The Perfect Vanilla Cake Recipe

You decorate cakes and want a delicious cake for your guests to bite into but if you make it from scratch you find it can be too dry and have to use a cake soak OR if you make it from a box, it’s too moist and crumbles when you try to crumb coat.

Making cakes from scratch requires the perfect lab environment: the right temperature eggs, ingredients poured out to the exact measurement, and the flour folded at just the right moment.

One distraction and the cake is toast.

If you have a job (🙋🏻‍♀️), kids (🙋🏻‍♀️), or any other distractions ( 🙋🏻‍♀️🙋🏻‍♀️🙋🏻‍♀️), creating a cake from scratch has too many variables that can go wrong.

Plus, let’s face it, their taste never beats the taste of a cake mix cake.

This is why I create cake recipes with cake mix incorporated.

Cake mixes are a hit because they make up for human error.

When I’ve made a cake using cake mix, I get RAVE reviews and when I make a cake using cake flour, I get so-so reviews.

I’m proud to present the easiest and most delicious vanilla cake recipe you’ll try. You don’t even have to tell people you used a cake mix – just wait to hear what they say.

Here is my recipe perfect for a 6-inch, 3 layer vanilla cake:

The Perfect Vanilla Cake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

For the cake

  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 cup sifted, all purpose flour (+ flour for dusting pans)
  • 1 package (15.25 oz) white cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines as it doesn’t have pudding but you can choose a cake mix with pudding)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 whole egg
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 2 Tbl spoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla (I use Mexican vanilla)

For the frosting Follow my American butter cream recipe  Supplies

  • (3) 6-inch round cake pans (must be at least 2-inch deep)
  • Large mixing bowl for the dry ingredients (I use my KitchenAid Mixer for this)
  • Large mixing bowl for your wet ingredients
  • Large wire racks to cool the layers
  • (1) 6-inch impermeable cake board
  • Parchment paper
  • Whisk
  • Spatula


Directions

  1. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. With a pencil, trace the bottom of the pans on parchment paper so that you have (3) 6-inch diameter round parchment papers.
  3. Grease the inside of each pan. Press the parchment paper into the inner bottom of each pan.
  4. Flour the inner sides of the pans.
  5. If you’re using a mixer, grab that bowl, if not, choose a large mixing bowl. You will be mixing your dry ingredients together first.
  6. Place the cake mix, sifted flour, granulated sugar and mix to combine ingredients. It should look like a uniform mixture after 2 minutes.
  7. Now you will combine your wet ingredients together in a separate mixing bowl.
  8. In this mixing bowl, place the water, sour cream, whole egg, egg whites, oil, and vanilla.
  9. Mix with a whisk or electric mixer until you have a uniform mixture (about 20 seconds).
  10. Continuously stirring on low speed, pour about 1/3 of the wet mixture into the dry mixture. When fully incorporated, turn off the machine (or stop your arm from stirring) and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  11. Repeat with another 1/3 amount of the wet mixture, and then the final 1/3.
  12. Now increase your speed to medium until the batter is uniform and smooth. Should take about 2 minutes.
  13. Ladle 1/3 of the cake batter into each prepared baking pan.
  14. You want to get the air bubbles out of the cake batter in order for it to bake evenly. So lift each pan about 3 inches into the air above the counter and slam it back down on the counter. Repeat this with each pan. You’ll notice the air bubbles popping at the surface.
  15. Bake the layers until they just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the tops are brown. Should take about 40 minutes.
  16. Transfer cake pans to wire racks to cool. Take an offset knife and run it around the edge of the cakes.
  17. If you are serving the cake within 24 hours, then you can allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans, then pop them in the freezer (still in their pans, you don’t even have to cover them with foil). I’ve done this 100 times and if they are in the freezer for 24 hours, they will come out perfectly fine.
  18. If you are building your cake more than 24 hours later, then after pulling your cake out of the oven and running the offset knife through, invert the cake on a wire rack and pull off the pan. Then, using another wire rack, invert the cake again so the cake is standing up on a flat edge. Let the cake cool for about another couple of hours (I put them in my cold, second oven so that neither my toddler nor my dog get the urge to go for them), then wrap them in plastic wrap and place in fridge.

I’d love to hear how your cake came out and what you celebrated with it!

Rosette Cake

Raise your hand if you have ever been in charge of bringing the cake for a celebration and you quickly went into panic mode because not only did you not know how to decorate it to bring the umpf you want for the occasion and you also relinquished to buying a last minute cake at the super market. Been there, too!

The rosette cake is so downplayed for how easy it is to create.

Note: My how-to assumes your cake is already assembled & crumb coated with the first layer of icing. 

What you need:

Rosette Cake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • (1) 6″ (or bigger cake round)
  • (2-3) 6″ cake layers
  • 1.5x buttercream recipe
  • (1) Straight edge
  • (1) Offset knife
  • Wilton tip 1M
  • Wilton tip 2D
  • (2) Piping bags fitted with tips above. If you’re going for the multi-tone, rosette cake like in my video, when filling the bags with icing, alternate between different colored icings.
  • Leave space in freezer to fit cake.

Please review the attached video when making this cake.

For video click here: https://youtu.be/HNN2NCDM7fw

Directions

(This assumes your cake is crumb coated with the bottom layer of icing).

  1. Crumb coat your cake but don’t spend ridiculous amounts of time getting a nice smooth side; its going to be covered in buttercream decorations.
  2. Pop in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  3. While your cake is in the freezer. Take your piping bag fitted with the Wilton 1M and fill with icing, alternating between colors (if using multiple colored icings).
  4. Do the same for the piping bag with tip 2D.
  5. Carefully pull your cake out of the freezer.
  6. Using an offset knife, gently slice the excess icing on the cake.
  7. Take your bag with tip 1M and practice on a clean plate making rosettes. Then take the tip to the cake, picking a point to start and in a clockwise motion, fill out the flower.  Fill the cake with rosettes anywhere you can fit the space.
  8. Fill in the gaps with the 2D tip.

American Buttercream Icing

To my fellow at home bakers, this is the easiest recipe and tastiest recipe I’ve made with the highest ratings when I take it to the office.

I love this recipe because it only takes a handful ingredients and the taste is not overwhelming sweet.

How do I make from scratch icing not yellow?

  • Unless you use hi-ratio shortening, butter-based recipes will always turn a slightly yellow color.
  • You can add the slightest (and when I say slightest, I mean take the tip of a toothpick and nothing else) and dab purple gel food coloring to add to your icing in sparing bits, mixing in between, until the purple neutralizes the yellow.
    • Purple neutralizes yellow (color wheel opposites).

How  do I make my icing flavor even keep powdered sugar from clumping? 

  • This is why I recommend pre-mixing your dry ingredients separately from your wet ingredients.
  • Most powdered sugars are made with cornstarch and cornstarch has gluten in it. Over mixing gluten will make it toughen up, causing occasional clumps.
  • Mixing your dry ingredients in a separate bowl will allow for an even, smooth buttercream.

How much icing do I usually make?

  • My recipe is enough to ice a 6″ round cake with thick buttercream decorations. It is also enough to ice a 7″ cake if you’re not decorating the entire cake with thick icing.

Why do I measure the sugar out in pounds and not in cups?

  • Even though the bags of powdered sugar will say “2 lbs” they are rarely that exact weight. In the packing of the sugar, the sugar will sometimes clump up and therefore some bags will be packed with less and some with more than the labeled 2 lbs.
  • Get yourself a kitchen scale. Usually $10 on amazon.

 

Easy American Buttercream Recipe

  • Servings: 6-inch round cake
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of salted butter (I use HEB brand)
  • 6 oz water
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla (I use Mexican vanilla)
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar (about 8 cups)
  • 1 cup powdered coffee creamer
  • pinch of salt
  • Wet dish towel (to contain sugar)
  • (1) Mixing bowl
  • (1) Large bowl
  • (1) Spatula

Directions

  1. Measure butter into mixing bowl and add the salt.
  2. Measure out water into a measuring cup and add your flavoring.
  3. In a large bowl, measure out powdered sugar, add creamer and mix well.
  4. Using the paddle attachment on your mixer, mix the butter and the salt until well blended.
  5. Add about 5 large spoonfuls of the sugar mixture into the mixing bowl with the butter. Cover the mixing bowl with wet towel (this will keep the sugar from going all over your kitchen). Turn mixer on low and gradually increase to medium speed.
  6. Turn mixer off, with a spatula scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  7. Turn mixer on, add about 2 ounces of your water mixture. Mix for about 10 seconds then turn mixer off.
  8. Continue to alternate between your sugar mixture and water until all is blended.

Note: If using a heavy duty mixer such as Kitchenaid, mix on low speed until well blended. You’ll know its well blended as the icing will take on a whiter color. If you’re using a hand held mixer, mix on either medium or high keeping the beaters below surface of ingredients.

Cake Pans

There are a gazillion of choices when it comes to cake pans. It’s worth investing in a good set but it’s easy to get carried away with all the different options.

I currently use only Fat-Daddio’s pans and have had great success with them the past couple of years. I have a set of (3) 6-inch diameter round cake pans and a set of 8-inch diameter round cake pans from this brand that are my always go to.

You don’t need to go with this brand, but I do recommend you go with shiny baking pans. Shiny baking pans reflect heat, allowing the cake the bake more evenly. Dark pans will cause the sides of the cake to darken.

Storing Cakes

I often get asked how I have enough time to bake and decorate cakes while juggling a full time job and a family.

The key is time management. It’s not going to happen all in one evening. I remind myself it’s a marathon, not a sprint (back to my mantra in engineering school).

So let’s say I have a cake I want to bring to the office on a Friday, this is how I go about it:

Sunday: Prepare the icing. Store in an airtight tupperware container and pop it in the freezer.

Wednesday: Bake the cake. I leave the cake layers in their pans to cool on a wire rack on the counter. Once cool, I cover the top of the pan with foil and place in the freezer. Seriously, you can leave the layers in the pans in the freezer over night and absolutely nothing happens. I’ve done this plenty of times.

Thursday morning: Pull the icing out and set on the kitchen counter to thaw out

Thursday evening: Pull the layers of cake out about 30 minutes before I start decorating and leave on counter.

I also throw the icing back into my mixer and add a little heavy cream as I mix.

Decorate your cake and ta-da! Cake is complete. I wouldn’t have had the time to do it all in one night so I spread it out over a span of 5 days.

What if I don’t have time during that week to bake? 

No problem! You can always bake your layers and make your icing up to a month in advance by freezing.

If you’re going to leave your cake layers in for more than a day or a two in the freezer, I recommend individually wrapping each layer in heavy duty foil and leaving it in the freezer until you’re ready to decorate.

 

Layered Chocoflan Cake

This cake is simple and elegant and different. I’ll show you how to make this Mexican classic cake with an edge.

My suggestion: do not, and I mean do not, try to make this more complicated by doing it from scratch. Buy a cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines) and make your life easier.

What you’ll need

For the cake:

  • 1 box of Duncan Hines Swiss Chocolate Cake Mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sifted all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the flan:

  • 1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
  • 1 box (8 oz) of softened cream cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar (for the caramel)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Tools:

  • 2 – 8″ cake rounds
  • 1 large cookie sheet
  • 1 – 7″ round cutter (I use Ateco brand)
  • Cake Mixer
  • Small sauce pan to warm sugar
  • Heat proof spatula

Directions:

  1. Put an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
  2. Turn on heat to medium high for sauce pan
  3. Pour sugar in sauce pan and DON’T stir it. Otherwise it will crystallize. Wait until it is a clear liquid and then stir with your heat proof spatula. As a warning, caramel is EXTREMELY hot so be very careful.
  4. Coat the bottom of your pans with the sugar. It will harden almost immediately and it won’t look even, that’s totally fine!
  5. For the cake: pour in your mixer all of your dry ingredients and mix on low.
  6. Pour in one by one your wet ingredients stirring slowly in between each ingredient.
  7. For the flan: In a blender, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream cheese, eggs and vanilla. Blend on high for 30 seconds.
  8. Pour your cake batter into your cake pans with equal amounts in each.
  9. Pour the flan mixture into each of the pans slowly. The mixtures will separate on their own in the oven.
  10. Put the cookie sheet in oven and pour enough water for there to be 1/2″ of water in height.
  11. Carefully place the prepared cake pans on the cookie sheet and bake 40 minutes until the surface of the cake is firm to the touch, or an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  12. Remove cakes from water bath and let cool for an hour at room temperature and then place in fridge for a day.
  13. When ready to serve, create a water bath of hot water and place the pans in the water bath for a few minutes. This will melt the caramel.
  14. Run a spatula around the rim of the the cake and then flip the first pan onto your serving plate. If your cakes came out different in size, put your thicker cake as the first cake on the serving plate.
  15. Do the same with the second cake but this time you’re going flip the cake on the first cake so they’re stacked.
  16. This is where your cake will take a right turn from the traditional bundt cake. Grab your 7″ round cutter and place it smack in the center on top of your cake. Push it down all the way until all the edges have been cut smooth.

    By cutting it with the round cutter, you give it a smoother look than the traditional bundt look.

 

The Best Decorator’s Icing (+ most stable)

As this is the first official post, I want to share with you one of my biggest AHA moments since I embarked on this adventure of cake creation:

Icings are not created equal. 

The success of your cake will be largely based on how well the icing can hold up your decorations.

When searching for the best icing I would run Google searches. I wasn’t a professional by any means and I figured the Internet knew better.

Excited that I had found the “BEST” icing, I followed the prep instructions to a T, was SUPER excited to decorate with it and more often than not – the icing held up while the cake was still indoors.

A hard lesson learned is that not all icings can withstand the test of heat and humidity.

Additionally, not all decorators’ icings are created equal. I learned this as I walked from the front door of the house to the car with an Elmo cake.  That baby wasn’t going to hold up and I cringed as the fur I had piped in the back started to drip down.

I have lived in both 100% humidity + frying-pan hot areas and I can tell you that 100% butter recipes will not cut it or even 50% butter recipes.

So if you’re looking for a recipe that CAN withstand heat + humidity, taste delicious, and hold your decorations, you’ll want to keep reading.

I keep a tub of this icing ready-made in the pantry at all times. It brings me peace of mind to know I always have a backup icing and best of all, it gets rave reviews in taste tests (scroll to the bottom as proof + the seal cake that I piped with this recipe).

Q/A: 

  • Can you freeze it?  Yes, but totally not necessary. It can be stored in your pantry for months.
  • Can it be made ahead of time? Yes!
  • Do I use it all of the time? I don’t. I like the taste of 50% butter recipes more, but I definitely use this recipe when weather will be an issue.
  • Does this recipe crust? Yes. When piping decorations, you’ll want it to.
  • Do I color it with food coloring? Yes! I use soft gel food coloring and Americolor is my favorite brand.
  • Can you add a flavor to it? Yes, but I highly recommend you use professional strength flavorings. Food extracts don’t “stick” to the shortening as well. 
  • Do I use grocery bought shortening? I don’t. High Ratio Shortening gives it the consistency I like without the greasy feeling.
  • Can I buy these ingredients at the grocery store? Grocery stores usually won’t carry the high-ratio shortening nor professional strength flavors. So it’s a bit more of a hassle but it’s totally worth the peace of mind knowing your icing isn’t about to melt off the cake.

When I know I will be making this recipe, I will usually make it a week in advance to let the flavors settle. If placed in a sealed container, this buttercream can last in your pantry for months.

Recipe:

1lb  High Ratio Shortening (~ 2 1/4 cups) – I use Sweetex bought at a cake decorator’s store

1/4 tsp Salt

2 1/2 lbs (or 10 cups) Powdered Sugar

1 1/4 cups of Powdered Coffee Creamer –  I use Coffee Mate brand but you can use any brand you like.

2 tbl Butter Vanilla Flavoring – I use Magic Brand

6.5 oz Water

In a large bowl, pour the measured out powdered sugar and coffee creamer.

In your mixing bowl, add the shortening and beat on low with the paddle attached to the mixer. When well blended, turn mixer off.

Add 1 cup of the dry mixture into the bowl. Continue beating on low.

Add the Butter Vanilla flavoring (or whichever flavoring you plan to use) with 2 ounces of water.  Continue beating on low until well blended then turn mixer off.

Add salt.

Continue alternating between dry mixture and water until fully blended. Turn the blender off when adding ingredients then return to beating on low.

Once well blended, you can add the food color, beating on low until you reach the desired shade.

 Side Fact:

Magic Line has several popular flavors in addition to Butter Vanilla: Butter, Almond, and Creme Bouquet. The Almond flavor tastes just like almond extract and its made from absolutely zero almonds. IMG_4889