This classic yellow cake recipe is soft, buttery and moist, with a delicate crumb, and just the right amount of sweetness. Its simple vanilla flavor is perfect for showcasing your favorite frosting or enjoying on its own. Best of all? This yellow cake recipe is made entirely from scratch.
So here’s the thing about yellow cake mix, and box mixes in general. I’m not going to fault anyone for using or even loving them. We all like what we like, and some people really love their cake mix.
It’s chemically engineered in a food science lab to be incredibly soft, and to rise perfectly every time. Mom used it when I was a kid, and I liked it just fine (however, as a young adult I considered myself Team Pie until I started making cakes from scratch). My grandma used it as the base for her “famous” chocolate pistachio cake.
Last year I decided to buy two boxes of cake mix out of curiosity. I’d been making homemade cakes for ages at this point, and I was curious why people love box mixes so much. To be honest, I was downright impressed by how idiot-proof everything was.
Homemade cakes have a method that typically looks something like this: creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs slowly, then alternating between adding the dry and wet ingredients. All of this happens on varying mixer speeds.
I dumped the cake mix and add-ins into my stand mixer, turned it on high speed, and walked away. There were no speed adjustments. A few minutes later, the batter was fluffy as a cloud. And then I tasted the batter. I also tasted the finished cake.
They… didn’t taste good to me. Either brand I sampled. While I thought the texture was pleasantly soft, the flavor was cloyingly sweet; I couldn’t imagine adding more sweetness with frosting. There was also an off-putting chemical aftertaste.
At the end of the day, it has to taste good to me. Otherwise, what’s the point?
That, my friends, is my argument for why you should make this homemade yellow cake recipe. I’m not going to preach about chemical ingredients, because I love Cool Ranch Doritos.
Cakes made from scratch taste better. Do a side-by-side taste test comparison. I dare you.
How to Make Yellow Cake From Scratch
- Before placing the cake in the oven, make sure the tops are level. This will help ensure that they bake evenly. If one side rises slightly more than the other, use a serrated bread knife to carefully even out the top.
- While not essential, I think certain tools like offset spatulas and parchment rounds are very helpful. If you’d like to know more about my cake equipment recommendations, as well as general tips and tricks, check out my article: How to Make a Perfect Layer Cake.
- Weight the flour on a kitchen scale. I can’t stress thing enough. Here’s an article that details why this is so important: How to Measure Flour
- Avoid ingredient and equipment substitutions whenever possible, at least the first time you prepare a recipe. Different size eggs will change the structure of the batter. So will sugar with a different consistency (superfine sugar, raw sugar, etc). If you use non-dairy, skim or whole milk instead of half-and-half, the cake will be more dense and dry.
- Increasing the size of the cake pan will increase the bake time and potentially impact the structure of the cake. For example, a 9-inch cake pan is actually 25% bigger than an 8-inch cake pan, so to get the exact same cake, you need to increase the ingredients by 25%. Learn more about this here.
- Make sure your baking powder is still active. Baking soda and powder expire over time, which will prevent cakes from rising.
What’s the Difference Between Yellow Cake and White Cake?
Yellow cake and white cake are almost identical with one exception: the eggs! This yellow cake recipe gets its yellow color and slightly more custardy flavor from egg yolks, whereas white cakes use only egg whites. Also, while this isn’t always the case, white cake often uses cake flour, while yellow cakes typically use all-purpose flour.
More Cake Recipes
Classic Yellow Cake Recipe
- 7 ounces all-purpose flour (198g or 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon using Spoon & Level Method)
- 2 ounces cornstarch (58g or 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup half-and-half (or 1/2 cup whole milk + 1/2 cup heavy cream)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 6 ounces unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
- 12 ounces granulated sugar (341g or about 1 3/4 cup)
- 4 large eggs
- Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Very lightly grease the bottom of two 8-inch cake pans (do not grease the sides) and then top with parchment rounds. Place the pans on a baking sheet, if possible (this will make taking both cakes in and out of the oven at once a breeze).
- In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the half-and-half and vanilla. Crack the eggs into a small bowl or liquid measuring cup.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar on low speed for 3 minutes, until pale and fluffy. If there are any bits of unincorporated sugar and/or butter on the sides or bottom of the bowl, use a spatula to incorporate them and mix for an additional 30 seconds.
- Slowly add the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape down the bowl all the way to the bottom after the second and final egg. The batter may begin to look slightly broken by the end of this step; it’s ok.
- On medium speed, swiftly alternate between adding the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry. This shouldn’t take longer than a minute.
- Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, all the way to the bottom, making sure there are no hidden dry patches. Turn the speed up to medium and mix for an additional 30 seconds to help build the structure of the batter. Do not skip this step.
- Divide the cake batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Use an offset spatula to even out the tops (don’t skip this step or the cake may not rise evenly).
- Bake for 28-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Cool to room temperature before removing from the pan. Use an offset spatula or knife to help release the sides of the cake from the pan, then place a cardboard round or large cutting board against the cake pan and gently flip.
- Frost with your favorite recipe! (See notes for suggestions)
- Don't substitute different sized eggs (this includes farm eggs) without weighing them, or it will change the structure of the cake.
- The cake will work if you use dairy with a lower percentage of fat (such as whole milk instead of half-and-half), but the results will be more dry and dense.
- You will not get the same results from a 9-inch cake pan unless you increase the ingredients by 25%.
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