Classic Yellow Cake

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 easy yellow cake recipe is made entirely from scratch.

You don’t need to buy boxed cake mix! This yellow cake recipe is easy to prepare at home, and it tastes SO MUCH BETTER. It’s soft and moist, with a delicate crumb and the perfect level of sweetness. Use it with your favorite frosting recipe!

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.

About a year ago, 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 completely 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.

Spreading chocolate frosting onto a layer of yellow 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 homemade yellow cake. 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 double dog dare you.

A slice of yellow cake in the foreground. A full double-layer yellow cake with chocolate buttercream is in the background.

How to Make Yellow Cake: My Top Tips

  • Yellow cake is wonderful on its own or a dollop of whipped cream. It will also work with any flavor of buttercream, but it’s traditionally served with chocolate frosting. Try it with my chocolate meringue buttercream or my sour cream chocolate frosting!
  • Before placing the cake in the oven, take a moment to make sure the tops are level. This will help ensure that they bake evenly. If for some reason one side rises slightly more than the other, that’s ok! It happens to the best of us. Use a sharp knife (I recommend a serrated bread knife) to carefully even out the top.
  • If you want beautiful results, I think certain tools like offset spatulas and parchment rounds are very helpful. They’re not essential, but little things can add up and make a difference. 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.
  • Avoid ingredient and equipment substitutions whenever possible. More on that below.
  • Weight the flour on a kitchen scale. Weigh the flour, weigh the flour, weigh the flour. More on this below.

Baking is a Science

Cooking leaves room for a lot of experimentation, but your best bet for success with baked goods means following the recipes as closely as possible. For example:

  • Different size eggs will change the structure of the batter. So will sugar with a different consistency (superfine sugar, raw sugar, etc), or flour that’s measured incorrectly.
  • Adjusting the fat content will impact the density and texture of the cake. 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 final 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.
  • Baking soda and powder expire over time which will prevent cakes from rising, and older ovens can sometimes be a bit less reliable in a variety of ways (temperature accuracy, cold spots, etc).

In summary, I highly recommend following all baked good recipes exactly as written with the exception of very minor changes such as spices or extracts.

A slice of yellow cake with chocolate frosting

Looking for more cake recipes?

Be sure to check out my Rum Cake, Vanilla Cream Cakes, and Sour Cream Coffee Cake!

4.84 from 18 votes
Yellow cake with chocolate buttercream
Classic Yellow Cake
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
45 mins
 
This yellow cake recipe has a delicate crumb and the perfect level of sweetness. It's the best cake recipe to top with your favorite buttercream. I recommend chocolate!
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 16 slices (approximately)
Calories: 258 kcal
Ingredients
  • 7 ounces all-purpose flour (198g or 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon using a spoon and sweep method, see notes)
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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. 

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Thoroughly scrape down the bowl, all the way to the bottom, to make 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.

  7. 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).

  8. 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.
  9. Frost with your favorite recipe! I love this with my sour cream chocolate frosting

Recipe Notes

For the most accurate results, weigh your flour on a kitchen scale. If you like baking, it is a worthy, reasonably priced kitchen investment that takes up almost no space! If you're going to use cups, please measure the flour for this cake using the "Spoon & Sweep" method: use a spoon to add flour to the measuring cup, then level it off with the back of a knife.
  
Regarding substitutions: 

  • Do not substitute different sized eggs (this includes farm eggs) for large eggs, or it will change the structure of the cake.
  • The cake will technically 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.
  • You will not get the same results from a 9-inch cake pan unless you increase the ingredients by 25%

SHOP THIS POST

You don’t need to buy boxed cake mix! This yellow cake recipe is easy to prepare at home, and it tastes SO MUCH BETTER. It’s soft and moist, with a delicate crumb and the perfect level of sweetness. Use it with your favorite frosting recipe!

About Jennifer Farley

Jennifer graduated from the Culinary Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, and has worked professionally as a line cook, pastry chef, and cooking instructor. Her cookbook, The Gourmet Kitchen, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster.

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  • Beautiful cake and photos! Nicely done. Is it shown with your chocolate meringue buttercream frosting? I ask because it looks more like mocha than chocolate, which I actually prefer.

  • I am literally eating cool ranch Doritos as I read this!!!! With my turkey sandwich for lunch. I laughed so hard at your comment, now I HAVE to try your recipe!!

  • Mine didnt turn out great, but i used raw sugar thinking it would be better. No, it’s not. Its very spongy, but not moist. Ill try again with fine white sugar and hope i pull it off.

    • Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that. The sugar can make a huge difference – I know some people who refuse to bake cakes with anything other than superfine sugar, but I don’t do that since I buy sugar & flour in 25 pound bulk bags (sigh). Also, just in case you didn’t the first time, weighing your ingredients on a scale can make a big difference as well. Let me know how it goes!

  • I do not recommend this cake. I don’t know if the 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon of flour was a misprint but it made a dense cake that rose only about an inch.

    • Hi Cindy, I’m so sorry you struggled with the cake. As I mentioned in the recipe tips, I strongly recommend that people always weigh the ingredients on a kitchen scale as opposed to measuring by volume. The USA is one of the only countries where you’ll find recipes measured by volume, and it leads to extremely inconsistent results. At culinary school and the two restaurants I worked at, we weren’t allowed to measure baked goods by volume. I used to omit cup measurements entirely, but that led to people trying to convert recipes incorrectly. So I include them. A cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 3 1/2 to 5 ounces depending on how it’s measured into the cup (for example, whether it’s scooped from a bin or spooned and leveled). If you want to guarantee accurate results, I highly recommend investing in a kitchen scale. They’re not expensive and they don’t take up much space. Again, I’m sorry the cake didn’t turn out for you. I hope you’ll consider giving some of my other recipes a try!

  • I have never felt the urge to leave a comment on a recipe before, but I just made this cake and it was amazing! It had that fluffy box cake texture, very moist, and flavorful. I added a bit of coconut extract to the batter and it was so good I decided not to frost it this time around. For anyone else reading this, a kitchen scale is a must for baked goods in my opinion. I’ve tried to make cakes and cookie recipes before without one and they all tasted like flour. Going to add to my recipe file!

    • Sara, this made my day. Thank you for taking the time to comment! And thanks for confirming my point about kitchen scales :)

  • I’m making a Lego Ninjago cake for my son’s birthday party and the “crumbly” part is freaking me out a little. I need 6 layers that will frost easily and hold lots of fondant. Will this work and do you have a plain Jane vanilla buttercream icing? Here’s what I’m making: https://youtu.be/9VGFrzbGC4o.

    • Hi Jessica! What a cool looking cake! I hate to say this, but I’m going to advice against using my cake since I’ve never tried using it for carving shapes or supporting layers of fondant. The only carving I do is shaving off the top to level it out if necessary. I used to live near Charm City Cakes, and I remember hearing that their cakes were a bit dry, but that this was necessary to help the cakes hold their shape for carving. My cake might be too soft for anything other than your standard buttercream + slicing.

      I did a quick Google search, and this one popped up. I didn’t scroll through all of the comments, but I saw at least one person say it worked perfectly. There’s also a discussion in the comments about how baking powder was omitted to keep the cake more dense for carving. I hope this helps! I recommend giving mine a try the next time you need a more simple birthday cake :)

  • Hi there!
    I’m looking to make a yellow cake for my daughter’s bday. I was wondering if which version you’ll think will hold better this one or your yellow sheet cake for a 3 layer. And does the sour cream chocolate frosting holds shape?
    Thanks!!!

    • Hi Rocio! I actually think the sheet cake might be a better option for a birthday party (especially one for children), even though it definitely doesn’t have the same visual wow factor as a layer cake. The sheet cake is faster to frost, and you get more pieces that are smaller and easier to serve a crowd. On the flip side, there’s something a bit more traditional about singing happy birthday around a layer cake with candles on top. I’m overthinking, but you get the idea.

      The sour cream frosting can easily be made thicker or thinner depending on the ratio of confectioners’ sugar and sour cream you use. I make it a little thinner for sheet cakes so I can taste the sour cream a bit more. Make it a little thicker for the layer cake. Let me know if you have any other questions, I’m happy to help!

      • Thank you so much for your quick answer. I’m doing a double layer Minnie mouse cake super simple (1 big circle cake and 2 small one frost together and a simple fondant bow). I’m going to do a test today to see how it goes!! I’ll let you know

  • This is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. I prepared it for my husband’s birthday and layered it with your chocolate meringue buttercream. He loved it!!! I will be making this again, thank you!

  • So I am not the best about weighing my ingredient and with six kids measuring is kinda a distracted guess also. But the cake turned out perfectly the very first time I made it!!

  • Just made this cake today for a crowd. Definitely a keeper. Everyone loved it. I’ve tried out many coconut cakes and most of them are extremely dense. This was perfect. The only change I made was adding a teaspoon of almond extract to the cake. I came home to make sure I printed the recipe out because I have a habit of forgetting where I find them. This will be my go to from now on for coconut cake.

    • Hi Autumn, I am so sorry the cake didn’t work out for you. I always appreciate feedback because it gives me an opportunity to re-examine the recipe to see if there’s anything that needs to be tweaked. If you’d like to send me an email through the contact form, maybe we can pinpoint what happened.

      (Edited to add: after discussing with Autumn, we discovered that her cake didn’t rise because she substituted larger eggs, raw milk, and 9-inch cake pans. Changing the fat content can create a dense cake, and larger eggs will change the structure of the batter. A larger pan can impact several factors. With a 9-inch cake pan, you need to increase the ingredients by 25% to achieve the same results. Baking is such an exact science that following the exact recipe is always your best bet for success).

  • Was about to try this but just a heads up in your method it says 2nd and final egg but you have 4 eggs listed in the ingredients, guessing it should be 2 and not 4? 4 seems like a bit much for the amount of everything else

    • No, the amount is right, but it never hurts to check! It means scrape down the bowl after the 2nd egg and the 4th egg :)

  • I’m looking forward to trying this for a chantilly cake! I just wanted to confirm that 1.5 tablespoons of vanilla extract is correct. It’s significantly more than other recipes I saw, so I just wanted to confirm is wasn’t supposed to be teaspoons. Thanks!

  • So yummy! I unfortunately do not have a kitchen scale but luckily it still came out perfectly using cups! I topped this cake with a vanilla whipped cream and strawberries and it turned out simply delicious!

  • I know I’m late to the party but I;’ve been making my own pistachio pudding for years.

    Soak your pistachios in milk for a few days and it’ll absorb all that great flavor then simply use that for the recipe (with some obvious additional tweaks to make up for not using the mix).

    • Did you mean to comment on my pistachio cake and not my yellow cake, or is my blog being glitchy and your comment is just showing up in the wrong place? :D