One-Bowl Vanilla Cake Recipe
Better-Than-Boxed-Mix, but just as easy!
Hi Bakers! Tessa here, writing from our new house. Nearly all the boxes are unpacked and we are starting to settle in. Our city kids are loving their first backyard, and I am super excited to have the first proper pantry of my adult life. I haven’t baked in the oven yet, but I can’t wait to share what we make first.
Over the next few weeks we are diving deep into different types of mixing methods. This One-Bowl Method is the easiest you will come across. In Bake Club+, I will be illustrating the Creaming Method and Reverse-Creaming Method - with accompanying recipes and step-by-step photos.
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Flour, sugar, eggs, butter - the main ingredients to any great cake. Mix ‘em up, throw it in the oven, and have a nostalgic dessert - right?
When I first started developing my own recipes after college, I struggled to find my signature from-scratch vanilla cake. They all seemed dry and a little dense. I tried adding more butter, more vanilla, cake flour instead of all-purpose. The problem?
I didn’t know how to properly cream butter and sugar (I’ll teach you this on Thursday!)
My previous experience with cake making and eating came from a box.
Since those early days, I learned a lot about mixing methods and proper technique. Over the next few weeks, we will go over the different ways to make a vanilla cake and the characteristics that set them apart from one another.
It is nearly impossible to replicate the same texture of a boxed cake mix using the creaming method (one of the more common ways to make a cake from scratch). The end results rely tremendously on the order in which the ingredients are added and the manner in which they are mixed. With this one-bowl mixing method, however, we can get pretty close.
What is the One-Bowl Method?
The One-Bowl Mixing Method - a.k.a. Quick, Dump, or Blending Method, is as simple as it sounds while still producing a fluffy, moist cake crumb. It is just one step above literally chucking everything into a bowl then straight into the oven.
With no special equipment required, the one-bowl method comes together with (you guessed it) one bowl and a wooden spoon/spatula. The batter is hand-stirred until combined. Unlike the creaming method where air is mixed into sugar and softened butter to create thousands of tiny bubbles or the foaming method where eggs are whipped until pillowy, one-bowl mixed cakes are exclusively chemically leavened (with baking powder, baking soda, or both).
How to Make a One-Bowl Vanilla Cake
Before you get too excited and throw everything into the bowl at once, remember that there is still an order in which the ingredients are mixed together.
To start, the dry ingredients (including sugar) are briefly whisked together to evenly distribute the baking powder. Then, begin adding the liquids. First, whisk in the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract. Lastly, add the softened fat (in the form of oil or melted butter or a combination of both) and stir until incorporated.
Why It Works
The fluffiness of this cake is powered by a chemical leavening agent - in this case, baking powder. While butter has a far superior flavor, cutting it with part oil add loads of moisture.
Adding the ingredients in this order creates a homogeneous batter without over-mixing. Too much agitation promotes gluten-development that results in a dense cake.
Of course you need some structure to your baked goods so they don’t crumble with each bite. The combination of eggs (protein) and the simple process of stirring everything together builds just enough gluten to hold everything together.
Why We Love It
Ease, convenience, less dishes, and super tasty results - what’s not to like? You probably have everything you need to make this cake in your home right now. New to baking from scratch? Start here!
The cake itself is fluffy and tender. The flavors of real butter and pure vanilla extract are incomparable. Because we aren’t relying on man-made (or mixer-made) aeration to give the cake its lift, the crumb is more uniform and tends to bake up rather flat.
With its spongy, bouncy texture, the crumb is most reminiscent to cake that is made from a boxed mix. Why is this a good thing? Well that depends on your preference. If you grew up on Betty Crocker and have a palette for nostalgia, then you’ll likely prefer this simple cake over a complex genoise sponge (more on foam cakes soon!).
Better Than Boxed Mix
If you favor the uniformity and springy texture of a boxed cake mix, then why make your own? Freshness, flavor, and preservative-free, just to name a few!
Boxed cake mix typically contains preservatives and emulsifiers. It also has that boxed flavor (you know what I mean). Sure you can doctor-up a mix all you want by swapping in real butter and milk when it calls for oil and water, but at this point, you are probably better off just making this from-scratch recipe.
Check out this article on “healthier” boxed cake mix
Go beyond the box with essentially your own DIY cake mix! Stir and store the dry ingredients in a jar. When you’re ready to bake, gather your perishables and liquids and continue with the recipe as written.
Spread the love! Consider mixing up the dry ingredients as a gift. Don’t forget to add a cute tag with the remaining ingredients and instructions for baking the cake.
One-Bowl Vanilla Cake Recipe
Makes one 9”x13” sheet cake
Serves 12 to 15
This super easy cake was made for summer celebrations. The cake is pretty thick but moist and full of real vanilla and butter flavors. Bake, frost, and serve it up all in the same pan or try it as a layer cake!
3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + ¼ teaspoon baking powder
Scant ¾ teaspoon salt
1 ⅓ cups (320ml) whole milk
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅔ cup (153g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
⅓ cup (80ml) canola or grapeseed oil
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line a 9”x13” cake pan with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract and whisk until combined.
Add the melted butter and oil. Whisk the batter until the fats begin to emulsify into the batter, then switch to a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Continue to stir until smooth. It is okay if a few lumps remain.
Tip the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 27 to 32 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Completely cool the cake before frosting.
Note: This recipe is based off of the Double-Vanilla Cake from my cookbook Icing on the Cake. In the book, it is baked as a three layer, 6-inch cake. I’ve also used it for cupcakes.
Makes one three layer, 6-inch cake
Serves 10 to 12
2 ¼ cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ (300g) granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (240ml) whole milk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup (60ml) canola or grapeseed oil
For 6-inch cake rounds, grease and flour the pans before adding the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 to 20 minutes before removing the cakes from the pans. Allow the cakes to cool completely. Level the tops of cakes with a long serrated knife, as needed, before frosting.
Whipped Vanilla Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Using a stand (or hand) mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy (1 to 3 minutes).
Stop the mixer and add 3 cups of confectioners' sugar. Mix in the sugar on low speed until just combined. Add 2 tablespoons of milk and vanilla extract and mix until blended.
Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and mix for 3 to 5 minutes, until the buttercream is light, airy, and nearly white. If needed, add the additional confectioners’ sugar or milk until desired consistency is achieved. The buttercream should spread smoothly without tearing the crumb of the cake but thick enough that it holds shape when piped and spread between the layers.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix for about a minute or two to smooth out the air bubbles.
To create the watercolor buttercream effect, I used the Magic Blackberry food powder from my friends at Supernatural. With water, the plant-based food coloring turns blue and with lemon juice, it turns pink! I used one packet of the Magic Blackberry to create different shades of pink and purple buttercream for the cake. From there, just swipe and swirl it on with an offset spatula or the back of the spoon. To finish, I used a generous shower of their new Unicorn Tracks sprinkles.
I regularly partner with Supernatural, and I truly love their products. Always gluten-free, vegan, and soy-free, they make amazing powdered food coloring, the cutest sprinkles, and more!