The blonde counterpoint to our Easiest Chocolate Birthday Cake, this homemade vanilla cake recipe is great for first-time bakers or seasoned pros looking to save time without sacrificing quality. Created with the promise of ease—no stand mixer needed—the single-layer round cake is the perfect centerpiece for birthdays, dinner parties, or any occasion worth celebrating.
Calling for sour cream (instead of whole milk or buttermilk) gives the white cake an ultra-plush crumb, while lemon juice balances the sweetness of both cake and frosting. A few drops of almond extract (a common addition in wedding cakes) strengthens the vanilla flavor. Mixing the cake batter by hand doesn’t just leave you with fewer dishes, it’s a smart way to prevent overmixing, which can happen easily when you let your mixer’s paddle attachment run wild. Fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients gently until just incorporated. Once baked, budget for plenty of time on the cooling rack; if you frost the cake too soon, the silky, buttery icing (a hybrid of vanilla buttercream and cream cheese frosting) will melt right off. We recommend splurging on vanilla bean paste for those mesmerizing specks, but if all you’ve got is vanilla extract, that’s fine. To decorate, stick with the recipe’s low-maintenance spirit and swirl the frosting in dramatic swoops on top of the cake. Sprinkles are welcome, and so is edible glitter, candied citrus peels, or any other adornment you like.
Prefer vanilla cupcakes or yellow cake? We have recipes for those too. As well as a just-as-easy chocolate cake with brown butter frosting or a double-decker vanilla layer cake for folks who want more. Happy birthday to you.