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I have fond memories of my dad making yellow cake recipes with chocolate fudge frosting for special occasions.
That’s definitely where I get my sweet tooth from, but my dad isn’t much of a scratch baker. Those cakes were always box mixes paired with the little tub of premade frosting with who-knows-what added in to keep it shelf stable.
Still, as a kid, I loved those yellow cakes.
Now as an adult… I find them shockingly sweet and artificial tasting.
But I will say, I still like the fluffy, moist texture of those box yellow cake mixes. I wanted to create a classic yellow cake recipe that felt like those cakes I grew up with but with much better flavor. I think I’ve finally discovered it!
Honestly, it took about 7 tries to get this yellow cake recipe right over the course of 6 months. Layer cake is a hard recipe to want to test repeatedly in a short period of time. What are you supposed to do with all those mediocre leftover cake slices?!
So I went back to the drawing board and decided to start with my Best Birthday Cake as the base since that recipe is so well received. Where that cake texture is tighter and more delicate, I wanted this yellow cake to be a little looser and more moist like box mix.
I got rid of the egg separation method from that recipe, which involves whipping the egg whites, to get a richer texture and an easier process. More eggs + yolks, more butter, and a touch of sour cream help round everything out in this recipe. And of course, there is lots of chocolate frosting on top.
I hope you love it!
How to Make the BEST Homemade Yellow Cake Recipe
Classic Yellow Cake Recipe Ingredients:
- Bleached cake flour – avoid using all-purpose flour or DIY cake flour substitutions. They simply don’t work as well. Check out my Cake Flour 101 article here to understand why. The best thing to use in this recipe is bleached cake flour (like the Swans Down brand).
- Baking powder & baking soda – these leavening agents help the cake rise properly. Learn more about the differences between baking soda and powder here.
- Fine salt – just enough to balance out the sweetness of this yellow cake.
- Butter – use unsalted butter to control the amount of salt used in the batter.
- Granulated sugar – sweetens and moistens the cake.
- Eggs – 2 large eggs and 2 large egg yolks add richness and moisture.
- Pure vanilla extract – it’s not yellow cake without the aroma and flavor that vanilla provides!
- Sour cream or plain full fat yogurt – tenderizes and adds flavor.
- Whole milk – using whole milk will help to create a tender and moist cake as well. Whatever you do, don’t use skim milk.
How do I make MOIST & TENDER cake?
I highly advise weighing your flour when making cake. I always use my digital kitchen scale to weigh flour, but if you don’t have one use the “spoon and level” method to measure with measuring cups.
Avoid any baking substitutions! The cake flour and whole milk help create a moist and tender cake. All the whole eggs + egg yolks add richness and moisture. The sour cream also tenderizes as well as adding more flavor.
How to Properly Mix Cake Batter
- A stand mixer fitted with a regular paddle attachment is definitely the easiest way to mix up this batter, though you could use a hand mixer if you prefer. Start by creaming the butter + sugar together. There are two keys here: use butter at COOL room temperature and scrape down the bowl and paddle often (even if you’re using an attachment that “scrapes” as it blends).
- This batter is very rich. It uses a lot of eggs and yolks, as well as whole cream and a touch of sour cream. That means you may need to beat slightly longer after each group of ingredients to really make sure it’s all incorporated. It’s very important your refrigerated ingredients are all at room temperature.
- When you beat in the last ingredient which is the sour cream, it may look a little curdled. Just scrape down the bowl and continue beating on low speed until it comes together like the batter photo above.
How Long to Cream Butter & Sugar:
Every minute matters when it comes to creaming butter and sugar for baking. Creaming butter and sugar can mean the difference between a heavy, leaden cake or a light, tender, and fluffy cake!
Perfectly creamed butter and sugar has lightened in color and has peaks and valleys in its texture, giving it that ‘fluffy’ appearance. The sugar appears to be dissolved, but when you rub the mixture between your fingers you’ll still feel the sugar granules. I’ve found perfectly creamed butter to be around 3 minutes for me and my mixer in my kitchen, but this will vary for every baker. Check out my How to Cream Butter & Sugar article for more.
What are the best cake baking pans?
Never use dark colored cake pans. They tend to overcook the edges, making them too brown and dry.
My favorite cake pans are definitely my Fat Daddio’s pans. They bake evenly and clean up easily!
Can I use a 9-inch pan instead?
This recipe calls for 8-inch pans, which is what will work best. You can also use 9-inch if that’s what you have. Your cake layers will be thinner. Just shave about 5 minutes to the baking time.
Can I make cupcakes with this recipe?
Yes, this recipe will make about 24 standard cupcakes. Bake in lined cupcake pans for about 17 to 20 minutes. Check out my full guide for how to convert cake into cupcakes!
Are there high altitude adjustments for baking cake?
If you’re baking at a high altitude, you’ll probably want to make some adjustments to this recipe. Since I live at sea level, I can only recommend following the advice in King Arthur Flour’s guide here.
BEST Frosting for Yellow Cake Recipe: Chocolate Buttercream Frosting!
For this recipe I absolutely ADORE using my Best Ever Chocolate Buttercream recipe. It’s American buttercream that literally tastes, feels, and looks as close to the more difficult Swiss Meringue Buttercream that I’ve ever experienced. It uses two secret ingredients and 1 unusual technique to get those results, so I highly recommend you check out that recipe post here.
You can also use my Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe to frost this cake instead.
Or use my Best Buttercream Guide to make any flavor or variation you want to accompany this yellow cake!
How can I make cake ahead of time?
Wrap unfrosted cooled cake layers completely in several layers of plastic wrap. Place inside a freezer bag. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge. Don’t defrost at room temperature or you will end up with mushy sticky cake.
How to store cake:
Cover with a cake keeper and store at room temperature for up to 8 hours then refrigerate. The buttercream acts as a kind of protective barrier to keep the cake inside soft and fresh. The sugar in the buttercream acts as a preservative to prevent the dairy from spoiling at room temperature. But after 8 hours I typically like to refrigerate layer cakes just to keep it safe. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
My Favorite Yellow Layer Cake Tools:
More Cake Recipes:
Science of Baking Articles:
(254 grams) bleached cake flour,
sticks (227 grams) unsalted butter,
at cool room temperature
(350 grams) granulated sugar
large eggs, room temperature
large egg yolks, room temperature
(57 grams) sour cream or plain full fat yogurt,
at room temperature
at room temperature
Batch Best Chocolate American Buttercream
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter, flour, and line two 8-inch cake pans with parchment circles.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, egg yolks, and the vanilla one at a time, beating well between additions until combined. If the mixture looks separated, just keeping beating until emulsified. Beat in the sour cream until combined.
With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the whole milk, beginning and ending with the flour, mixing just until combined. Do not overmix.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 20 minutes in pans before turning out onto a cooling rack.
Assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a cake turntable or cake stand. Spread about a third of the frosting in an even layer all over, pushing it out over the edge just slightly. Place the other cake layer upside-down onto the frosting so that the top of the cake is nice and flat. With an offset spatula, spread the remaining frosting evenly all over the cake, smoothing the edges. Serve or cover and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Let come to room temperature for an hour before serving.
This recipe makes 24 cupcakes. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown at the edges and a toothpick comes out clean.
Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.