Skip the Box and Serve a Cake Made From Scratch

Mother and daughter icing a cake together in the kitchen

When you're a working mother, there's not often time to make baked goods from scratch – so a boxed baking mix it is. But when you find yourself with an extra hour or so and there's a special occasion coming up, take the time to prepare a cake from scratch. A basic homemade vanilla cake takes just an hour to make, including 30 minutes of time in the oven. Ask the kids to help mix up the batter to make it a family activity.

This recipe makes two 9-inch cakes that can be stacked to make a layer cake. If you prefer to stick to a single layer, cut the recipe in half.

Total Time: 1 hour | Prep Time: 30 minutes | Serves: 8 to 10


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring the pants
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk


  1. Heat the oven to 350F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and then butter the paper and dust the pans with flour. Tap out the excess flour. 
  2. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups flour with the baking powder and salt. 
  3. In another large bowl, use an electric or stand mixer to beat 1 cup butter and the sugar for about 3 minutes, or until it's light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium, and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. 
  4. In three batches, alternate adding the milk and the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat until the batter is smooth, being sure not to over-mix. 
  5. Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, or until they're lightly golden on top and an inserted toothpick or knife comes out clean. 
  6. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes, and then run a knife around the edges. Turn the pans over to turn out the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely, and remove the parchment paper. 
  7. Using a serrated knife, slice off the rounded portion of one of the tops of the cakes so it's level. Frost the cake with your choice of icing, placing the uncut cake on top of the level cake. 


  • The more air you whip into a cake, the fluffier it will be. Beat the butter and sugar for at least 3 minutes, increasing that time if the mixture doesn't seem light and airy. However, too much mixing after adding in the flour will cause a dense cake. 
  • Change the flavor of the cake by adding a different type of extract. For a cake with a hint of almond, replace the vanilla with almond extract. Other choices include coconut and lemon extracts.