Sometimes you need a cake — like, now — and getting out a stand mixer and dirtying a few bowls isn't ideal. It's often in these situations we lean on cake mixes to get a cake in the oven. Inspired by the virtues of cake mix (it is easy and reliable, after all) we set out to create an everyday vanilla cake — something sweet but sturdy and resilient that we could quickly turn into everything from an everyday coffee cake to cupcakes to a giant ice cream cake sandwich.
Honestly, this cake can come together faster than your oven will preheat. So go set it to 350°F and then come back here to learn how to make this universal cake. It can be as simple or as stunning as you choose, and it will bake up at least a dozen different ways — all of them buttery, fragrant, and delicious.
Bake It Even Better
The very basic batter for this cake relies solely on pantry staples — all-purpose flour, eggs, oil, and milk — and it bakes up into a mighty-fine vanilla cake. However, you can make a single ingredient swap and bake up a better cake. Here are three tiny swaps that make this cake even better.
- Use cake flour. I don't always keep cake flour on hand, but when I do and I bake this cake, the crumb is finer and the cake is more tender. Use cake flour if you really want to turn this cake into a celebration cake.
- Swap butter for oil. Melting and cooling butter adds about five minutes of prep time to this cake, but it does make a more flavorful cake. Use butter when you want all the flavors of a rich yellow cake from this cake mix.
- Use whatever milk you've got. I have made this cake several times with almond milk to great success. I've used half-and-half in a pinch and 2% on a whim, so feel free to swap the whole milk for a milk alternative or whatever you have on hand.
This one-bowl vanilla cake skips the creaming; the dry ingredients are mixed with the wet ingredients, much like a muffin batter. Like a muffin batter, we also want to avoid overmixing. Overmixing results in tunneling and toughness in the final cake, which is also why I prefer hand mixing this cake as opposed to using a hand mixer.
Bake This Cake in Whatever Pan You'd Like
Here's the magic of this one bowl vanilla cake: You can bake it in two 9-inch cake pans, in a 9x13-inch baking dish, a rimmed baking sheet, as cupcakes, or even in a Bundt pan. We've used all of these with great success, creating everything from an upside-down banana cake to playful funfetti cupcakes.
How To Make a One-Bowl Vanilla Cake
Makes 2 (9-inch) round cakes, or 1 (9 by 13-inch) cake
What You Need
cake or all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups
1 1/2 teaspoons
canola oil, or melted and cooled, unsalted butter
milk or milk alternative
Mixing bowls and spoons
(9-inch) round cake pans, or 1 (9x13-inch) baking pan
Electric hand mixer
Wire cooling rack
Heat the oven and prepare the baking pan(s): Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line the bottoms of 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with parchment paper rounds. (Alternatively, you can use one 9x13-inch) baking pan; no need to line with parchment.) Coat with cooking spray; set aside.
Whisk the dry ingredients, then add the remaining ingredients: Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla extract and mix with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until mostly smooth, about 1 minute. If mixing by hand, beat for about 3 minutes until smooth, some lumps are ok.
Bake the cake(s): Divide the batter between the 2 round pans or pour all of it into the 9x13-inch pan. Bake until lightly browned and the top of the cake springs back when tapped gingerly, 25 to 30 minutes for the 2 round cakes, or 40 to 50 minutes for the 9x13-inch pan.
Cool the cake(s): Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the round cake pans. (No need to remove the 9x13-inch cake from the pan.) Cool completely before frosting.
Storage: The cooled cakes can be stored at room temperature tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 3 days.