This vanilla cake is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had.The melted butter and a little bit of Greek yogurt result in a moist, tight crumb and is overflowing with vanilla, butter-y flavor. Put a thick layer of this fantastic frosting on it and you will be in vanilla cake heaven.
Vanilla cake is/can be/maybe is the bane of every baker’s existence. It’s that illusive Bigfoot: you might catch a glimpse of it and then you won’t see it for another hundred years. I know the Bigfoot metaphor might not make much sense, but I have tried so many vanilla cake recipes. I will come close, really, really close, and then it’s just not quite enough. This vanilla cake was an effort to capture all of my favorite things about my vanilla cupcake recipe, but also tweak a few little things to really get what I wanted in an excellent vanilla cake.
The first thing that I didn’t like about my vanilla cupcake recipe was the fact that I provide two different recipes for the vanilla cupcakes. When I tried both recipes side by side, I could not decide which recipe I liked best. I liked the texture of the buttermilk cake because it was almost creamy, but I liked the taste and crumb of the whole milk cake better because it had a stronger vanilla flavor and a tighter crumb. I usually am such a big cheerleader of buttermilk, so I was totally baffled. So I made a few major changes to this recipe.
*Cake science ahead, but it’s fun!!!*
Instead of buttermilk, I decided to go with half whole milk and half Greek yogurt. I think Greek yogurt also does amazing things to recipes: it makes them smooth and creamy (kind of like the buttermilk) but it wouldn’t block the vanilla flavor. Because I added something acidic, I had to add baking soda, so don’t forget that or your cake might not rise very nicely.
Secondly, instead of using half oil and half butter (which yielded weird measurements and I don’t like giving out recipes with weird measurements), I decided to switch to all butter and melt it. This normally would be an issue if I was baking this cake with the creaming method. The creaming method is where you beat the butter and sugar to whip in air bubbles. The baking soda then acts on the air bubbles while baking and makes them grow really nice and big. This yields a fluffier, higher cake.
However, I prefer the reverse creaming method developed by Rose Levy Berenbaum. With the reverse creaming method, you mix all of the dry ingredients together first and then add the fat. The fat coats the flour and prevents it from forming tough gluten networks when you add the liquid. Then, when you add the liquid, the flour is all tied up and your cake will be soft and tender. The melted butter incorporates into the flour and sugar really nicely; it coats the flour and sugar much like oil would because it’s melted. The melted butter is also much easier to mix in than cold butter. The result of the reverse creaming method? The cake has a more velvety crumb and a bit more dense, but it still is soft and delicious.
Those are the two major changes I made, but boy what a difference did they make! The result was fantastic. The cake had a buttery, but truly vanilla, flavor. A tip I’ve learned recently that’s very important for overall flavor enhancement is salt. I used to overlook salt (sorry, salt!) and now that I’ve been making an effort to include it in stuff, baked goods have a lot more flavor. So don’t forget the salt!
Here is my usual list of tips for successful cake baking:
- I prefer cake flour, but if you don’t have it all-purpose flour is alright, too! You just won’t have as delicate of a cake.
- Another note on flour: I highly recommend that you weigh it. It’s very easy to over measure (or under measure) the flour and this can do really funky things to the final result. Too much means the cake will be dry and too little means the cake might be pudding, not cake.
- Set your eggs out for at least an hour before you bake. If you don’t set them out, fill a bowl with warm water and set the eggs in there for a few minutes. This is a very important step because the eggs will incorporate better and you’ll have a more even cake.
- While you’re setting your eggs out, I also recommend measuring out your whole milk and Greek yogurt and set those out for a bit, too. They will also incorporate better into the batter if they’re closer to room temperature.
- You can certainly add almond instead of vanilla, if you’d like! I absolutely love almond cakes (probably even more than vanilla), so go for it.
- You can use Greek yogurt or sour cream. Either works great in this recipe.
- Don’t over mix this recipe. Because all of the gluten (aka the flour) is added right away, it has plenty of time to toughen up. Once you add the liquid, mix on medium speed until the liquid is incorporated, speed up for about thirty seconds and then be done mixing.
- Also, over baking cake is very easy to do but it’s a huge pain. When cake is over baked, it doesn’t do what cookies do and turn a nice brown color. Well, it does turn a nice brown color, but it completely dries out. It can be real nasty, so during the last minutes of making, keep a watchful eye on it. When a toothpick comes out of the center clean, take it out immediately. Sometimes, a difference of a minute can make the center set.
One final wonderful thing to talk about: the frosting! This frosting was fantastic. I kept eating the little corners that have extra frosting on them because why not. One of my favorite things about making frosting is that there’s a lot of flexibility. You can add as much or as little powdered sugar as you want, and you can add a little extra milk here and there if you want it thicker or thinner. I give a general recipe, but certainly adjust the recipe to your tastes. But once again, don’t forget the vanilla and the salt! The salt really brings out the flavor. A final tip about frosting techniques: it’s easiest to frost a cake when the frosting is at room temperature. If not, the frosting will stick to the cake and you’ll get cake pieces in your frosting.
Let me know how your recipe turns out! This cake is truly amazing!
- Vanilla cake:
- 1 1/4 cups (150 g) cake flour
- 1 cup (199 g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4-5 cups powdered sugar; add more until to desired thickness
- 4-5 Tablespoons whole milk or heavy whipping cream (if you have it)
- For the vanilla cake:
- Set out the egg and butter to soften.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a bowl, thoroughly mix together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- In a second bowl, mix together the Greek yogurt, whole milk and vanilla with a fork or whisk. Set aside.
- In a third bowl, melt the butter in the microwave or on a stove top. If you choose to use the microwave, microwave in 30 second increments and after each 30 seconds, stir the butter thoroughly and then microwave again if need be.
- When the butter is melted, add it to the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated. The mixture should look like small white peas.
- Add each egg one at a time.
- Finally, add the Greek yogurt/whole milk mixture. Mix on low until fully incorporated. Then mix for a minute on medium speed. Be careful not to over mix or your cake will be tough and it will have large holes in the structure.
- Grease a 9″ round cake pan with Pam or shortening. (You could also make this in a 9″ by 9″ pan for a sheet cake.) Sugar the pan, if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of the cake comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake. Dry cakes are not fun cakes.
- For the frosting:
- Soften the butter and then put in a bowl and cream.
- Add the powdered sugar and milk. Cream until fluffy and add more powdered sugar or a dash of milk to get desired consistency.
Great recipe and tips Brita! Looks delicious! What restaurant have you had the best Vanilla Cake? Remember to add it to your Besty List http://www.thebesty.com/bakingisascience
This recipe looks amazing. I’m going to try to make it for our birthday cake for Jesus this Christmas!
Hi Amanda! That’s amazing! Let me know how it goes!! 🙂
Awesome recipe Brita! Love the frosting! What restaurant have you had the best cake? Remember to add it to your Besty List! http://www.thebesty.com/bakingisascience
When/Where do you incorporate the vanilla and baking soda in the cake? They’re listed in the ingredient list but not mentioned in the instructions.
Hi Lisa! You add the vanilla with the whole milk/Greek yogurt section and add the baking soda with the baking powder. I edited the recipe!
How many cupcakes would this make, and how long would I bake them? Or is this not a good recipe to turn into cupcakes?
Hi Ellen! I suspect it would make around a dozen cupcakes!
The cupcakes were okay, the texture was more like a muffin though.
I know 2 1/2 cups AP Flour, I’d do 2 3/4 cups cake flour. But I am trying to make sure I get the correct amount of cake flour substitute for 1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour-about can you please help me
Hi Lisa! The conversion for all-purpose flour to cake flour is explained here
Looks yummy! Have you tried this recipe as cupcakes? I know you have cupcake recipes, but I was curious about this particular combination as cupcakes?
Hi Lorisue, I haven’t tried them as cupcakes, but they should work beautifully! Just make sure you use liners, fill them about 2/3 full, and bake for between 15-20 minutes (or when a toothpick comes out clean).
Hi there. Have made this cake numerous times for celebrations, it is so good! Just wondering if I want to make this a lemon cake, what would be the best way to go about it? Just adding a bit of rind? Thanks!
Hi Rebecca! If you’d like to make this into a lemon cake, I’d recommend adding the zest of one lemon. You might also add lemon juice to the frosting, but I wouldn’t add it to directly to the cake. Lemon juice is acidic and will make the cake explode or sink in the middle. Alternatively, you can try one of these two recipes: a lemon cake recipe from my blog and a really awesome lemon lime olive oil cupcake recipe, as well.