this cake with frosting (as crumber) then fondant? going to make this for my mothers 50th birthday cake.

March 3, 2012 at 7:39 AM

This icing is too soft to use with fondant. I'd use buttercream instead.

March 3, 2012 at 7:40 AM

This icing is too soft to use with fondant. I'd use buttercream instead.

Sorry I missed this comment earlier.

March 6, 2012 at 8:19 PM

thanks, also how many days in advance do you think i could make the cake?

March 6, 2012 at 8:25 PM

What an unusual question? Isn't fresh always best? I never serve baked goods that haven't been prepared within 12 hours or so. I always insist on freshness. It's a standard on which I don't compromise.

March 20, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Hi Barry... can i use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour? :)

March 26, 2012 at 7:32 AM

I wouldn't. The cake will be heavier and tougher.

April 14, 2012 at 9:14 PM

Hi, Barry. I made this cake today and I'm curious why mine doesn't exhibit the beautiful yellow color in your photo?

April 17, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Hey Barry! cannot wait to try this recipe. It looks delicious.
Can I use the same frosting in the middle of the cake?

April 19, 2012 at 5:57 AM

I have this cake in the oven at the moment. I've made it in an 8 inch tin with 3inch high sides. I wasn't sure if my 9 inch tins were right to use...they have approx 2 inch high sides...fingers crossed it works for me.

April 26, 2012 at 10:56 PM

when it says add 1 & 1/2 cups cake and pastry flour what is cups cake and pastry flour?

April 28, 2012 at 10:30 AM

one and one half cups of "cake and pastry flour" sometimes sold as just "Cake flour"

June 5, 2012 at 4:29 PM

If I use a half sheet pan will it fall apart, can any size pan be used? Also it's cake/pastry flour (one type of flour just maybe named either or?) Also can u recommend a type of vanilla and where to find it? if u say not to use a regular vanilla extract.

June 8, 2012 at 11:14 AM

How big is half a sheet pan? Yes, cake or pastry flour. Any type of good quality REAL vanilla extract will do.

Valerie Walsh
June 25, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Excellent recipe. Made this for my daughter's birthday party! I use buttercream icing since I need to use fondant. It was soo... good...and easy !! Thanks.

August 16, 2012 at 11:42 PM

i just made this cake for my mother in law's birthday. its in the oven right now! hope it turns out good! but the batter sure tastes good.
i'm going to ice it with a different recipe so i can use fondant flowers on it though. I'm in australia and it was very hard to find some of the ingredients like cake flower, and knowing what to set the oven to(so i roughly guessed. so its a very 'winged' cake.

September 13, 2012 at 6:47 PM

Barry, all purpose flour can be sifted 3 times and it works just like cake flour, do it all the time/ plus I add 1/4 cup of Mayonnaise to the batter and my grandchildren tell me how moist my cakes are. Just a tip for other's to try even if u don't.

February 11, 2013 at 9:58 PM

can i use self raising flour instead of cake and pastry flour? i so much want to make this cake but i cant find cake n pastry flour :(

February 13, 2013 at 12:04 PM

The cake will not be as soft and tender without the cake flour but you can try it for sure with self raising.

March 21, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Hi there,

I would like to make two different size cake using your recipe. One in a 10 inch pan and one in a 8 inch pan.
Do I need to make two different batter?

March 21, 2013 at 12:42 PM

I would multiply the recipe ingredients by 1 1/2 to use 8 and 10 inch pans.

March 25, 2013 at 1:17 AM

I made this cake today. I love the taste but it was a little dry. I believe the time for my oven would be 30 mins instead of 35 to 40 mins. I will bake again. It will be my basic yellow cake recipe that I have been looking for

April 20, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Can this recipe be adapted to be gluten free

April 20, 2013 at 12:56 PM

I don't bake gluten free so I can't answer that. Sorry.

April 26, 2013 at 5:15 PM

This recipe is delicious! My whole family loves it. However, my layers turn out flat. I read your suggestions earlier to rememdy this. I feel like I have done all those things! I didn't overmix,I used cake flour, etc. Do you have any other ideas? Could it be elevation maybe? (I live in the midwest.)Also...whether it be this recipe or other vanilla cake recipes, I always have trouble with it baking all the way through. The outside will look great, but the center is almost liquid! If I bake it long enough to get the center right, the rest of the cake is dry as a bone. I've tried changing the temp, decreasing the amount of batter in my pan, changing the recipe a little bit, etc, but nothing seems to do the trick. I have had the best luck with this recipe BY FAR, but I still had these issues a little. Any suggestions for that? Any advise is much appreciated!

May 3, 2013 at 12:44 AM

Hi Barry, just found this recipe on Pinterest. Going to make this cake for my son's birthday. Do you have any suggestions on high altitude baking? Also do I need to sift the flour first and the measure?

May 4, 2013 at 7:22 AM

There are some good suggestions here Darcy. I recently read this when trying to advise my sister.

Yes you should always sift flour for cakes so as not to over measure it.

May 17, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Not baking all the way through sounds odd, maybe it's your pans. I suspect they carry heat too quickly. I use aluminum bakeware all the time and never have those sorts of problems. I'd buy an oven thermometer and check the accuracy of your oven temperature as well.
Try the higher altitude suggestions at this URL

May 17, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Heidi from NB, Canada
May 23, 2013 at 5:10 PM

Tried this recipe this afternoon for my Dad's 71st bday tomorrow.

I followed your directions to a 't', and I've honestly never had a cake with such an amazing and even rise!! My two 9" cakes looks just like the pics (almost 3" thick).

I'm sure it will taste just as good as it looks! Can't wait to try a slice tomorrow :) Thanks for the recipe!

June 5, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Hi Barry,

I am on a mission for the perfect cake, which I am defining as "cake mix" texture but made with real ingredients!! I have tried many recipes but they are all too dense (or "dunch" as my mom would say). This one and also the white velvet cake look so good - which one do you think is most fluffy and moist? Also, any other tips for fluffy cakes would be awesome.

June 5, 2013 at 4:26 PM

Both are great but the white velvet would be the "fluffier" of the two and probably more fool-proof. Cake flour is the key to a good textured cake IMHO.

June 20, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Nice recipe. I have a question: when you said 1 1/2 cups cake and pastry flour, 1 1/2 cups cake flour and 1 1/2 cups of pastry flour? or just 1 1/2 cups mixing both flours? Sorry if my question is too stupid but I am confused.
Congratulations for your blog, I am a big follower.



June 24, 2013 at 8:33 AM

3 cups in total Victoria, 1 1/2 all purpose flour plus 1 1/2 cups cake flour.

July 1, 2013 at 8:11 PM

This looks delicious-cant wait to try it out this week. I was reading some of the other posts about having cakes not rise in the middle and I have a suggestion - I recently read (I believe on Rose Birnbaum's site) that if you use unbleached flour it alters the texture and height of the cake layers-something about the proteins are different. I had been having the same issue for a couple yrs and did not realise it was b/c of my flour-I had switched to unbleached b/c it seemed healthier (hey, I try :)) Anyway, I switched back to bleached and all my layers have risen beautifully, cooked evenly. Also another suggestion would be to try using cake strips that you wet and wrap around the sides of the cake pans.

December 21, 2013 at 6:47 AM

Hey barry,
I tried this recipe today n though the batter was a bit too much for my pan, the cake tastes really good n soft. Thanks so much for this recipe.

March 5, 2014 at 8:40 AM

Hi Barry, In response to Victoria above, you said it's 3 cups of flour. However, 1 1/2 cups cake or pastry flour + 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour = 2 and 3/4 cups, not 3 cups. Could you please clarify?

Recipe looks outstanding! Thank you.

March 5, 2014 at 9:29 AM

Yes of course it's 2 3/4 total. The error was i the original question when it was asked and I didn't catch it. Glad you did.

April 1, 2014 at 11:46 AM

I have made this recipe a couple of times now and it is full of flavour! Still has the same problem with other vanilla cakes in which the following day it tends to dry out(I tend to stick to chocolate because it holds in moisture.) But I must say, a really delicious recipe!

April 2, 2014 at 11:07 AM

I find this one does usually do well for 48 hours or so in a sealed cake dome but like many vanilla cakes, even a few minutes overbaking can be a problem. Try our White Velvet Cake if a longer lasting cake is important.

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