Perfect, fluffy, soft, and flavorful French Vanilla Cake. Every baker needs a reliable, foolproof vanilla cake recipe up their sleeve - and this French Vanilla Cake is about to become your new favorite!
Vanilla has a reputation for being 'basic' or 'boring'. But the truth is Vanilla is anything but! Not only is it a deep and complex flavor in its own right, but vanilla cake is a solid foundation for so many amazing, delicious cakes and desserts.
French vanilla cake is a classic choice for birthday cakes and for wedding cake as it's such an amazing flavor that most people enjoy. It's also so versatile and can be mixed with so many different frostings and fillings.
This French vanilla cake is my go-to vanilla cake recipe and the base of many of my most popular posts, including my Vanilla Custard Cake and my Mango Cupcakes. It uses the reverse creaming method which makes for an incredibly soft and luxurious texture. Not only is the flavor incredible, but the texture is out of this world - when you put your fork into it, the slice cuts just like butter! Welcome to your new favorite perfect vanilla cake recipe!
- Milk - Milk is what makes this vanilla sponge cake so fluffy and velvety, when you put your fork through it it cuts like butter! Make sure you use whole milk.
- Oil - Using oil makes a very moist cake. I use vegetable oil but any flavorless oil will do - e.g. canola oil or sunflower oil.
- Flour - I find the best results for this cake come from using cake flour, it makes a super tender crumb. But if you can't get ahold of cake flour then all-purpose flour (plain flour) will still be great.
- Sugar - Using white sugar is best to show off the delicious vanilla flavor. Make sure you use superfine sugar (caster sugar in the UK).
- Eggs - We'll be using whole eggs in this cake recipe. Always use large eggs when baking and try to use free-range if you can.
- Butter - Use unsalted butter and make sure it is at room temperature before beginning.
- Vanilla - Of course, we need vanilla for a french vanilla cake. Contrary to popular belief, what makes it a 'French Vanilla' cake isn't the type of vanilla you use (see section below about 'What is French Vanilla?'. So you can use any kind of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste that you like. Since vanilla is the star of the show, try to find a high-quality pure vanilla extract. And try to avoid vanilla essence.
See recipe card for quantities.
This French vanilla cake recipe uses the reverse creaming method, which means combining all the dry ingredients with the butter first, rather than creaming the butter with the sugar. It sounds crazy at first but they are super simple steps that will give you a perfect, decadent french vanilla cake.
- Heat oven to 335°F / 170°C and grease two 8-inch round pans. I also like to put some parchment paper cake circles in the bottom of the pans to ensure they do not stick at all.
- Split the milk into two containers, one with ½ cup of milk (118g) and one with ¾ cup of milk (177g).
- Mix the ½ cup of milk with the vegetable oil and set aside.
- Mix the ¾ cup of milk with the eggs and vanilla and set aside.
- Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer and turn it on low speed with your paddle attachment. You can also do this with an electric mixer and a large bowl, but I wouldn't recommend trying to do it by hand.
- Slowly add the butter, one small chunk at a time, letting it mix into the flour mixture for a few seconds in between additions. Once it's all in it should look kind of like chunky breadcrumbs
- Add the first lot of wet ingredients - the milk and oil mixture and slowly turn your mixer up to a medium speed. Beat for exactly two minutes.
- Scrape the sides of your bowl to make sure there are no lumps, then turn the mixer back on low speed.
- Add the milk and egg mixture slowly and mix on low speed until just combined.
- Divide the cake batter into the prepared cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool in the cake pans for at least 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
- Once cooled, sandwich the cake layers together with your favorite frosting and decorate. I used my Russian Buttercream recipe for this cake, but see the section below for ideas on perfect pairings for this French vanilla cake.
What is French Vanilla?
Many people assume that the thing that makes it 'French' vanilla is the origin of the vanilla that is used in the recipe, such as with 'Tahitian vanilla' or 'Madagascan vanilla. - that's actually incorrect. Rather than it being about a specific French vanilla extract, the flavor of 'French Vanilla' actually originated with ice cream and referenced the French method of making ice cream which was made with a custard base (i.e. egg yolks and milk/cream) That delicious, custardy flavor is what is known as French Vanilla. When referring to cake, it means a vanilla cake that uses both egg whites and egg yolks in the recipe, as opposed to your typical white cake recipe which will only use egg whites.
When most people today think of the flavor of French vanilla cake, they picture the easy french vanilla cake mix from Betty Crocker kitchen. But as you know, we don't do box cake mixes around here! A homemade vanilla cake recipe from scratch will beat out a box cake mix any day. This recipe uses simple ingredients and easy steps to make the best french vanilla cake you've ever had.
What kind of Frosting goes with French Vanilla Cake?
The fun thing about vanilla cake is that basically, any flavor goes with it! For a classic vanilla flavor, you can stick with vanilla buttercream, but even then there are so many options to choose from! I used Russian buttercream for the cake in the photographs.
American Buttercream: A very sweet and rich and a little thicker than other buttercreams. It is the classic frosting you are probably used to from store-bought cakes.
Italian Meringue Buttercream: A much more sophisticated frosting that is silky smooth and luxurious and a lot less sweet than American buttercream. It is a little longer and more complicated to make though.
Russian Buttercream: My current favorite and what I used to frost this cake is Russian Buttercream. In my opinion, it has the best of both worlds as it has the glossy, smooth texture of Italian Meringue Buttercream but has only two ingredients and is super easy to make.
Any of these buttercreams can be mixed with other ingredients to flavor them and create a world of different flavor combinations. For example, I recently mixed Russian Buttercream with raspberry coulis to create the frosting on these delicious Raspberry Cupcakes.
Here are some other posts with more of my favorite frostings you can try with this cake:
How to Decorate a French Vanilla Cake
How you choose to decorate your cake is entirely up to you. But here's an idea of how I decorated mine.
- Decide how many layers you want to have in your cake. If you want two cake layers you can just use the layers you baked in the two tins. For a slightly taller layer cake, you can cut each of those layers in half to make four total layers.
- Note: For the cake I photographed here I actually doubled the recipe and made three cake layers and used one-quarter of the recipe to make cupcakes (yes you can use this recipe for cupcakes too!).
- Cut the domed top off of the cakes and slice them according to how many layers you want. I like to use a cake leveler to ensure perfectly even layers, but you can also use a serrated knife.
- Stack the layers with your chosen frosting, spreading an even amount of frosting in between each layer.
- Make a crumb coat by spreading a very thin layer all over the sides of the cakes and on top of the cake. Let chill for 15 mins.
- Spread a much thicker layer of frosting all over the cake and smooth out using a spatula or bench scraper.
- Once you are happy with the frosting, you can put some of the frosting in a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe some rosettes on top.
- Cover with sprinkles to your heart's desire.
Top Tip: For extra smooth frosting, run the spatula or bench scraper under hot water for a few seconds to make it warm, then dry quickly with a paper towel - do this in between swipes of the frosting.
Ways to Use this French Vanilla Cake Recipe
As I mentioned before, this french vanilla cake recipe is super versatile.
Cupcakes - You can also use this exact same recipe to make cupcakes, such as my Mango Cupcakes. The recipe as is will make about 24 cupcakes.
Bundt Cake - The recipe will work for a bundt cake, but it is a very fragile cake so make sure you are very gentle when removing it from the bundt pan as you don't want it to break! Also. make sure to thoroughly grease your bundt pan.
- Stand mixer with the paddle attachment or an electric mixer.
- 2 x 8-inch cake pans
The baked, unfrosted vanilla cakes can be stored wrapped in plastic wrap and in an airtight container for 3 - 5 days.
Once they are decorated, you may or may not need to store them in the fridge depending on what kind of filling you used. If you used a frosting like a Custard Buttercream then you will need to store it in the fridge in an airtight container.
If your frosting does not need to be refrigerated, it's best to store it in an airtight container at room temperature.
French Vanilla Cake
- 1 ¼ cups Milk 295g (room temperature)
- ⅓ cup Vegetable Oil 72g
- 3 Eggs (room temperature)
- 2.5 cups Cake Flour 312g
- 2 sticks Butter 227g (room temperature)
- 1 ¾ cups White Sugar 350g
- 1 ½ tablespoon Baking Powder
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- 1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- Preheat oven to 335°F / 170°C and grease two 8-inch cake pans.
- Split the milk into two containers, one with ½ cup of milk (118g) and one with ¾ cup of milk (177g).1 ¼ cups Milk
- Mix the ½ cup of milk with the vegetable oil and set aside.⅓ cup Vegetable Oil
- Mix the remaining milk with the eggs and vanilla. Whisk together lightly and set aside.3 Eggs, 1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of your mixer and turn on low with your paddle attachment.2.5 cups Cake Flour, 1 ¾ cups White Sugar, 1 ½ tablespoon Baking Powder, ½ teaspoon Salt
- Slowly add the butter, one small chunk at a time, letting it mix for a few seconds in between additions. Once it's all in it should look kind of like chunky breadcrumbs2 sticks Butter
- Add the milk/oil mixture and slowly turn your mixer up to a medium speed. Beat for exactly two minutes.
- Scrape the sides of your bowl to make sure there are no lumps, then turn the. mixer back on low.
- Add the milk/egg mixture slowly and mix on low until just combined.
- Divide into cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- Let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes before removing and putting on a wire rack to cool.
- Fill and frost with your favourite frosting. I used my Russian buttercream recipe for a silky smooth and sweet vanilla filling.
The reverse creaming method is an alternative method of combining the cake ingredients. The typical way to start a cake is to cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and then add the eggs, vanilla and eventually flour and milk. In the reverse creaming method, we start by cutting the butter into all the dry ingredients - including the flour. By coating the flour with butter, you are limiting the gluten development which helps keep the cake tender and fluffy. An added benefit I have noticed is that cakes made with the reverse creaming method tend to come out flatter than other cakes (i.e. less of a dome on top).