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.
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.
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.
Cake made from scratch tastes better. Do a side-by-side taste test comparison. I double dog dare you.
- Yellow cake is wonderful on its own, and it will work with any flavor of buttercream, but it’s traditionally served with chocolate frosting. Get a printable version of my chocolate meringue buttercream recipe in my Dark Chocolate Cupcakes post!
- 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.
- Weight the flour on a kitchen scale. Weigh the flour, weigh the flour, weigh the flour.
Looking for more cake recipes?
- 7 ounces all-purpose flour (198g or about 1 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)
- 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 or 9-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, 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, then turn up to medium speed and cream for 1-2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
- Turn the speed back down to low and slowly add the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape down the bowl all the way to the bottom after the second and last egg. The batter may begin to look slightly broken by the end of this step; it’s ok.
- On medium speed, alternate between adding the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry. This shouldn’t take longer than a minute.
Scrape down the bowl, all the way to the bottom very thoroughly to make sure there are no hidden dry patches, then turn the speed up to medium and mix for an additional 15 seconds.
- Spread the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Use an offset or regular spatula to even out the tops (don’t skip this step).
- 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!
Yields two 8-inch or 9-inch round cakes.
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About the Author
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.