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Simple Layer Cake with Vanilla Frosting

This easy all-purpose yellow cake takes just a bit longer to make than one from a packaged mix, but is it ever worth it. An instant test-kitchen favorite, it is absolutely delicious and will rise to any occasion.

  • Prep:
  • Total Time:
  • Yield: Makes one 8-inch layer cake
Simple Layer Cake with Vanilla Frosting

Photography: Johnny Miller

Source: Martha Stewart Living, May 2013



  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for cake pans and parchment
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 5 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment; butter parchment as well. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs and beat well, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating until combined. Add milk and vanilla and beat until just combined.

  2. Divide batter between pans; smooth tops with an offset spatula. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 33 to 35 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks to cool completely.

  3. Frosting: Beat together butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium. Add confectioner's sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add salt, milk, and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. If not using immediately, cover surface of frosting with plastic wrap. Frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week. Before using, bring to room temperature, then beat on low speed until smooth.

  4. Place 1 cake layer on a cake plate and spread 1 cup frosting on top. Place remaining cake layer on top. Spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting, swirling to coat in a decorative fashion. (If frosting becomes too soft, refrigerate to firm up.) Cake can be covered with a cake dome and refrigerated overnight. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Cook's Note

Plain and Simple
This tender, light cake is a tribute to basic ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla. Cream cheese is the key to frosting that's sweet but not cloying.

Reviews (8)

  • JKG520 27 Feb, 2014

    I do agree with Kathleen re: the cake. It was a little dry. The frosting, however, is out of this world! It is now my go-to vanilla frosting. And I love that you don't have to sift the powdered sugar. This frosting is a winner

  • Kathleen Virginia 27 Jan, 2014

    I make cakes a lot. This cake was not hard to do, pretty straight forward and I had all the ingredients on hand. I will say however, that the cake itself was a bit dry and didn't rise as much as I would have liked. Everyone said it was tasty but I didn't think the texture was fluffy enough for my taste.

  • AMT626 6 Nov, 2013

    This cake came out great! I also reduced the amount of confectioner's sugar in the frosting from 5 cups to 3 cups and used 8 ounces of cream cheese instead of 4. I also added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon to the cake batter. After frosting I topped/decorated with fresh sliced strawberries and blueberries. It was a hit and will definetly make again.

  • Ellechim 13 Aug, 2013

    amazing cake! i will definitely make this again.
    although i had to reduce the confectioners' sugar to 2 and half cup.

  • Cdbales 5 Jul, 2013

    Good cake!
    I wish the ingredients for the cake and the frosting were listed separately--there shouldn't be any guesswork when it comes to baking.

  • djcusi 12 May, 2013

    The frosting is a tad too sweet for my taste. Any suggestions on how to cut the sweetness?

  • peaches2010 5 May, 2013

    Previous review should say "butter cake" not bitter cake!!

  • peaches2010 5 May, 2013

    Good basic bitter cake that goes together quickly.

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