This white cake made with everyday pantry staples of flour, eggs, butter, buttermilk, sugar, and vanilla is something everyone’s calling delicious. It simply has an understated elegance about it. Here’s how to make it.
This is my go-to cake. Get this white cake recipe down and you can make variations so tasty no one will ever realize they all rely on the same cake. Use it for cupcakes, as a layer cake with whipped cream and fruit, or with your favorite frosting. I’ve layered it with sautéed pears, roasted peaches, or crushed berries in the middle. I’ve filled it with coffee ice cream and poured chocolate glaze over the top. There are endless ways to dress up this cake.–Emily Luchetti
What is a white cake?
While this isn’t technically a true white cake because of the addition of egg yolks, it’s pretty darn close. It’s known for its fine, moist crumb as well as its pale hue, which you can make even paler by using a clear vanilla extract as noted in the ingredients list.
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for the pans
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter softened, plus more for the pans
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk (either low-fat or full-fat), or 1 cup whole milk mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or for a truly white cake, seek out clear vanilla extract)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 9-by-2-inch (23-by-5-cm) round cake pans and coat them evenly with flour, tapping out the excess.
- In a large bowl or on a large piece of parchment paper, sift the flour, baking soda, and baking powder together with a sifter or with a fine strainer by gently tapping your hand against the edge. Add the salt (you can just leave it on top of the flour pile because it will get mixed in later). Set aside for the moment.
- Using a stand mixer or a handheld mixer, beat the butter and sugar together, first on low speed and then gradually increasing the speed to medium until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula and then mix in the eggs, 1 at a time, just until combined.
- In a glass measuring cup, combine the buttermilk or milk and lemon juice mixture with the vanilla. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add half of the milk mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until incorporated, and then scrape down the side of the bowl. Mix in half of the sifted ingredients and then scrape down the side of the bowl. Add the remaining milk mixture and sifted ingredients in the same manner.
- Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake the cakes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean or the cake has slightly pulled away from the side of the pan, 20 to 30 minutes or so. (If you leave the cakes in the oven longer than 20 minutes, you may need to cover them loosely with foil to prevent overbrowning. And if you put the cake pans on different racks in the oven, switch the pans halfway through baking so they’ll bake evenly.)
- Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack. Unmold them by running a small knife around the edge of the pans and then placing a plate on top of each cake and inverting the pan and plate. Remove the pans and let the cakes cool completely before frosting. (The wrapped cake layers keep at room temperature for a few days or in the freezer for up to a couple of months.) Originally published February 20, 2012.
LOOKING FOR A FROSTING?You know what we love about Luchetti? She doesn’t pretend to know which frosting we’ll be partial to on a particular day, instead trusting the home baker to rely on experience and preference when it comes to that momentous decision. If you find yourself in need a suggestion, we’re partial to a billowy, whimsically named marshmallow frosting, also known as seven-minute frosting Delicate yet sturdy, light as air yet luscious as can be, it boasts a sweet, sweet, sweetness that envelopes this cake to stunning effect. Not your style? You’ll find plenty more frosting recipes here.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The title of this recipe says it all—but there’s nothing plain about how DELICIOUS the flavor and texture of this white cake is on its own. On the other hand, it’s classic because it is easy, uses ingredients you normally have in your pantry, and can be topped with anything you want.
I bought some fresh berries and cream to top the cake with, but I didn’t end up using them because it was so tasty on its own. We have houseguests for the long weekend, and this cake has become dessert and breakfast both days so far.
I would probably cover the cakes with foil after about 20 minutes of cooking so that the tops don’t get too brown during the remainder of the baking time. I loved this cake and will certainly be making it again—very soon.
Classic but not blah, this cake is definitely going to be added to my baking repertoire. The cake wasn’t overly sweet, therefore, it was a great base for a rich and dark chocolate frosting. The cake remained moist even on day three.
I was surprised to see a cake recipe without cake flour and do think it is denser than what you may get from a boxed mix, but I think that lends a homemade quality to it that reminds me of cakes my mother used to make. Plus, you can taste the real vanilla (use the best vanilla you can find).
It’s nice to have a simple recipe that doesn’t require cake flour, since I don’t always have it on hand. The cake ended up being a pale yellow. This didn’t really make a difference to me, but if you are hoping for pure white cake, a recipe without egg yolks may be a better choice. Also, Luchetti’s book provides helpful tips, in a conversational format, and is definitely worth reading along with the recipe.
Everyone can use a classic white cake recipe, and this one is really easy and quick to throw together. I always use parchment paper in the bottom of my pans (after a disaster where half the cake stuck to the pan and friends were coming for dinner), so there was no issue with removing the cakes.
They took about 30 minutes to bake in my oven. This would make a great birthday cake, frosted anyway you like it. I served it with freshly whipped cream and sliced strawberries from the garden. The only thing I would change next time is to cut the sugar—maybe even in half—because I found the cake itself really sweet.
I saw a photo online of a cookie monster cake, and I wanted to duplicate it. So I decided to use this recipe as well as David’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. Due to my following a gluten-free diet, I used gluten-free all-purpose flour. The cake was very good. It was not too sweet, yet sweet enough to enjoy. Even after 3 days it still tastes good. This was an easy recipe and definitely one to make again.
This recipe sounds good, I love buttermilk in a cake. I didn’t read all the comments but if I wanted to make this as one cake, what size pan would work? 9 x 13?
Hi Patrick, a 9 x 13 should work. You might have a bit leftover for a cupcake or two.
I love white cake! Looks perfect!
We agree, Natalie!
Hello, That cake looks as soft as a mattress! Having tried many of Ms. Luchetti’s recipes before, I always stick to her recipes because of very good results. I’m not an experienced baker but a decent one. I’d like to make this as birthday cake for my little son. It is a party for around 100 people including adults and kids. How to scale up this recipe? Should I just go ahead and triple everything, making the batter all at once and splitting them between half-sheet pans?
Hah. Love that, Clarice! In general I don’t increase ingredients for baking recipes exponentially; in general, I go the time-consuming route of making several individual batches. That has worked better for me. But I’m asking our recipe testing director, who has more experience baking than I, to weigh in, so kindly stay tuned…
Hi Clarice, I generally have to agree with Renee. The problem in doubling and tripling a cake recipe can be the error introduced in scaling up the leaveners. The other issue is whether your mixer is large enough to properly mix the quantity of ingredients. If you decide to scale up, be sure you are super careful in measuring the baking soda and powder and keep an eye on the timing as this will vary with the pans used.
Thank you, Renee and Beth. Beth, does that mean leaveners don’t scale up well? My KA mixer is 6 quarts. So, double batch should do right for a full sheet cake? Please advice.
Hi Clarice, in your original note you mention tripling the recipe which depending on your mixer, could be difficult to properly incorporate all the ingredients. This particular recipe relies on measured as opposed to weighed ingredients, so measure carefully when doubling.
I have been using this recipe for years now & it never fails to impress. Simple but delicious with any frosting. Due to a developed wheat intolerance, I have used a gluten free flour (cup4cup is my favorite for baking) with this recipe & no one knows the difference. Now that’s what I call having my cake & eating it too!
Hah! Love everything you just shared, Lynn, including your sense of humor! We ALWAYS appreciate knowing about modifications for certain diets. So great to know you love this recipe as much as we do! Looking forward to hearing what you think of the next recipe you try from the site…
Hello Beth. I made your cake this past weekend and it was a hit. The only downfall was it was not enough for seconds as it was that delicious. I was thinking of making it next time using a 9×13 pan. Would you recommend doubling the recipe for this and if so how long would I bake it?
Hi Ana, we only tested it as a 2 layer 9 inch cake. I would hate to recommend something that we didn’t test as we can’t say that your results would be as wonderful as this layer cake. What if you made additional layers for a towering beauty?
Hello, all. I found this site when I researched Portuguese food before my first trip to Portugal, and have been enjoying it ever since. Perhaps I can give back a bit. For extensive conversions been measurements- volume and weight, (calculations include many different ingredients, volumes and weights), check Traditional Oven.
And if you’re interested in building your own oven check out the lively exchange of info for building your own, you got it, traditional oven.
Thanks, Wendy. Much appreciated.
I would like to have the measurements if I should want to make it a quarter sheet (9×13) cake… I am going to make a birthday cake with chocolate pudding filling and whipped cream frosting…thank you in advance
Hi Grace, I am always reluctant to suggest changing the proportions of a cake recipe since baking is such a precise science. Making this as a 9 x 13 will also impact the cook time. But we’re curious, if you do make it as a 9 x 13, we would love to know how it turns out.
Can I just use egg whites?
Hi Linda, the general rule of thumb is to replace 1 large egg with 2 large egg whites in a baking recipe. The yolks do serve an important function though as they add to the flavor and texture of the finished product. When all the eggs are swapped for egg whites, it is possible to end up with a dry and rubbery cake. I would suggest substituting a portion of the whole eggs.
Hi — love the sound of this recipe and I’m going to use it for a wedding cake this weekend. Since I live in the Caribbean I have to buy whatever flour they have so I don’t have unbleached AP flour. I do have AP and bread flour – would you add a little bread flour to give it some strength? Do you think a little more vanilla or vanilla beans would offset the “eggy” flavour noted above? Thanks for any input you can provide.
Hi Whitney, i would stick with the AP flour in this recipe. I’m worried that the bread flour would diminish the light, airy feel of this cake. As far as the “eggy” taste, that was not the general opinion of our testers. Are you going to do a trial run before the wedding? If you feel it is too eggy, you might look at Dawn’s comments as she reduced the egg yolks and had great success.
Thanks Beth! I will just use AP flour for the cake. I hadn’t managed to scan through all the comments and just read the later one about the eggy taste. I think I will leave the recipe as is — I had already done a test cake but I like the sound of this one better. I will be baking tomorrow so have a little buffer. One of the three cakes is a rainbow cake and for that test cake I made one with just egg whites so the colours would be intense. The cake didn’t taste so great, in my humble opinion, although the couple getting married loved it. Would this cake show the gel colours well or would the yolk mute it a bit? I’m sure I’m just being fussy!
Hey Whitney, we haven’t tried coloring the cake. Maybe some of our readers have? If so, please chime in!
Hi, I am planning to use 9 x 13 cake pan. Is this recipe enough for the pan? I want to make at least 3 inch-thick cake. How long should I bake it? Thanks.
Hi Riah, a recipe that calls for (2) 9 x 2 inch can pans will yield around 12 cups of batter. Most recipes using a 9×13 inch pan call for 15 cups. I don’t think that this recipe will yield enough for a 3 inch high 9×13 cake.
Cake is in the oven right now. Excited to see how it turns out!…Ingredients seem well balanced, nothing to crazy! Will let you know what i think! 🙂 Thanks.
Looking forward to it, Julianne.