How To Bake A Cake From Scratch Like A Pro


Save yourself a trip to the store, and make this simple vanilla cake recipe at home.

classic vanilla cake

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Active Time:
15 mins
Bake Time:
25 mins
Total Time:
40 mins
9 slices
1 8-inch square cake

There is a universal love for cake. It's part of birthdays, weddings, and holidays, and it is easily adaptable to various fillings and icings.

While it is easy to grab a box of cake mix for an upcoming event (and we do love desserts made with mixes), making a cake from scratch is nearly as easy. This simple vanilla cake has a deliciously light texture and wonderful flavor, and best of all, it includes many pantry ingredients you likely have in your cupboard already.

Save yourself a trip to the store, and learn how to make this simple vanilla cake recipe step by step so you can present a beautiful dessert at your next gathering.

Classic Vanilla Cake Ingredients

Butter: Butter adds rich flavor to everything, and cake is no exception. Be sure to use unsalted butter when mixing to help maintain control over the salt flavor in the cake. As with many baked goods, making sure butter is at room temperature before mixing will help ensure ingredients are incorporated better.

Sugar: One of the primary roles of sugar is to add sweetness to the cake, but it also helps to create a soft, moist texture and aids in producing the appealing golden color. Regular granulated sugar works best in this recipe.

Eggs: Eggs help the cake in various ways, including providing stability and leavening. Before incorporating eggs into a batter, make sure they are at room temperature. A simple trick is to leave the shelled eggs in warm water for about 5 minutes before adding them into the cake mix.

classic vanilla cake ingredients

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Cake flour: You can use all-purpose flour for this recipe, but opt for cake flour, if possible. Cake flour contains less protein than all-purpose flour, which means there will be less gluten development. This simple shift will lead to a softer texture in your baked cake.

Baking powder: This leavening addition to the batter helps lighten the cake’s texture and gives it a light, fluffy rise.

Buttermilk: This ingredient helps in a few ways: It reacts with the baking powder to give more rise, adds a rich flavor, and helps balance out the sweetness of the cake. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, consider this handy substitution: Adding a bit of vinegar to milk produces a tangy product that works much the same as buttermilk.

Vanilla extract: What is vanilla cake without the addition of vanilla flavoring? Because this is the prominent flavor of this cake, aim to use quality vanilla extract for the best results. Even if you opt for a chocolate cake or another flavor, vanilla extract will likely be used still. It helps enhance the whole cake's flavor.

Salt: Even though there is only a little bit of salt in the recipe, it plays a valuable role in enhancing each of the flavors in the cake.

How To Bake a Cake in 7 Easy Steps

Once you've gathered your ingredients, it's time to get baking. Follow these seven steps to make a from-scratch cake that will taste like it came from a professional bakery.

Step 1. Prepare the pan

Start by turning on your oven and setting it to preheat to 350°F. By the time you get the batter finished and ready to bake, the oven will be up to the proper temperature.

Then, grab your 8- by 8-inch baking pan. Coat it with butter or cooking spray, and cover with a fine dusting of flour. Alternatively, you can spay it with cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. The parchment paper will help lift the cake from the pan later.

parchment paper in baking dish

Alison Miksch; Food Stylist: Karen Rankin; Prop Stylist: Josh Hoggle

Step 2. Cream the butter and sugar

If you have a stand mixer, add the room temperature butter and sugar to the mixer's bowl. Mix on high until the butter-sugar mixture is light and fluffy. This will take about 3 minutes.

If you don't have a stand mixer, you can use a large, high-sided bowl and a hand mixer.

You won't be able to get the butter and sugar properly creamed by mixing by hand.

creaming butter and sugar

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

With the mixer still running, add each of the eggs, one at a time, and mix to combine.

adding egg to butter and sugar

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. A mixer will sling some of the sugar-butter mixture on the sides as it goes. You want to make sure it's all well incorporated before adding the dry ingredients in the next step.

butter, sugar, and eggs mixed together

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 3. Combine dry ingredients

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Whisk them together so they're well incorporated before adding them to the wet ingredients in the next step.

dry cake ingredients

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Flour-Measuring Tip

Spoon, don't scoop! When you're measuring flour, don't scoop into the flour with your measuring cup. Instead, spoon flour into the measuring cup, then level it off . If you scoop, you'll pack too much flour into the cup, which could result in a dry, dense cake.

Step 4. Combine ingredients

Once you have the dry ingredients combined, grab the buttermilk. Turn the speed on the stand mixer to low. (If it's too high, you could send flour flying everywhere.)

Add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the stand mixer. Let it mix together for a few seconds, then add 1/2 of the buttermilk.

adding flour to cake batter

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk. You'll want to add in about 3 rounds, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. This will help make sure all the ingredients are well combined.

adding milk and vanilla to cake batter

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Again, stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl if you need to. You don't want to leave dry flour on the sides. It may not combine well with the full batter once it's in the pan.

Finally, add the vanilla extract, and mix just until combined.

mixing cake batter

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 5. Add batter to pan

Once the batter is mixed, it's time to add it to the pan you prepared back in step 1. Use a spatula to scrape all the batter from the mixing bowl. Then, use the spatula or the back of a spoon to evenly distribute the batter around the pan.

cake batter in pan

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 6. Bake the cake

Slide the cake pan into the preheated oven, and set a timer for 25 minutes. When you start to smell the cake's sweet aroma, the cake is nearing complete, so keep an eye on it. You'll know it's done when the top of the cake is golden-brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake's middle comes out clean.

baked cake in pan

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 7. Cool and frost

When the cake is fully baked, remove it from the oven. Let it rest and cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. If you didn't use parchment paper, you can flip the pan over onto a wire rack, and gently lift the pan off the cake. Let it cool complete on the wire rack, about 1 hour.

If you used parchment paper, use the excess paper on the sides to gently lift the cake out of the pan. Then, move it to a wire cooling rack, and let it cool completely, about 1 hour.

You can also leave the cake in the pan if you need to be able to carry it somewhere or want to contain a glaze or frosting.

Once the cake is completely cooled, top with your favorite frosting, glaze, or other decorative elements.

Tips for Success When Baking a Cake From Scratch

One of the most important steps when baking a cake from scratch is ensuring all the ingredients are as close to room temperature as possible so they incorporate into the batter easily. It can be frustrating to have small lumps at the end of the mixing process because an ingredient was too cold.

A quick fix for the butter and buttermilk is to warm them in the microwave for brief 5- to 10-second increments until they are close to room temperature.

Another common issue with baking a cake is over-mixing the batter. If you mix the batter for too long, you risk having a coarse, dry texture after the cake has baked, so be sure to only mix the ingredients until they are just combined.

Finally, remember to let your cake cool completely before icing it. If possible, chill the cake before frosting to make sure your cake sets up as firm as possible. For more information on why this is important, check out this insightful article on cake decorating success.

Classic Vanilla Cake

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Frequently Asked Cake Questions

Think you're ready to bake a cake? Here are a few more tips that might come in handy:

Can I use this cake to make cupcakes or a layered cake to decorate?

Absolutely! This recipe makes enough for 16 standard cupcakes. If you double the recipe, this will yield enough batter to make two 8-inch round cakes, which is a perfect size for building and decorating a layered cake.

Can I make the cake in advance?

Yes, once the cake has been baked, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap, or store it in an airtight container. The cake will stay good in the freezer for up to a month. You can also keep it stored in a fridge for about a week.

A helpful tip used in professional bakeries to ensure your cake stays moist: Add some simple syrup to the top of the cake before icing it.

What are some great ways to serve this vanilla cake?

There are a variety of ways to use this cake. If you want to serve this cake in a classic way, icing the top of the cake with vanilla buttercream would be an excellent choice. You could also choose a topping from this delicious list of frostings, and make this cake with some of your personal favorite flavor combinations. Other ideas could be to pair the cake with fresh fruit or whipped cream, or balance the sweetness with a serving of tart lemon curd.


  • 1 cup (232 grams) granulated sugar

  • 8 Tbsp. (114 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 3 large eggs (145 grams)

  • 1 1/2 cups (230 grams) cake flour, sifted

  • 2 tsp. (11 grams) baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp. (3 grams) table salt

  • 2/3 cup (170 milliliters) buttermilk

  • 2 tsp. (10 grams) vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F; Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan. Set aside.

  2. Cream the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With mixer running, slowly add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and mixing until blended.

  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt until combined.

  4. Reduce mixer speed to low; add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Add vanilla extract. Mix just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

  5. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes. If desired, remove cake from pan. You can also leave it in the pan if desired. Let cool completely on a wire rack for 1 hour before frosting the cake. Cut cake into 9 slices; and serve.

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