This vanilla bean cake is super moist, full of vanilla flavor, is rich and buttery, made from scratch and covered in buttercream. It’s the best vanilla cake I’ve ever had and I have a feeling it will quickly become your family’s favorite.
When it comes to cake, there is nothing more comforting than a vanilla cake. It’s a classic for a reason. It’s not overpowering in flavor and is perfect for weddings and birthdays.
Hey there! Before you scroll, there’s lot’s of important stuff in the post!…including the FAQ section, which may answer any questions you might have about this recipe. Enjoy!
The good news is that you don’t need a box mix to make a good vanilla cake. This cake is super moist, with just the right amount of sweetness without being too heavy or dense like some scratch cakes can be.
Plus it’s actually pretty easy to make. In my opinion, it’s the absolute best vanilla cake recipe and you won’t want to stop eating it.
I’ve also included a video lower in the post on how to make this layer cake from scratch so that you can follow along step-by-step.
Now let’s talk a little about just some of the ingredients that are in this vanilla bean cake. (The printable list of all ingredients are in the recipe card below.)
(Make sure to check out the FAQ section below in this post for substitution questions.)
Cake flour: This recipe calls for cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. Using cake flour will give your cake a softer texture. If you can’t get cake flour, make sure to check out the FAQ section lower in this post for a substitute.
Unsalted butter: Butter gives this cake a really nice flavor. It also gives a lot of moisture to the cake.
Sour cream: I love using sour cream in cakes. It really adds to the flavor and gives it a ton of moisture.
Vanilla bean paste: This is the real flavor star of this recipe. Although you can still use vanilla extract, using vanilla bean paste gives it even more flavor. It’s just so good and I urge you to just try it.
Sometimes, vanilla pean paste can get a little expensive though, so just know that you can use vanilla extract and it’ll still taste amazing.
Almond baking emulsion: This ingredient is optional, but I think it’s really the secret ingredient to this cake.
Now, just hear me out on the almond emulsion. The recipe only calls for a very small amount and it does NOT taste like ordinary almond extract, which I personally don’t even like.
No, this recipe calls for almond baking emulsion, not almond extract. To me, they taste WAY different.
Even if you think you won’t like anything with almond extract in it…I have one question for you…have you tried it? Sometimes things taste totally different than you expect. I mean I don’t even like almonds, but I like this because to me…it doesn’t taste like almonds.
Here’s my point on the almond emulsion: This recipe only calls for half a teaspoon. That isn’t much and it’s not strong or overpowering at all. All it does is help bring out the flavor of the vanilla bean paste.
When you taste this cake, you don’t really taste an almond flavor. You just know it’s got this full vanilla bean flavor and something a little special that makes you never want to stop eating it.
I’ve personally been told loads of times by people that they don’t what’s in the cake, but they just couldn’t stop eating it.
As always though…if you are allergic to almonds, then don’t use it. If you’ve already tried it and you don’t like it…it’s ok! I won’t be mad at you and you can still make this cake with just vanilla bean paste or extract and it will STILL be awesome.
Vanilla bean buttercream: You’re gonna want to add buttercream to this cake and I have just the one for you. You can find that recipe here: Vanilla Bean Buttercream
How to Make this Cake:
Let’s talk a little about how to make this vanilla bean cake. (The printable instructions are in the recipe card below.)
First, you’ll need to preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (Now, just know that you’re going to turn the oven temp down to 325 degrees F once you put the cakes in the oven.)
The thought process behind this is to give the cake a boost of heat to help it rise higher, but then to let the temp go lower so that it doesn’t over-brown the bottom and top.
You’ll also want to go ahead and grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans that are about 2 inches high. (If making cupcakes, make sure and read the notes in the recipe post or the FAQ section lower in this post.)
Now combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk.
In another bowl, combine the sour cream, milk, oil, vanilla, almond and eggs. Mix well with a whisk and set aside.
Now cut the butter into chunks. Then, turn the mixer on low and add the butter slowly to your dry ingredients. You’ll just mix on low to medium until all the butter is added, then switch to medium, medium-high and mix until all the flour is coated with the butter and the mixture is crumbly.
You want the mixture to resemble a sand-like texture.
Now pour in about a third of the liquid mixture. Mix that in on low to medium until combined…about 30 seconds to one minute. (Some reverse creaming recipes call for mixing 1-2 minutes at this stage, but be careful about mixing longer than a minute as mixing for too long will cause a dense, rubbery cake.)
Pour the last of the liquid mixture and mix again until well combined. Don’t overmix the batter at this point. Stop mixing once everything is well incorporated.
Use a rubber spatula and scrape the sides of the bowl. Mix again for only about 10 to 15 seconds though.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans.
Slide the cakes into the oven and make sure to turn the temperature down to 325 degrees F (unless you’re making these as cupcakes, in which case you’ll want to read the notes below).
Bake the cake layers at 325 degrees F for approximately 40-45 minutes.
The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake layer comes out with either a few moist crumbs on it or clean, but now raw batter.
You don’t have to wait until the toothpick comes out clean. Just make sure it doesn’t have raw batter on it.
Set the cake layers on wire racks and let them cool for about ten minutes. After they’ve settled for ten minutes, turn the cakes out of the pans and onto the racks.
Let them cool out of the pans completely before adding buttercream frosting or freezing the layers.
See my post on how to freeze cake layers and cupcakes here: How to Freeze Cake & Cupcakes
Once the layers are cooled, set one layer on a cake plate or cake platter and add buttercream to the top.
Next, add the second layer and cover the entire cake with buttercream.
You can find my buttercream recipe here: Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Tips & FAQs:
A white cake is usually whiter in color and could use vegetable shortening instead of butter to help get a lighter color cake. The vanilla is also isn’t usually as strong in a white cake as it would be in a vanilla cake.
A vanilla cake usually includes vanilla extract and a vanilla bean cake usually includes vanilla bean paste. Vanilla bean cake usually has a stronger vanilla flavor.
Vanilla bean paste is thicker and uses actual vanilla seeds. Using vanilla bean paste in cakes really pumps up the vanilla flavor.
Here’s a good article from Nielsen-Massey on when to use vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract: When to use Vanilla Bean Paste and Vanilla Extract
You can sometimes get it at craft stores that sell cake decorating supplies, but I generally order mine from Amazon.
Here are some options:
LorAnn Organic Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste
Native Vanilla Bean Paste
Heilala Vanilla Bean Paste for Baking
Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
Taylor & Colledge Organic Vanilla Bean Paste
Yes you sure can. I think using a good vanilla bean emulsion or paste really pumps up the flavor and can set your cake apart from the rest, but a real vanilla extract will work as well.
Cake flour is different than all-purpose flour and they can’t be substituted for each other in equal amounts. Cake flour will give your cake a more tender texture, so it’s best to use that in this recipe if you can get it.
If you can’t get cake flour, you’ll have to substitute it with all-purpose flour, but you’ll need to make these changes: For every cup of cake flour called for in the recipe, use one cup of all-purpose flour instead and remove two tablespoons of it, then replace that with two tablespoons of cornstarch.
Be careful not to pack the flour down into the measuring cup when you measure it out. That can add too much flour to the batter and cause the cake to be dense and dry. Just spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off.
Unsalted butter works best because you can estimate the proper amount of salt that will be added plus salted butter has a different water content than unsalted.
However, if you’re unable to get unsalted butter, you can use salted in the cake and the buttercream, but omit the additional salt that each recipe calls for.
Sour cream is best in this recipe as it helps make a very moist cake and gives a little flavor. If you don’t have access to it, you can use plain yogurt, but use the full-fat yogurt instead of the low-fat or fat-free type.
No, you don’t have to use it, but it’s really a very small amount and it just gives a hint of added flavor. Personally, I think it adds that extra secret ingredient that people just love and it doesn’t actually taste like almonds.
To see an even deeper discussion on why I really like a touch of it in this cake, check out the ingredient section closer to the top of this post.
The mixing method for this cake is called the reverse creaming method because instead of creaming the butter with the sugar, you’ll add the butter, in chunks, to the dry mixture which will coat it.
This method helps produce a softer cake and helps reduce the chance of over-mixing which can over-develop the gluten.
This cake is done baking when a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out with a few moist crumbs on it or clean, but no raw batter.
This cake can be made ahead of time and frozen if desired. Let the baked cake cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap and foil and place in the freezer for up to a month.
To thaw, place the wrapped cake on the counter at room temperature and let thaw completely, then remove the wrapping. Once defrosted, add the glaze.
This cake can be stored covered at room temperature for several days as long as it’s not covered or filled with a perishable frosting.
To prolong freshness, the cake can then be covered and stored in the refrigerator for a few additional days.
Most cakes are best served close to room temperature, especially when made with butter like this one. If the cake is cold, set it out to come closer to room temperature for about 20-30 minutes before serving.
You can also pop a slice in the microwave to warm up a bit.
Yes, but with a few changes. Fill 2 cupcake pans (24 cupcakes) with cupcake liners and fill with batter about ⅔ of the way full. Bake at 350 degrees F (do not turn the temperature down) and bake for about 15-25 minutes depending on the size of your oven. Start checking for doneness at around 12 minutes just to be sure.
You may have a bit of cake batter left over, but you can chill that batter and make the remaining cupcakes when the others have baked.
Yes, this cake works well for stacking as long as you use proper supports as you would stacking any cake.
Supplies used for this recipe:
- Magic Line 8-inch round cake pans or Wilton 8-inch round cake pans
- Silicone spatula
- Mixing bowls
- Stand mixer or electric hand-mixer
- Cooling racks
- Vanilla bean paste options: LorAnn Organic Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste, Native Vanilla Bean Paste, Heilala Vanilla Bean Paste for Baking, Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste, Taylor & Colledge Organic Vanilla Bean Paste, Almond emulsion
- Almond baking emulsion
***I write recipes using volume (cups) measurements because here in the U.S., this is what people are used to seeing and using. For weight in metric measurements, click the ‘metric’ button under the ingredients in the recipe card. The weights are converted by a program, not me, and it’s a best guess. Please note that because I develop recipes using ‘cups’ I can’t guarantee that weighing the ingredients will produce the exact same results.
Favorite Vanilla Bean Cake
- 3 cups cake flour (not all-purpose flour, see FAQs in the post for substitutions)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, only slightly cooler than room temperature (2 sticks)
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- ½ teaspoon almond emulsion (optional)
- 3 large eggs
- Vanilla Bean Buttercream (recipe link in the notes section)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (You will turn the oven temperature down to 325 degrees F once you put the cakes in the oven.)
- Grease and flour two 8" round cake pans. (If making cupcakes, read notes below)
- Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk well. Set aside.
- In another bowl, combine the sour cream, milk, oil, vanilla bean paste, almond extract and eggs. Mix well with a whisk and set aside.
- Cut the almost room-temperature butter into chunks. Turn the mixer on low and slowly add the butter, a bit at a time, to the dry ingredients. Once all the butter has been added, mix on medium to medium-high until all the flour is coated with the butter and the mixture is crumbly. It should have a sand-like texture. If the butter is too warm or if it's mixed for too long, it will form a paste and this will not produce a good cake texture.
- Pour about a third of the liquid mixture. into the dry mixture and mix on low to medium until well combined…about 30 seconds to one minute. (Some reverse creaming recipes call for mixing 1-2 minutes at this stage, but be careful about mixing longer than a minute as mixing for too long will cause a dense cake.)
- Pour the last of the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and mix again until well combined. Don't overmix the batter at this point. Stop mixing once everything is well incorporated, usually no more than about 20-30 seconds.
- Use a silicone spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix again for only about 10 to 15 seconds.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans.
- Slide the cake pans into the oven and turn the oven temp down to 325 degrees F (unless you're making these as cupcakes, in which case you'll want to read the notes below).
- Bake at 325 degrees F for approximately 40-45 minutes. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out with a few moist crumbs on it or clean, but no raw batter.
- Set on wire racks to cool for ten minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the racks and let them cool out of the pans completely before adding buttercream frosting.
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