Vanilla Sheet Cake

This vanilla sheet cake is an easy-to-make one-pan cake that’s topped with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. Perfect for birthdays or any special occasion.

Just like my chocolate sheet cake, my perfect vanilla cake is a one-bowl affair made with buttermilk for a little tang and a wonderful moist texture. A great vanilla cake deserves a very special buttercream, so for this recipe, I have turned to a super smooth and silky Swiss meringue version. You can make this cake with ridiculously little effort and then while it bakes, you can quickly knock out the buttercream. As vanilla is the dominant flavor, this is a recipe for which I would splurge and use a vanilla pod for the buttercream.–Edd Kimber

Vanilla Sheet Cake

Squares of vanilla sheet cake with Swiss buttercream frosting and sprinkles on white plates with a coupe of Champagne in the background.
This vanilla sheet cake is an easy-to-make one-pan cake that's topped with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. Perfect for birthdays or any special occasion.
Edd Kimber

Prep 30 mins
Cook 35 mins
Total 2 hrs
Dessert
American
12 servings
617 kcal
No ratings yet
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Ingredients 

For the vanilla sheet cake

  • Butter for the pan
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 cups superfine sugar (or blitz granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk preferably full-fat
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Swiss meringue buttercream frosting
  • Sprinkles to decorate (optional)

Directions
 

Make the vanilla sheet cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter a 9-by 13-inch (23-by 33-cm) baking pan and line with a piece of parchment paper that hangs a little over the 2 long sides.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.
  • Make a well in the middle, add the eggs, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla, and then whisk until the batter is smooth and combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the boiling water and whisk briefly to combine. The batter will be thin, but don’t worry, that’s what we want.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

    TESTER TIP: Check the cake periodically and if it seems to be browning a little too much, tent with foil for the last 10 or so minutes of baking

  • Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes before using the parchment paper handles to lift it onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Spread the buttercream over the cooled cake and top with sprinkles, if using. Cut into portions and serve. Store, covered, for up to 3 days.
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Notes

*What can I do with that used vanilla pod?

Don’t discard the used pod. There’s a ton of flavor left inside. You can use it to roast fruits, to make vanilla sugar, to make your own vanilla syrup or to make your own vanilla extract with vodka or bourbon or rum…oh my!

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1pieceCalories: 617kcal (31%)Carbohydrates: 99g (33%)Protein: 6g (12%)Fat: 22g (34%)Saturated Fat: 11g (69%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 49mg (16%)Sodium: 574mg (25%)Potassium: 153mg (4%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 70g (78%)Vitamin A: 111IU (2%)Calcium: 63mg (6%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

Recipe Testers' Reviews

In a prior review, I remarked that I came for the cake but stayed for the frosting. That statement is equally true in this case. The frosting is the star. I would need to swallow a thesaurus to have enough adjectives to describe this singular frosting. It is so good that it almost makes you want to abandon chocolate frosting.

The cake is easy to make. The use of boiling water in addition to the buttermilk and oil was a surprising twist. The batter was thin as described. What emerged from the oven was an airy golden brown marvel. The result is a soft, spongy cake with a flavor that doesn’t overpower the frosting. It serves as the platform which allows the frosting to take center stage.

The frosting is a snap to make. It’s light and seductive and doesn’t reveal the sinful amount of butter used in the recipe. I was anxious about the frosting because I have a love-hate relationship with egg whites. I fear them almost as much as meat cleavers and mandolines. No matter how many photos I look at, I am always trying to figure out when I have reached soft peaks versus stiff peaks. I cannot count the number of overbeaten disasters I’ve produced. That being said, I was not to be deterred and the egg whites had the good sense to surrender and give me a lovely shiny set of stiff peaks.

With the biggest hurdle conquered, I added the butter, salt and vanilla as directed. The frosting was velvety smooth and the taste was more vanilla than butter. It makes the cake whole as the two flavors join together. It’s also a frosting which could be eaten directly from the bowl when no one is watching.

The cake is very festive and will add a quotient of joy to any event. It will delight vanilla and chocolate lovers equally. The cake would be easy enough to throw together for that last-minute party or school event. Covered, it lasted the better part of the week and we consumed every last morsel. My husband loved it as well.

I had a moment of panic when I discovered that my vanilla beans were really dry and crumbly, well beyond the bounds of rehydration. After a quick bit of research, I determined that I could substitute a teaspoon of either vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste for the vanilla bean. I used a teaspoon of Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste in place of the vanilla bean. The frosting did not suffer as a result of the substitution.

I used the convection bake setting on my oven and reduced the temperature by 25 degrees to 325°F. I rotated the pan at 17 minutes into the cooking cycle. The cake was done at 35 minutes and was a lovely gold color.

If you need a cake that simply needs to be good enough, this is the recipe. This cake was easy to prepare by hand as the author promised. I like that it used oil rather than butter because I think it makes the resulting cake more moist. I used a glass baking pan which caused the edges to be a little tough, as pyrex usually gets hotter than metal pans. Other than that, it tasted good with a simple flavor and soft interior. It’s not overly sweet, nor overly “cake batter” flavored as in some yellow cake mixes. The plainness and lack of sweetness also makes this cake a good canvas for your frosting of choice.

The cake was done after 35 minutes. At 30 minutes, the top was pale and the sides were golden brown, but the inside was still batter-y. After five more minutes, the top was browned as well and the center was cooked.

I used the chocolate frosting from the Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting recipe It was pretty sweet with all the confectioner’s sugar and reminded me of chocolate canned frosting (in a good way). I would agree with the recipe that it should be used right away--I let mine sit covered at room temp for an hour or so while the cake was cooling, and it dried out a bit which made it not stick as well to the cake. Adding another teaspoon or so of milk before using it would’ve helped make it more creamy and sticky, I think.


Originally published December 19, 2020

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Comments

  1. Hi! This was my first time making Swiss meringue buttercream and it came out a little gritty. I followed the directions but I guess the sugar didn’t fully dissolve? What should I do differently next time? Thanks!!

    1. You are likely correct, Remi in Boston. You need to make sure that you heat the egg white and sugar mixture long enough for the sugar to fully dissolve. You can also try using superfine sugar which will dissolve a little quicker. I hope that helps!

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