Mastering the Art of Baking: A Guide to Perfect Vanilla Bean Cake

You’re probably familiar with the classic sun-kissed yellow cake slathered in rich chocolate buttercream frosting, as well as the timeless yolk-less white cake. But what about the intriguing middle ground—a cake adorned with delicate specks of vanilla bean? Baking is a blend of both science and art, and once you grasp the basics, the possibilities are limitless. This recipe is not only simple to make but also delightful to savor. Here’s your comprehensive guide to mastering it:

The Batter:

  • Gently mix the batter, and don’t fret if a few lumps persist; they won’t be noticeable in the final result. Overmixing will only lead to a less tender cake.
  • Ensure your butter, eggs, and half-and-half are all at room temperature. If any of these ingredients are too cold, the batter may break or separate. The butter should yield to a gentle thumb press, and if your eggs are chilly, soak them in warm tap water for 5 to 10 minutes. Warm cold half-and-half to 75° or 80° before adding it to the batter.
  • Creaming is a crucial step in this recipe. Failure to cream the fats and sugar will result in a disappointing, deflated cake. Whipping air into the mixture is the first step in achieving that delightful rise and cake texture.

The Leavening:
Leavening is undeniably one of the most pivotal aspects of cake-making, and this cake employs three leavening agents: chemical, organic, and mechanical. Baking powder, in significant quantity, serves as the chemical leavening agent. Egg whites, acting as the organic leavening agent, release steam as they cook, aiding in the cake’s rise. Egg whites are remarkably versatile! Lastly, mechanical leavening comes from the creaming process of fat and sugar. Whipping air into the butter via sugar contributes to the cake’s volume.

Cake Flour vs. All-Purpose Flour:

  • Cake flour contains less protein compared to regular flour, resulting in a softer, tender cake crumb. If you plan to bake frequently and seek the ultimate tender cake experience, it’s recommended to use cake flour. Alternatively, you can follow our guide on making cake flour at home.
  • While pre-sifted all-purpose cake flour may suggest that sifting isn’t necessary, it’s still a good practice. Flour can sit in the bag for extended periods, potentially causing clumps. If you’d rather skip the hand sieve from 1982, whisk the flour with other dry ingredients in the bowl for 1 to 2 minutes.

The Frosting:
This cake pairs perfectly with our best buttercream frosting recipe. If you intend to pipe decorative florets on top of the cake, consider making 1.5 times the recommended amount in the recipe. This extra frosting will ensure you have enough to fill the cake’s center, ice it beautifully, and create the desired decorations.


  • The cake, minus the frosting, may be saved at room temperature for as much as five days.
  • If the cake is iced with vanilla frosting, place it in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Make sure it has reached room temperature before serving.
  • If you wish to make the cake in advance, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 2 weeks.

Have you tried this recipe? Share your experience and the reason for your celebration in the comments below!

Yields: 10-12 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours


  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pans
  • 1 c. (200 g.) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 c. (360 g.) cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 c. half-and-half, divided
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Buttercream frosting, for decorating


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease two 8-inch round pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer on medium-high speed (or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment), beat granulated sugar and butter until doubled in size, approximately 3 minutes. Add the oil and beat until the mixture becomes fluffy, white, and smooth, about 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl until fully incorporated.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour and baking powder until well combined, about 1 minute (this eliminates the need for sifting). Add half of the dry ingredients and 3/4 cup of half-and-half, beating on medium-low speed until the batter is moist (a few lumps are acceptable). Add the vanilla paste, salt, remaining dry ingredients, and 3/4 cup of half-and-half, and beat until just combined (the batter may still have a few lumps).
  5. Between the prepared pans, distribute the batter evenly. Bake the cake until it turns golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, which should take 40 to 45 minutes.
  6. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. If desired, trim the domed tops of the cakes to flatten them using a serrated knife. Spread half of the frosting on top of one cake using an offset spatula, then place the second cake on top. Ice the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting and, if desired, pipe decorative florets on top. Enjoy!

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