Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

This vanilla buttermilk cake, made from pantry ingredients, was a huge hit with our testers. Easy enough that it’s kid- and novice baker-friendly, but it still makes an impressively moist and flavorful cake. Our testers slathered it with everything—icing, ice cream, fruit, lemon curd—and even loved it on its own. Trust us when we tell you this cake is simplicity at its best.

Individual servings of vanilla buttermilk cake with white frosting on pink plates.

Adapted from Yossy Arefi | Snacking Cakes | Clarkson Potter, 2020

Folks, this is the closest thing to a yellow cake from a boxed mix that I’ve ever made in my home kitchen—and that’s a good thing! You’ll want to break out your vanilla bean paste for this soft vanilla-packed cake. It’s also easy to dress this cake up for pretty much any occasion.–Yossy Arefi

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

Individual servings of vanilla buttermilk cake with white frosting on pink plates.
I think you're going to love this easy, one bowl cake that can be baked in an 8x8 or 9-inch round pan!
Yossy Arefi

Prep 15 mins
Cook 30 mins
Total 1 hr
9 servings
256 kcal
5 / 5 votes
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For the vanilla buttermilk cake

  • Nonstick baking spray
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk* well shaken
  • 4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter melted
  • 1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Swiss meringue buttercream frosting
  • Store-bought or homemade sprinkles (optional)


  • Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF (177°C). Butter or coat an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking pan with nonstick spray. Line the pan with a strip of parchment paper that hangs over two of the edges.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and egg until pale and thick, about 1 minute. Add the buttermilk, butter, oil, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until smooth and emulsified.
  • Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk until well-combined and smooth.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, tap the pan gently on the counter to release any air bubbles, and smooth the top of the batter with an offset spatula.
  • Bake the cake until puffed and golden, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
  • Set the pan on a rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Then use the parchment paper to lift the cake out of the pan and set it on the rack to cool completely.
  • Top the cooled cake with swoops and swirls of Swiss meringue buttercream frosting and sprinkles, if desired. Store the cake, loosely covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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*What does buttermilk do to cake?

Buttermilk is acidic enough that it will tenderize the gluten in your flour, creating baked goods that are light and fluffy. When combined with baking soda, the acid in buttermilk helps with leavening—creating a higher rise. When recipes include a lot of acid, like lemon juice or buttermilk, it needs the addition of baking powder or soda for the chemical reaction, creating a lighter crumb. It's science—delicious science. 

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 256kcal (13%)Carbohydrates: 32g (11%)Protein: 3g (6%)Fat: 13g (20%)Saturated Fat: 9g (56%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 38mg (13%)Sodium: 207mg (9%)Potassium: 64mg (2%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 19g (21%)Vitamin A: 238IU (5%)Calcium: 64mg (6%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

Recipe Testers' Reviews

This vanilla buttermilk cake is an absolutely delicious cake with a lovely crumb and just bursting with vanilla flavor. Perfect as an everyday cake; it comes together in no time at all. The cake is not too sweet, which is always a bonus to me. Sprinkles added joy!

A square vanilla buttermilk cake in a white baking dish, frosted and decorated with sprinkles.

Can you really have too many cake or pantry recipes? I say no! I love, love, love being able to go into my kitchen and just whip up a cake with ingredients that I already have on hand, for a last-minute treat. Cake always makes the day a little more special.

Snacking/pantry cakes are also great because you can dress them up or down with minimum effort. This vanilla buttermilk cake is the little black dress of dessert. Bring it to a picnic, or a dinner party, or just let it hang out in your fridge and be available for spontaneous snacking. You don’t even need a mixer to make the cake; it comes together fast and easy with just a bowl and a whisk (though you might need that mixer for the frosting).

Originally published June 12, 2021


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  1. 5 stars
    This was the perfect cake to go with strawberries, and since i didn’t have sprinkles or frosting, a bit of freshly ground pink peppercorns and cardamom in the batter added a little surprise spice note to complement the vanilla. The texture of this cake is beautiful — it may be the most delicious and easy part of my week. More delicious the next day – even a naked slice with coffee, where the cake really comes is the star.

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