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.
Cakes made from scratch taste better. Do a side-by-side taste test comparison. I double dog dare you.
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.
Looking for more cake recipes?
- 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
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.
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.
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! I love this with my sour cream chocolate frosting.
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.
- 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%.
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