Perfect Yellow Cake

Well, the day is finally here. As many of you know, I’ve been on a quest to perfect the best yellow cake on the planet. And this is it. I’m sitting here wondering why the earth hasn’t stopped moving or why the President has called me personally yet (actually, scratch that, I’d rather have a call from Bobby Flay). I mean, this is a big day. Monumental, some would say. But probably only if they are a total baking nerd like me. So yeah, I’ll stop waiting around for any phone calls. While this post is a bit involved (I couldn’t help but share the testing results with you!), the truth is, the actual cake recipe is super simple so don’t let the explanations scare you. If you follow the recommendations thoroughly, you’ll end up with the fluffiest, most delicious yellow cake ever.

Perfect Yellow Cake


Many of you were shocked when I said I was on version #16 or something like that. Lemmetellyousomething: the perfect yellow cake didn’t just fall into my hands easily like I thought it would and I knew I couldn’t give you just an okay yellow cake. It took a ton of testing and my family and I have eaten more yellow cake in the last couple months than is probably legal. For some reason, yellow cake is a bit fussier to get just.right then, say, chocolate cake (my most beloved recipe for chocolate cake is a one-bowl recipe where you basically throw everything together without room temperaturing anything and it comes out completely divine).

I’ve been amused by all of you who have left comments and emailed me about what on earth I’ve done with all 16+ yellow cakes; apparently this is a source of much concern. There were two or three variations that honestly were inedible (either burned or so dry, even my toddler couldn’t choke them down). The others have been widely shared with friends and company and I even have a few unfrosted layers hanging out in my freezer for when we get the hankering to crumble it up and toss it on some ice cream. So rest your weary minds: the yellow cakes were well taken care of and devoured, although I don’t think anyone in my family will be requesting a yellow cake for his/her birthday for a long time. We are a little yellow-caked out.

Perfect Yellow Cake

I’d Be Lost Without Them

A special, super, huge thank you to two very important people (I kind of feel like I’m giving an acceptance speech at The National Convention for Perfect Yellow Cakes here): Nicole, a wonderful friend of mine, was the one who finally gave me the insight I needed for the last step in perfecting this cake (a huge blessing because I didn’t know if I honestly had another yellow cake in me and her advice resulted in the.perfect.cake) and Lisa, sweetest sweetie ever, who willingly tested this cake for me (multiple times) in order to provide all you high altitude dwellers with essential tips for success. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The Evolution of Testing the Perfect Yellow Cake

When I first set out to perfect the almighty yellow cake, I started with three recipes popular online (David’s Yellow Cake from, Deb’s yellow birthday cake from and Cook’s Illustrated Yellow Layer Cake). I made each of them as is. While I am a fan of each of these sites and resources, respectively, the cakes were all lacking to me. David’s Yellow Cake was a little dry with kind of a weird, spongy texture, the cake from Smitten Kitchen was reminiscent of cornbread and the Cook’s Illustrated yellow cake was by far the driest of them all.

I set about modifying ingredients and amounts and methods and while someone smarter than I probably could have pared the testing down to just a couple of cakes, what can I say, it took me a while.

For all of you interested in the ins and outs of testing, I’ve included probably more details than anyone wants below the recipe. If you don’t give a hoot (don’t worry, I still love you), the recipe is below just waiting for you to make it.

Perfect Yellow Cake

P.S. If you are wondering, that adorable little cake stand in a few of the pictures is from Rita Marie Weddings. The Audrey – Regular Size and I love, love, love it. Dana, owner of Rita Marie, sent it to me ages ago and I’ve been using it like crazy during the Yellow Cake Experiment.

One Year AgoSix Recipes the World Forgot {Part 3}
Two Years Ago: Paprika Chicken Stroganoff
Three Years Ago: Naan – Indian Flatbread

Perfected Yellow Cake

Yield: Makes two 9-inch layers or three 8-inch layers

Perfected Yellow Cake

Please read below the recipe for information on specific ingredients. I made and tested this cake over 16 times and have fine-tuned the ingredients and the methods. That isn't to say you aren't welcome to substitute and change, but in my yellow cake experience, this match up creates yellow cake perfection (substituting all-purpose flour, using cold eggs/milk, overly greasy soft butter, and a multitude of other factors can result in a dense, dry cake).

If you are making your own cake flour using one of the two simple methods I posted about, don't worry about making one cup of cake flour at a time, instead, use 210 grams all-purpose flour and 45 grams cornstarch; sift twice. Then add the other dry ingredients and sift once more.

For high altitude, add an additional 2 1/2 tablespoons cake flour before sifting (that would be about 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch if using a homemade cake flour substitute).

Update: I've heard from several of you that while the cake tastes amazing, it is sinking in the middle or is baking flat. I can't analyze the why's too much because it will make my head pop off since I dedicated months of my life to this cake anyway. When I had too much leavening in the cake (2 teaspoons baking powder + 1 1/2 teaspoons soda), the cake rose too much in the oven and then deflated so I scaled it back to what worked perfectly for me. But here's the deal, if you are worried about sunken layers, increase the baking soda. My suggestion would be 1/2 or 3/4 teaspoon.


  • 1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar (13 ounces, 368 grams)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour, lightly measured (9 ounces, 255 grams), see note for high altitude adjustments
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk (1% or above), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (light or regular), room temperature


  1. To prep, whisk together the milk and sour cream together in a liquid measure and let come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and make sure an oven rack is placed in the middle of the oven.
  3. In a large bowl of an electric stand mixer or with a handheld electric mixer, whip the butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 4-5 minutes on medium speed. Mix in the vanilla.
  4. One at a time, add the eggs and egg yolks, mixing just until combined in between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Combine the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift them together through a fine mesh strainer.
  6. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add 1/2 of the milk/sour cream mixture and mix. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Add the last 1/2 of the milk/sour cream mixture and beat until just combined. Add the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Give the batter one good, final stir with the rubber spatula.
  7. Grease the cake pans and line the bottoms with a parchment round. Grease the parchment and sides of the pan again very well. I use regular cooking spray but you can also use butter or cooking spray with flour. If your cake pans tend to cause sticking, consider also flouring the pans.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Drop each pan from about 3-inches onto the counter to minimize air bubbles while baking.
  9. Bake for 25-28 minutes (high altitude: 28-30 minutes) until lightly golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. Resist the urge to open and close the oven to check on the cake - this can cause the center of the cake to fall and never recover. And as with all cakes, don't overbake or the cake will be dry.
  10. Let the cakes rest in the pans for 5-10 minutes before gently turning them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Recipe Source: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Ok, let’s talk…

I’ve jotted down all the details of why the type of ingredients/method matters for this cake. Read on, read on!

the butter

I’ve mentioned it before, but I rarely use unsalted butter. I tested this cake with both unsalted and salted and adjusted the salt amount accordingly. In the end, there wasn’t a difference in outcome, so I stuck with my go-to: salted butter. I use the Land o’ Lakes brand mostly (sometimes the Sam’s Club brand). If you want to use unsalted butter, increase the salt to 1 teaspoon. Also, butter temperature really matters. It should be soft enough to gently slide a finger through with a bit of pressure but not sludgy, greasy or overly soft. The time I accidentally used overly soft butter (uh, it somehow stayed on the counter for, like, 12 hours because even though I love baking, my five kids still take precedence over making a yellow cake), it resulted in a greasy, weirdly spongy cake. I did not test this cake with margarine, coconut oil, shortening or the like so you’ll have to experiment with those if desired. Also, whipping that butter for a good 1-2 minutes is extra important. And beating the heck out of it and the sugar for another 4-5 is non-negotiable. Doing this creates air which helps create fluffiness in the baked cake. The cake(s) that I tested where the butter was minimally whipped were not nearly as fluffy. And fluffy = greatness.

the eggs

I know, I know. Using room temperature eggs is a total pain in the behind. I’m right there with you! I hate recipes that require it. And so when I first started testing cakes, I refused to do it. And my cakes were looking like this:

fallen cake

So I crumbled, no pun intended, and used room temperature eggs the next time I made a cake and the difference was remarkable. Light and fluffy where before the cake was slightly dense and a bit crumbly. There may have been other factors at play, but as I messed around with the recipe, it was very, very clear that room temperature eggs are important. If you are like me and often forget to plan in advance, don’t fret – place those chilled eggs in a bowl or liquid measure filled with very slightly warm water for 15-ish minutes and you’ll be good to go.

Speaking of the eggs, it was my friend, Nicole (as mentioned above in the post), who encouraged me to scale down the whole eggs from four to three and add an egg yolk or two to replace the missing whole egg – two egg yolks managed to be the perfect answer. Egg whites add structure but can take away moisture from baked goods, hence the three whole eggs + two egg yolks in the recipe. Don’t be like me and get tempted to sub a whole egg for the two egg yolks. You’ll get a pretty decent cake but not a fantastic, best-ever cake. Know what I mean? I was quite in awe of the difference two egg yolks made. However, when I used all egg yolks and no whites, the cake was slightly gummy and not as fluffer-fluffy as I wanted.

milk + sour cream

I was sure that plain old milk was the only liquid I needed in my cake. At about cake #10, I was fairly positive it needed to be one cup of whole milk, even though the thought made me cringe since I never have whole milk on hand. However, I knew perfection was the goal so I put my whole milk annoyances behind me and moved on…until my friend Nicole (yes, she’s brilliant and I want to be her when I grow up), helping me troubleshoot my cake conundrums, suggested that a bit of acid in the recipe would create the tenderness I was after. I was befuddled why I was getting a really, really good cake that was still just so, very slightly dry. In the end, it wasn’t necessarily dryness but a lack of tenderness I was noticing. And the adjustment of sour cream to compensate for the reduced milk did just the trick (plus adding baking soda in for the acidity in combination with the already present baking powder, which took a couple rounds because I misjudged the amount of baking soda at first and there was so much leavening power in the cake that it sank in the middle…badly…however, once the baking powder and soda were adjusted accordingly, the cake was magnificent). The real plus was that after I added sour cream, I used 1% milk instead of whole without sacrificing any moisture or tenderness.

weighed flour

As much as my heart wanted a fabulous yellow cake without having to use cake flour, it didn’t happen. The cakes I made with all-purpose flour were dry and dense with a much coarser crumb, slightly reminiscent of dry cornbread. And uh, I don’t want cake that tastes like dry cornbread. Cake flour is lower protein than all-purpose flour and also has a finer texture (thanks to the starch in it) which results in a much finer crumb in a baked cake. The good news is that even though the recipe requires cake flour, you can make your own (my kitchen tip from yesterday gives you two super easy methods). If you have a kitchen scale, use it. You’ll get very precise results. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, buy one. Ok, just joking. Kind of. I know not everyone can do that (but you should really put it on your wish list). If you are measuring using cups, measure with a light hand. Spoon the cake flour into the cup and gently level off with a flat edge.

For this recipe, if you are making your own cake flour, don’t mess with making one cup at a time, instead, I’ve done the math for you: you’ll need 210 grams of all-purpose flour and 45 grams of cornstarch. Sift it twice. Then add the baking powder, baking soda, salt and sift once more. Make sense?

Also, for high altitude, I’ve got your back. Ok, actually, my friend, Lisa, has your back. She tested this recipe for me – she lives at 5,400 feet elevation. She made the cake twice, the first time it fell significantly. She added an additional 2 1/2 tablespoons cake flour (if using a homemade cake flour substitute, that would be about 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch) and the cake baked up perfectly (along with a slight increase in baking time and buttering the heck out of the pans).

sift the flour

This sifting action, called for in the recipe, is in addition to any sifting you may have done if you are making your own cake flour. You don’t need to sift twice, just give the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda a quick sift through a fine mesh strainer. This was one of the last variables to add to the recipe. The last few cakes I made were so good. But just not quite there. I should have considered sifting earlier on, but again, I was trying to minimize fussiness. Once I sifted the dry ingredients prior to incorporating into the batter, the results were far superior – lighter and fluffier (let’s see how many times I can use those two descriptors in this post).

the batter

Ah, the gorgeous batter. It may look just slightly curdled and that’s ok. Spread it evenly in the pan (hasn’t been done in the picture, just so you know – don’t leave your batter lumped up like that) and give it a quick tap or light drop on the counter. When I didn’t do this, there were significant air bubbles in the baked cake. You don’t want to drop it from the rooftop like a crazy egg-drop challenge and you don’t need to tap more than once, just a quick light drop will suffice. I only ever baked the cake in two 9-inch pans to keep testing criteria similar, however, I think it could also be made in three 8-inch pans. Cupcakes and sheet cakes will have to be an experiment until someone reports back. I have them on my radar also, but it may be a little while before I actually try them.

As for the cake pans, significant greasing (with butter and cooking spray and possibly flour, too) is needed for the cake not to stick. I also line the bottom of the greased pan with a parchment round that I’ve cut out and then grease the top of it. My magic number for baking was right at 27 minutes; however, keep in mind that all ovens vary slightly. Lisa, my awesome friend who tested high altitude baking for me, needed more like 30 minutes for her cakes (she made the recipe twice).

Phew! I’m tired! If you made it this far, you seriously deserve a big huge kitchen nerd award (from one baking nerd to another).

Now, the big question…

What should I perfect next?

480 Responses to Perfected Yellow Cake

  1. Marian C Greely says:

    I am successful with every cake I bake EXCEPT a yellow cake. A friend requested one for her birthday so I was stuck. I read over your wonderful, very detailed instructions & followed it perfectly, or so I thought. I haven’t even iced it yet. Your yummy chocolate buttercream is sitting on the counter waiting to be administered to my sad looking cake.
    I cooked it for 27 mins. The center had a nice crown though looked a little loose. The sides had pulled away & I didn’t want to overbake. After 10 minutes the middle of the cakes had collapsed. The sides stayed put. I really don’t want to fill the depression with buttercream. I’m going to vertically half the cake, build up the indentation with the other half. My friend will get a nice half of a cake.

    • Jessa says:

      350 is WAY too much dry heat for a delicate cake to handle. start off with 345 for 10 minutes. drop to 335 for next 10 minutes. < without opening the oven. after that, knock the heat back to 300 to finish and DO NOT STEP AWAY from the oven. cakes need to cook without drying out or browning too much. so lean on the low and slow side. lightly oil some foil or parchment and perch atop the cakes if need be.

  2. Marlo says:

    I love this cake and everyone loves it. But sometimes it comes out really dense. Please help!

  3. Bekah says:

    Thank you for all your hard work! What do you think about Greek yogurt instead of sour cream?

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried it with Greek yogurt but I believe others up in the comment thread have (sorry I can’t remember the specific details of how it came out).

  4. Kathy Roberson says:

    I have made this cake several times, always as a sheet cake (that’s how my husband likes cake) and it has turned out perfectly every time! Also I used regular all-purpose flour every time.

  5. kassie says:

    Have you had anyone experiment and double the recipe and try baking in a 12 by 18 sheet?

    • Mel says:

      I don’t recall anyone making it like that and reporting back yet, Kassie.

      • Sandi Edelson says:

        I just made your vanilla cake recipe as a 10″x 15″ sheet cake, using a Fat Daddio pan. It worked fine..
        I set my oven temperature to 340 degrees. Yes, 340 degrees.
        Used cake strips as an “insurance policy” to make sure it baked evenly.
        Stuck a flower nail in the center to further insure doneness in the center, however, I really don’t think it was needed.
        It was perfectly done in 36 minutes (which may vary depending on oven variables. Looks great!

        • Sandi Edelson says:

          Here’s a postscript with a question for Mel. I made this cake again, this time, using 9″ round pans and the texture was quite different than the sheetcake vesion. It was kind of “cornbread” like. Any thoughts on why the consistency was different than the nice close grained velvety cake I made last time?

        • Mel says:

          Hmmm, Sandi, that’s odd but it’s kind of intriguing to me. I wonder why the texture would have changed? To be honest, I don’t know, but let me do a little sleuthing and perhaps some experimenting and if I figure anything out, I’ll let you know.

        • sandi says:

          Oh! Another question regarding the flour. Perhaps your flour weight is based on using bleached cake flour which weighs a little less per cup than unbleached cake flour(as in King Arthur brand which weighs 4.25oz per cup!). Does this mean the recipe can be thrown off by not using bleached flour??

        • Mel says:

          No, I don’t use bleached flour. I use unbleached all-purpose flour – and for this recipe, I use it in combination with the cornstarch. There’s no real standard for what a cup of flour should weigh – Cook’s Illustrated (a highly reputed source) says 5 ounces whereas King Arthur Flour (another good resource) has it in the range of 4 ounces. And all that can change depending on the type of flour. For my own personal standard, I use 5 ounces per cup of unbleached all-purpose flour for recipes like cookies and things like that. This yellow cake recipe was tested and perfected using weight measures so I’d stick with that if you have a kitchen scale for a more reliable outcome. You can see for the overall weight of the cake flour, it’s less than 5 ounces per cup for this recipe. I wouldn’t get hung up on what the flour weight is based off of – I settled on the weight of the flour for this recipe based on how the cake turned out and not necessarily by the standards set by other recipes. Does that help?

        • Sandi says:

          Thanks. I appreciate your clarification on what flour you use. I only use King Arthur unbleached cake flour even though it’s more expensive than all purpose! I did adhere to the 9 ounce weight in your recipe and I always use a scale!

  6. Ketz says:

    Sorry, this may be a silly question but when you say “2 teaspoons vanilla”, is it vanilla extract ?

  7. Ketz says:

    Also, could you tell me how many sticks is a cup of butter ?
    Thanks !!

  8. Julie says:

    What is your recipe for the chocolate frosting? Did I miss the link somewhere? Thanks!

  9. Ketz says:

    Mel, just wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to perfect this recipe, I just made it this w/e and it is the best yellow cake I have ever had !
    The only changes I made were using greek yogurt instead of sour cream as I can’t find that easily where I live + adding a bit more salt as I used unsalted butter…
    The cake was delicious, fluffy, moist, tender…just Perfect =)

  10. Aliseea says:

    Hello. I was wondering if anyone had tried making cupcakes with this recipe yet? If so, how did it turn out? If not so great, what did you do to ‘perfect’ it?

  11. Angelica says:

    Thanks, Mel, for this delicious recipe! My husband said it tasted like Nilla Wafers and my kids and I couldn’t stop eating it! Used high altitude adjustments and it still sank a little but it was so good that I didn’t care what it looked like. This will be our yellow cake recipe from now on!

  12. Kathleen Rainear says:

    Did anyone ever use 9/13 pan. How long to bake?

  13. Leah says:

    Well, to be honest, I’m still searching. Tried this out, followed everything to a “T”. I have baked about a million cakes in my lifetime, this one was just ok, certainly not perfect. Taste was very bland, cakes fell horribly HORRIBLY in the middle, Managed to salvage that with frosting, but then there’s a huge mound of frosting in the middle. Also, you state can be made for 2-9″ rounds or 3-8″? only enough batter for two 8″ and they turned out small and thin. If you’re looking for the “Perfect” yellow cake, keep on looking!

  14. sandi says:

    Hi again. Just noticed that the flour is stated as 9 ounces, which doesn’t equate to 2 & 1/4 cups. Wouldn’t it be more like 9 1/2 ounces??
    Usually, 1 cup equals 4.25 ounces.
    Please advise. Thanks

  15. Heather says:

    If I use the whole milk can I skip the sour cream and still get great results? I always have whole milk on hand.

  16. Lisa says:

    I followed the recipe exactly but the cake was not done at 30 minutes. I’m at an hour now and ended up raising the temp for high alt according to another article that said higher heat, not longer time. But it’s still not done. I’m at 5000 ft but I thought this was a high alt recipe so no clue what I did wrong.

  17. Cinnamon says:

    I see that you say others have reported back about cupcakes, but I cannot seem to find those comments. I have looked multiple times. I am planning on making cupcakes from this later this week and would like to know that they turned out good for others. If not, maybe someone could point me to a good yellow cupcake recipe? 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Here are a few of the comments that have made cupcakes:

      This was the first time I ever baked a cake from scratch and it turned out delicious…I made cupcakes with the recipe and I followed the directions to the T. On my first batch of cupcakes, I filled the cupcakes with too much batter, the middle sank in, and the edges were sugary/crystalized, sort of like creme brulee — “which was actually a yummy twist”. They were still yummy and my fiance loved it.The second batch, I filled perfectly with batter, the middle didnt sink in, and I haven’t tasted them to know if the edges are crystalized – it doesnt look like it though! . The next time I use this recipe, I will bake it in a cake pan. Thanks for the recipe!

      I have made this cake 3 times now. It is delicious. I even made cupcakes using the same batter (17 min cook time). Thanks for your hard work to find the perfect recipe.

  18. Jessa says:

    A few mods:
    1) separate yolk from white, add yolk to batter when recipe says but then beat the whites into fluff and fold in as your last step in batter construction.

    2) NEVER bake a cake at 350. This is cake suicide… i preheated to 335 and left em go for 25 minutes never opening the oven. After that, knock it back to 300 and bake BY EYE. if you start to see any harsh browning (which you shouldn’t at that temp) just set a piece of LIGHTLY greased foil or parchment paper on top to deflect the dry heat. if you give a shimmy and see NO movement pull them IMMEDIATELY it might be too late.
    3) Toothpick inserted should come out WITH some moist crum. clean toothpick=dry cake. add moisture back to it with a misting of simple syrup.

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