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 FAQs

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.

Can I add any mix-ins to this vanilla buttermilk cake?

Certainly! A scoop of mini chocolate chips or funfetti would be a welcome addition to this cake. Simply stir in at the end of step 3.

☞ Like easy cake recipes? Try these:

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

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

4.95 / 17 votes
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.
David Leite
Servings9 servings
Calories256 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time1 hour


For the vanilla buttermilk cake

  • Nonstick baking spray
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk, well shaken
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons 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.

Adapted From

Snacking Cakes

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 256 kcalCarbohydrates: 32 gProtein: 3 gFat: 13 gSaturated Fat: 9 gMonounsaturated Fat: 3 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 38 mgSodium: 207 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 19 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2020 Yossy Arefi. Photo © 2020 Ali Slagle. All rights reserved.

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).

This vanilla buttermilk cake is a great small moist cake! Whisks up in less than 20 mins in one bowl, while the oven preheats. It’s kid easy and ready to eat in less than one hour from start to finish

You can enjoy it warm with a schmear of lemon curd or raspberry fruit spread or frost it with fluffy white frosting. I think the test of a great cake is one that does not require frosting to be good. This is one of those cakes. I split it and filled it with lemon curd and served topped with a dollop of whip cream. I frosted the other half and it was a completely different cake.

The vanilla buttermilk cake came out moist, with a nice crumb and not too sweet. The texture of the cake didn’t really change all that much after 2 days, and the moist crumb remained reminiscent of a tres leches without the added liquids. I will definitely add this cake to my quick and easy dessert list.

I attempted to eat a square of cake with strawberry ice cream, but my taste buds were dulled by the ice cream so I couldn’t enjoy the taste or texture of frosting. Perhaps I will attempt a fresh berry mix accompaniment next time.

I can’t say enough about this quick cake. It would be so great as a teaching tool to convince a young person, or one who says they can’t bake, that they CAN bake something special in very little time. The fact that you don’t need a mixer and can whip this up in 10 minutes has me sold. It does indeed taste like a boxed yellow cake mix! The finished cake has a close, moist crumb and the frosting is just enough. The cake improved overnight in the cake keeper (what few pieces were left) tasting even more vanilla-y.

As local berries are in season I served with sliced strawberries. The unfrosted cake would make a great shortcake with a dollop of whipped cream or would be equally good with chocolate or another frosting. I always buy top-quality vanilla to bake with but am a little ashamed that I have never used vanilla bean paste. Total game changer here. The vanilla bean paste plus buttermilk make for a really great cake.

What a delicious cake! Cake can seem fussy, like something you only have time to make on the weekend. But not this vanilla buttermilk cake. It comes together quickly and easily, there are no extended cooling times, slicing or stacking of layers, and no intricate piping or decorating. This is your everyday cake, one to be enjoyed anytime you fancy a sweet treat.

When the recipe says this is the closest thing to box yellow cake—it’s true. It really is. The recipe for vanilla buttermilk cake creates a moist, flavorful cake that comes together easily. The cake held up well for four days after baking. It really is a good cake mix especially when you feel as though you are cheating when using box mix but haven’t found a recipe that bakes that buttery vanilla flavor that a box cake is so good at producing.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This recipe is a gem. I made cupcakes instead of a cake, and they’re excellent. Over the years I’ve tried dozens of recipes for vanilla cupcakes and never found one that ticked all the boxes, until now. These cupcakes are light and moist, with a crumb that’s similar to cornbread, tender, a bit loose, but not crumbly. The vanilla flavour comes through. I had to sub buttermilk made from powder, and by mistake whisked the melted butter and oil into the sugar with the egg, but followed the recipe otherwise using weight measures. The cupcakes were done in 18 minutes.

    1. Wonderful, Sadie. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your notes on making these in cupcake form. It’s incredibly helpful to your fellow readers and to us. Thank you!

    2. A further note. The flavour and texture of the cupcakes improved with time. They were noticeably better on day 2, and stayed fresh at room temperature for a few days.