Yellow Layer Cake


confetti cake-12 squareYou guys…this was the cake that almost didn’t happen. It was like the forces of evil were trying to prevent me from sharing the cakey goodness. Maybe that’s a tiny bit dramatic. But everything just seemed unnecessarily hard, you know? As it turns out, I almost jumped ship halfway through the baking process, then I ended up coming back and finishing it, then making it again 12 hours later to make sure I hadn’t messed things up. In the meantime, Sara and I are in the throes of developing recipes for our next cookbook (eeeeek!! Also, those of you who are concerned about our shortage of dinner recipes lately, that’s because we’re throwing all our dinner-making energies into that book–it’s going to be a big-time dinner book!), so I had a cake on my counter, a cake in my oven, and a pot roast slow cooking, which you’d think would make me the happiest girl in the world, but really, it just made me super grumpy that I had about 10 million dishes to do, that my big kids were running wild, that Will had watched Frozen at least twice, and that I hadn’t showered at 4:00 pm.

A really awesome yellow cake has been on my list for a long time. It’s become a more urgent situation because I’ve always fallen back on our doctored up cake mix recipes, but within the last year or so, all the cake mixes, even my beloved Duncan Hines Supreme, have reduced the amount of cake mix per box, and since math is not in any way my forte, I can’t figure out how to accurately reduce the extra ingredients.

The problem is that yellow cakes are notoriously finicky. They are just hard to make well. I don’t know why. Mine have always come out either eggy (ew) or super dry.

I heard good things about the Cook’s Illustrated yellow cake, so I started making it and taking pictures along the way just in case.

Now. I love and respect Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country. A lot. But as I was working my way through the recipe, I found it uncharacteristically difficult to follow–some things were unclear and other directions got lost along the way. In an attempt to clarify a particularly tricky egg yolk situation, I got online and started reading about how this was a terrible, dry, flavorless cake. And I got spooked. I left everything on the table, grabbed my daughter, and we went to get cupcakes because I had cake on the brain and this cake wasn’t gonna happen.

By the time I got home, my head had cleared a little. I started wondering if other people had been just as confused by the recipe, particularly the egg yolk situation, and that’s why their cakes were dry. So I took a leap of faith that would inevitably end in a lot of dirty dishes and added all the extra egg yolks. Thankfully, it worked. It was delicious. Amazing. Flavorful, Moist, but not too moist, firm but not dry, it cut like a dream. Of course, all that happened at, like, 10 pm, so I slapped on some frosting from the Tim Riggins Brownies and did a lot of dishes (side note: anyone who says that homemade cakes are just as easy as cakes from a box are not telling you the truth. Boxed cake mixes use 1, ONE bowl. This was a harsh reality.)

So I figured I’d try again the next day, bake the cakes in the morning and then frost and photograph it in the afternoon.

And I woke up to blackness. There was a massive rainstorm and I had, like, zero natural light. Which meant I had to lug out my tripod and hope for the best.

The good news is that the second cake was just as delicious, so I know it wasn’t a happy accident. But. it’s really important to follow the recipe exactly as it’s written. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, I can’t make you buy one, but it really gets more than use than just about any kitchen appliance I have, large or small.

I haven’t really adapted much of the actual recipe (I tweaked some salt and vanilla, nothing major). But I did try to make the directions more clear. I’m not sure if how I did things was how they meant for them to be done, but I’ve had really good success twice with this method.

Yellow cake with buttercream icing and sprinkles!

You’re going to need cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, buttermilk, butter, vegetable oil, vanilla, eggs, and cream of tartar.

yellow cake ingredients

Adjust oven racks to the medium position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 9″ cake pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar together. Set aside.

dry ingredients

In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, vegetable oil, vanilla, buttermilk, and (this is where I gave up the first time around) 6 egg yolks. Set aside.

Place 3 egg whites (discard the others, or use them for something healthy like an egg white omelet to negate the cake. Or something.) in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add a pinch of cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium-low for about a minute or until they become frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the whites are glossy and stiff peaks form. Transfer to another bowl.

Place the flour mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer and slowly add the butter mixture, mixing over low speed. Scrape down the bowl and then mix on medium-low until smooth and fully mixed.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to fold in 1/3 of the egg whites, fold in another 1/3, mix, then fold in the remaining 1/3  of the egg whites and gently fold until no white streaks remain.

Divide the batter evenly among two pans and tap the pans on the counter gently to release bubbles.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into each pan comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes,

baked cakes

then remove from the pans and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place 1 cup salted butter, 6 cups powdered sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low until the butter and sugar start together. Add enough milk to reach a frosting-y consistency and beat on high until light and fluffy. Add additional milk if necessary.

To assemble the cake, place four strips of paper on the plate, forming a square.

cake plate

Place one cake layer on the plate

cake on plate

and add a dollop of frosting.

frosting on cake frosting on cake

Smooth it out, then add the second layer

frosting on layer cake

and frost the top.

frosted cake

Carefully frost the sides. Smooth it out with a frosting knife or a butter knife.

smoothed frosting

If desired, cover in sprinkles (add about 2 tablespoons at a time and gently press them into the cake.

Yellow cake with buttercream and sprinkles!

To sprinkle the sides, pour them into your palm and gently press it into the sides.) Carefully remove the paper strips and voila!

yellow cake with fluffy buttercream and sprinkles


Makes 12 servings.

confetti cake-13 copy


woman in denim shirt holding a salad bowl
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. This is awesome! I have to make my son’s birthday cake tomorrow! Boom, here it is! Thank you. Ok, so he wants chocolate frosting. Would you recommend using the Tim Riggins frosting like you did (does that recipe cover the whole cake and the center too, or would I need to double it?) or would you recommend using the chocolate buttercream frosting recipe from your 2nd cookbook (also, would I need to double it for the cake?). I want to make this the best cake EVER! thank you!!

    1. Had to come back and report… I made this cake for my son’s birthday last week. He specifically requested a “vanilla and chocolate cake”. He’s 4. So that translated to a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. 🙂 So, I made this cake with the chocolate frosting from your 2nd book. I noticed it’s basically the Tim Riggins frosting, but only slightly different by a few measurements. It frosted really well and I had enough for the entire cake. I put sprinkles (the little rounds ones like yours) on top, but I could NOT figure out how to get them on the sides without smearing the frosting all over my palm. I still can’t figure out how you got yours to look so good! So, I gave up and just put them on the top. Anyway, it was amazing, delicious, and everyone loved it! I have to back up and say that I had trouble with the part of the recipe when you have to whip the eggs whites and the sugar. After two failed attempts, I never could get stiff peaks to form. I only achieved soft peaks. I eventually took a chance and finally just put it in the batter. And the cake still turned out fine; it was just a little “flat” (meaning the two round cakes were small and never got as tall as yours). I’ve never made meringue, but I can imagine this process is similar and I may need more practice. 🙂 Thanks for a great recipe!

      1. Oh, yay!!! Yeah, the sprinkles thing just takes practice and patience, there’s no real way around it, haha! And the egg whites. I hear ya. When I was making this (doomed from the beginning) cake for pictures, I probably had to beat the egg whites 3 different times. Any fat, any yolks, any weather it doesn’t like, they go flat.

        Anyway, I’m so glad it was a hit!! 🙂

  2. So, this looks amazing! Thank you both for such amazing recipes!

    But, back to the doctored cake mix dilemma – I recommend just buying a bunch of cake mixes, putting them together in a bowl, and weighing them out into new Ziploc bags in the correct weight for the doctored recipe. No need to scrap a good thing – just take a little extra time (and a food scale) to make it work!

  3. I can’t wait to try it, I have a daughter who don’t like chocolate, I have a good chocolate cake, but no home made white or yellow and can’t seem to find a good cake recipe, they all turn out gross, this will be fun to try and see if I can finally make her a homemade cake that taste like we want to eat it. Thanks for always sharing.

  4. So we live in American Samoa…the stuff we can get here is limited. Will regular flour (vs cake) work? I also need a substitute for buttermilk…can’t get that on the island either. Thoughts?

    1. So I actually just came across this the other day while researching yellow cake recipes. The Mel’s Kitchen site has instructions (2 different ways) for making cake flour out of all-purpose flour: It basically comes down to a mixture of flour plus a little corn starch, then SIFTED.

      And I make my own (dairy-free) buttermilk all the time, but the principle applies to making a dairy-full version as well. Measure a scant cup of milk and mix in 1 Tbsp. lemon juice or white/apple cider vinegar. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. The milk should be a higher-fat milk, like whole milk or 2%. (This website gives instructions: Hope that helps!

  5. I made this as cupcakes this morning. They turned out beautifully! I was a little nervous with this recipe, but I took my time and followed the instructions EXACTLY. I had a super good feeling as I was folding in the whipped egg whites that it was going to have a happy ending, and it did! They are fluffy, moist, and FULL of flavor. The icing is a good, basic icing. I will definitely try it with chocolate buttercream the next time I make it-there is something so comforting and homey about yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting :)This will definitely replace my usual go-to yellow cake recipe as it is temperamental. Thank you!

  6. What a darling idea to decorate your cake! I love those little sprinkles, and it looks so cute with a ribbon around it (that matches your pretty cake plate, even)! The photos are wonderful.

  7. Even though I make fancy cookies for a living, I’ve been a failure at cakes my whole life. Seriously. Sad and lonely cakes that are lopsided, ugly, and decidedly not tasty, every single time. I even manage to ruin cake mix. But this month I turned 35 and I a) had a craving for homemade birthday cake and b) really wanted to conquer this whole ugly cake thing. I started out simple and made Alton Brown’s devil’s food cake a week and a half ago and was thrilled that it turned out really well — delicious and not *too* bad to look at (but it was just a 13×9″ sheet cake, so not really designed to look all that great, either). But I also really wanted to try making a white or yellow cake with buttercream. Enter your recipe — when I saw it, I thought “Hmmm. MAYBE. Maybe this will be the one that will get me a successful layer cake.”

    Then again, it could have ended in tears, like all my other cakes.

    I’m absolutely delighted to report that I made it today and it turned out… well, it’s not drop-dead gorgeous, but it’s certainly the prettiest cake *I* have ever made! I haven’t had a chance to taste it yet, but it smelled divine while it was baking! I didn’t decorate mine the same, just because I didn’t have non-pareils on hand… but I think it turned out pretty nice anyway:

    Thanks so much for sharing the recipe AND the tips — those strips of paper are genius! I also froze the two layers so that I could frost it without getting crumbs all over. Maybe I won’t be a failure at cakes the rest of my life after all! ;D

  8. This looks awesome!! I just made one for our anniversary and it was great…but I noticed a bit oily…so I look forward to trying this one cuz it seems to be like the sugar cookie thing for me…I can do all kinds of others but finding the perfect one was so hard…same with yellow cake it seems :/
    I’ve also GOT to ask…what drop you do with all the cakes and things you try?!? I’m bummed cuz I’ll really be in the mood to bake but after a bite I’m done…and my son and husband don’t need much..but all my friends are either on diets or whatever so I gotta figure out what I can do with the extra cuz I still gotta fill the need to bake!! 😉
    Thanks again for the new recipe and look forward to the new cookbook!! Y’all are on fire! 🙂

  9. SO EXCITED for your new cookbook. You guys rock my world! Thanks for delicious food. I feel like Our Best Bites taught me to cook. And to love it.

  10. Ha! It’s like you are a foodie twin in my brain…I was just giving up hope for an awesome yellow cake recipe AND wishing you guys would post more dinner inspiration. Instant gratification for the cake, and I can wait patiently for a new cookbook full of dinner ideas *SQUEAL*

    1. Really, as soon as the new recipes for the book are done (within the next month or so), we’ll be back on the dinner bandwagon! And seriously…some of these are so good that it’s a bummer not to post them right away!

  11. Could the shrinkage of the cake mix size be why when I made your easy cupcakes they turned out tiny? I thought I did something wrong–although it’s easy so I don’t know how I could have messed that up. Huh. I am really glad to hear that cake mixes changed so I know why they looked like they shrunk!

  12. OK, I just wanna say that the strips of paper on the cake stand is freaking GENIUS. Why hadn’t I ever thought of that? I sort of want to make a cake now just to see how easy the cleanup is. Haha!

    1. Ugh! Fixed it! That’ll teach me to never complain about a recipe, haha! Mix it with the butter and egg yolks! 🙂

  13. I use sprinkles in the batter of an angelfood cake.after it bakes and you cut into the cake it looks like confetti.real festive looking.

  14. This looks SO great. I kind of want to make it right now. 🙂

    Also, do you recommend a particular kitchen scale? That is definitely the next gadget to add to my kitchen.

  15. I have a couple of recipes that are now ruined because of the smaller cake mix sizes. BOO! I bet you guys have enough pull that you could convince them to go back to the original size. Start a petition! I’ll sign it! I hate when they do that with stuff. I would much rather pay a little more than to have to adjust all my recipes to work with a different amount. Anyway, end of rant. This looks delicious! I’ve never tried a yellow cake from scratch, but I just may do it now!

  16. I am soooo excited for another cook book. I use your other two books all the time.
    I also ADORE yellow cake and am excited to try this recipe!

  17. Kate, this is beautiful! I’m a long-time reader/first time commenter … I just couldn’t resist, it’s just so perfect. Even down to the shortcut of using cardboard rectangles (so much faster than making a perfectly sized circle)! I’m going to find a reason to make this! Photos are gorgeous as well. Thanks for doing all the hard work for us! ~ Rainey

  18. You just made my day. “… it just made me super grumpy that I had about 10 million dishes to do, that my big kids were running wild, that Will had watched Frozen at least twice, and that I hadn’t showered at 4:00 pm.” That might be my favorite sentence you’ve ever written. The cake sounds great, too, but it makes me so happy to know that other people get grumpy about having dishes to wash and let their toddlers watch full-length feature films more than once at a time.

  19. I am so excited to try this! I just made a yellow cake from scratch for Mother’s Day and I wasn’t super impressed with how it turned out. Our Best Bites to the rescue!! Also, I am in love with your cake stand- where did you get it?!

    1. Bummer on the so-so Mother’s Day cake–hopefully this one works! And I got the stand at Pier 1. It’s a dangerous place, hahaha.

  20. Wait wait wait, they changed the amount of cake mix in Duncan Hines?! When did that happen and what was the amount before? How will I make my grandmother’s famous Lemon Jell-o cake? –It’s tradition!

    1. I know. I’m so mad. The old ones were 18.25 ounces and now they’re 16.5. And it’s just not the same. 🙁 Some of the other mixes are even smaller!

  21. My husband loves yellow cake, so I’ll have to try this. I did just make a doctored up box mix for a friend’s birthday yesterday and put the Tim Riggins frosting on it. YUM! I love that stuff!

  22. One of my go-to yellow cakes is from the old Better Homes and Gardens red checked cook book. It’s called Best Two Egg cake. It always works out well as long as it’s not overbaked.

  23. Wow! The sprinkles on the cake are such a fun and simple way to dress it up. What a great idea. I read through the recipe and didn’t find where to add the cream of tartar. I assume with the egg whites, but just wanted to double check. Thank you for your perseverance on this recipe. I can’t wait to try it. The last homemade yellow cake I made was great except it somehow slightly tasted like cornbread, even though there wasn’t cornmeal in it…

  24. Thank you, thank you, thank you! White/yellow cake has always been my nemesis. I made a large baby shower cake a few years ago for a friend’s daughter and must have tested 10 different recipes before I found one that I liked. Once that cake making adventure was over with (note to self, don’t have your first “important” cake be a sheet cake for 100 people), I think I did a brain dump and I can’t figure out for the life of me which recipe I actually ended up using. So, I thought it was back to the drawing board…but you just may have saved me 🙂

  25. When you posted this on IG I was hoping it was something I could use for my son’s first bday! So glad it is! You guys are the bomb and always post things right as I need it. I too am curious about the strips of paper.

  26. This looks delish! I only wished you would have posted this a few days earlier – I just tried making a cake for my hubby`s birthday and it was a flop! Thanks for the fun recipe, I like to make things from scratch – I will definitely be trying this!!

  27. I love everything about this! Including the font… What did you use for the “yellow cake” ? I have been searching for one like that! 🙂

    1. Oh, thanks!! 🙂 The font is called Asterism. I paid for it. Don’t judge me…the best ones almost always cost money, haha! 🙂

  28. We were just at a cupcake shop this weekend, and I was saying that I can make an awesome chocolate cake/cupcake no problem, but it’s the yellow and white cakes that are always so hard! I can’t wait to give this a try!

    I’m just curious, though…what is the purpose of the strips made of paper? To keep the cake plate clean?

    1. The paper should be removed after you are finished frosting the cake, then you have a pretty clean plate without frosting or sprinkle mess. I was taught to place wax paper which serves the same purpose as the paper.