Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

May 28, 2009 at 10:36 am | Posted in cakes & tortes, layer cakes, sweet things | 73 Comments

vanilla buttermilk cake with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream

Did you see the birthday cake I made a few weeks ago for my friend’s little tiger?  Well, I promised recipes, so now I am here to deliver.  Tiger’s mum, my friend C, wanted a basic vanilla-on-vanilla– something that both the kids and the other mums at the party would like– so I began my quest for the right cake and frosting. 

I have baked several fantastic cakes from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alicia Huntsman and Peter Wynne, and I really trust the recipes in the book.  I’ve seen the authors’ Vanilla Buttermilk Cake make appearances on countless other blogs, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  This yellow cake is nice and moist, and has a great crumb that doesn’t fall apart when you level the layers or when you slice it up.  It’s definitely a multi-purpose vanilla cake– just as good for something simple and homey as it is for something dressed-up and fancy.

C had asked for a buttercream frosting, and since I wanted something snow white, I knew it had to be either Swiss or Italian meringue-based.  In the battle between the two, I generally side with the Swiss, only because no futzing with sugar syrups is required.  The recipe below is pretty standard…I like its particular proportions because it’s not too sweet, and it’s really easy to work with.  A basic Swiss meringue buttercream is the perfect canvas for making flavored frostings, if you are so inclined.  Switch up the extracts, add melted chocolate, add coconut flakes…I could go on.

Tiger’s birthday cake was a big triple layer 10-incher, so I scaled up the recipes below.  I overshot a bit, and wound up with enough extra batter and buttercream to make a two layer 6-inch cake for myself (oops, how’d that happen?!?).  I didn’t have quite enough leftover buttercream to fill the layers of my little cake, so I used lemon curd and some smooshed up raspberries in the middle.

vanilla buttermilk cake with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake– makes an 8-inch layer cake
adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alicia Huntsman and Peter Wynne

4 whole large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 t vanilla extract
1 1/4 c buttermilk
3 c cake flour
2 c sugar
4 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
8 oz unsalted butter, room temperature

-Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter or spray the bottom and sides of three 8-inch cake pans.  Line with parchment rounds and grease.

-Place the eggs and the yolks in a medium bowl.  Add the vanilla and 1/4 cup of buttermilk.  Whisk well and set aside.

-Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a mixer; whisk to blend.  Add the remaining 1 cup of buttermilk and the butter to the dry ingredients and with the mixer on low speed, blend together.  Raise the mixer to medium speed and beat until light fluffy (about 2 minutes).

-Add the egg mixture in three additions, scrapping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Don’t overmix. 

-Divide the batter among the three pans.  Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cake layers cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Turn out the cakes onto a wire rack and remove the paper from the bottoms.  Cool completely before filling and frosting.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream– makes about 6 cups
adapted from Martha Stewart

Note: Unless you like to go really heavy on the stuff, this is most likely more than you will need to fill and frost an 8-inch cake.  I always like to be on the safe side with buttercream, however, because finding you are stuck without quite enough is incredibly annoying.  Extra buttercream can be stored for a couple weeks and used to frost a half-batch of cupcakes.

1 c egg whites (from about 6 large eggs)
1 1/2 c sugar
pinch of salt
1 lb 4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 t vanilla extract (or seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean)
squeeze of lemon juice

-Combine the egg whites, sugar and pinch of salt in a large metal bowl (I usually do this right in my stand mixer bowl).  Put the bowl over a pot of simmering water (double boiler-style), and whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved.  The mixture will feel hot to the touch.

-Transfer the hot mixture to your stand mixer and whip on high speed until it turns white and about doubles in size.  This will take about six minutes.  Beat in the vanilla and the lemon juice.

-Add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, on medium speed, mixing after each addition.  Raise the speed and beat until smooth; this may take up to ten minutes.  The mixture may appear curdled along the way; this is normal.  Just keep beating and the mixture will become smooth again.

-Buttercream will keep, covered air-tight and refrigerated, for up to two weeks.  Bring to room temperature, then beat on low speed before using.


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. Beautiful, elegant cake! The smooshed raspberries in the middle look like the perfect contrast to the rich creaminess of the cake & frosting. Delicious!

  2. looks lovely and perfect for summer!

  3. and that looks decadent!

  4. Yum!

  5. Beautiful cake! Love the glow of pink on top.

  6. oh this cake looks so good! I like sky high cakes, more to eat 🙂

  7. oh so delicious. i love meringue.

  8. Rhooo yes very elegant cake : Miam Miam !!!

  9. You got me drooling! Seriously, that looks so insanely good! And I like the little design on top. It reminds me of a flower!


  10. wow.

    this cake looks amazing.

    i would marry buttercream if i could.


  11. How absolutely beautiful! I love a yellow cake with a classy frosting. Great job as always!

  12. Oh man, what a gorgeous cake! I love the white on white cakes. I can’t wait to try out this yellow cake–it sounds fabulous and oh-so sturdy. Thanks for sharing that recipe with us. And, of course, the Swiss meringue buttercream always looks delicious. I can only imagine what a fabulous bday cake this made!

  13. I’ve seen so many amazing cakes from that book! This one looks fantastic!

  14. Gotta try this vanilla buttermilk cake recipe, looks so good!

  15. Simple and elegant, a grown up cake.

  16. cool! I like the pink misty thing you’ve got going on on the top…how did you do it?

    • Chantal- Thanks! The pink on the buttercream is cake decorators’ luster dust (kind of like an edible glitter). I just gently blew it on with a little paintbrush.

      • ah yes! luster dust, i’ve seen it at my local baking store, i think ill give it a try

  17. Oooh lovely! I absolutely adore this cake (and the book too). In fact, I just baked it for my own upcoming birthday celebration. Am going to fill it with mango mousse and frost with lime hinted whipped cream. 🙂 Love the hint of pink in the buttercream!

  18. Great looking cake!

  19. This looks lovely. So simple yet very appealing. How did you do the frosting on top? I love the pattern. Did you use an offset spatula or back of a spoon or something?

    • Julia– Thanks! Yes, I used an offset (or maybe it was my straight icing spatula). Just started at the outer edge, and dragged it into center… turning the cake a bit and repeating.

  20. Hey Sweetie!

    I just found your blog through Veggie Girl’s blogroll. I’m so glad I did! A Whisk and a Spoon is totally going in my reader from now on!

    You’re cake is gorgeous. Such lovely pictures. 😀

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    With Love,


  21. Beautiful cake! My mom’s birthday is coming up, soon. I think she’ll like this one. And, I think I am going to have to break down and get it. Good thing I am trying to thin out my current collection!

  22. This cake looks absolutely delicous and I love the sound of the frosting. Beautiful pictures!

  23. Lemon and raspberries together sounds so delicious. What a gorgeous looking cake!

  24. so glad you trust my recipes! that book was fun to write even if it was a lot of work configuring/testing the recipes. the best part of it is finding blogs like yours that feature it and show the results-all that testing worked! thanks for the kind words and keep on baking!
    Alisa Huntsman

  25. Gorgeous! Given everyone’s successes with the book, I’m glad I finally purchased Sky High – now just have to find an occasion to bake from it 🙂

  26. I’ve made this cake and LOVED it! Yours looks great!

  27. Oh, Swiss Meringue Buttercream is delicious. I also dislike overly sweet frosting, and this one seems just about right.

    We have made it with coffee, raspberry puree, and chocolate. Very good.

    Your cake sounds delicious.

  28. Oh wow, so cute. I love the sky high book. Can’t wait to try this cake.

  29. Beautiful Steph!! Thanks for the recipe and recommendation!! You work in a bakery in NYC right? Your work is beautiful.

    • Thanks, AmyRuth! Yes, I do work in a bakery, so I’ve been getting plenty of practice with cakes lately!

  30. I really, really need to get Sky High! It’s a crying shame that it’s not in my collection, because every cake I see in there looks so GOOD!

  31. You never dissappoint with any of your posts. I like that little pink that seeped into the icing. A little hint of what lies inside.

  32. How can i do regular meringue to cover my cakes

    • You can do a regular Swiss meringue, following these same instructions, minus the butter. Beat it till it’s really stiff. It won’t last as long as a buttercream, though, before going soft.

  33. Was wondering if you could give me the amount of butter in cups….
    When converting into grams the amount butter sounded way to big.
    Thanks. 🙂

    • Hi Gala…are you talking about the butter in the cake or the buttercream? The cake has 8 oz of butter, which equals 1 cup or 227 grams. The buttercream has 1 lb 4 oz of butter, which equals 2 1/2 cups or 567 grams. Sounds like a lot of butter, and it sure is…this is a “special occasions only” recipe for me.

      • Oh sorry, yes I meant the amount of butter in the frosting, yauza! That is a lot of butter.
        Thanks a lot for the conversions and the quick reply!

  34. Icing – is the lemon juice used for flavoring? If I want to make choc. icing what is the ratio? I have bittersweet choc. on hand but do you recommend cocoa powder?


    • Debbie– The lemon juice is just a squeeze (few drops). It isn’t really for lemon flavor…more to brighten the taste and cut the sweetness a bit. To make choclate buttercream, I would start with the vanilla base (you can leave out the lemon juice and cut the vanilla by half), and add melted bittersweet chocolate to taste (I wouldn’t use cocoa). I’d probably melt about 6 ounces or so…

      • Thanks so much!

  35. It looks so yummy but I did it and it was a disaster……
    I didnt have 3 pans so I baked it in one and the center never cooked… well it did but all the outside is almost burned…. I am so frustrated… I really want to try it……. maybe next week…
    Oh by the way, I was planing on combining it with Orange curd filling… now I have the filling and frosting and no cake =(

    • Oh, that’s too bad…it’s too much batter to bake successfully in one pan. Maybe you could try halving the batter and baking it off as cupcakes, which you can then fill and frost?

  36. hi,
    cake looks fab, just wondered if you could tell me how you managed to do the design on top of the cake please ?


    • wendy– i tool a metal icing spatula (i have a straight ateco that’s 6″ long and about 1.5″ wide at tip) and starting at the outside edge of the top, lightly dragged the spatula to the center of the cake. i repeated that all along the outside edge. then went an inch or two in toward the center and did it again. that’s it. then i dusted with edible glitter.

  37. This cake looked so wonderful. I had found the recipe about 2 weeks ago so I made it tonight. My 3 layers did not rise plus I can slightly taste the baking powder in it. What could have gone wrong? I went exactly by directions. Thanks, Pat
    btw, the icing is perfect!!

    • Pat–So sorry to hear that! I know how dissapointing it is when something doesn’t come out right. It’s hard for me to tell you what went wrong, when I was not there to see your cake, and when I didn’t have that problem myself. I just double-checked my post to make sure I didn’t have a typo in the ingredients…you used 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, correct? The first question that comes to mind is whether or not your baking powder is fresh.

  38. The buttercream is PERFECT!
    I didn’t have two pans so instead of three, I divided the batter into two bowls and the second layer is baking right now. I tried the buttercream and it’s delicious, just right!

    I was wondering how you frost three-layer cakes… do you set the cake on a plate, frost the top and sides, then just set the other on top and frost it as well? I think I’ll have trouble setting the second layer on top 😦 It sounds scary!

    • Great! To frost three layers, set the first layer on your plate and put down a nice layer of frosting on top and smooth out almost to egde (you don’t have to do sides yet), then set next later on top and do the same, then final layer. Frost top and sides. There are lots of online videos (Martha Stewart has many, for example) to show you how to frost. BTW, if your cakes domed a lot in the oven, you may need to trim the domes a bit to get a flatter layers for frosting ease. If you just have two layers, then it will be a bit easier to do than three.

  39. can this cake hold up with fondant icing? I need to make a wedding cake.

    • Well…I can’t say for sure, since I have not tried to cover it with fondant, but, given the texture when I made it, I’d say it’s probably sturdy enough. Can you make a half-recipe (6″) and try it out?

  40. this cake is yummy. I make it today for my son birthday. Just finish crumb coat it. Will cover it with fondant in a while.

  41. Made a layer cake with this recipe, delicious!
    Can the recipe be used for bundt cake? If so, at what temperature and how many minutes? Thanks!

    • I have no idea, as I’ve never tried. Might not be quite sturdy enough for a bundt, tho.

      • I made the cake before I saw your reply, it turned out beautifully! I greased and dusted the pan with cake flour, baked at 300 for about 1 1/4 hours. Perfect with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!

        So happy I’ve found your little corner of the world here on the www!

      • Terrific! Thanks for letting me know it works, and thanks for visiting my site!

  42. This cake is deceptively moist. I was a little nervous, as I was carving the edges (I made a 1/4 sheet cake) off, as it seemed so dense. I evened off the top and tasted the shavings and could not believe how moist and flavorful it was! Absolutely delicious. Thank you for the post!

  43. Hi,
    I have been asked to make a vanilla cake for a christening and am wondering how long this cake will keep. It will be covered with fondant, This sounds like my best option yum yum and if it is dense that is even better. Thanks in advance.

    • I think it will keep for a couple of days assembled (you may want to brush the layers with simple syrup before filling.). Or you could certainly bake the layers a couple of weeks ahead of time, wrap them well and freeze them until you are ready to assemble your cake.

  44. I baked this cake the other day to practice for my daughter’s birthday and although it turned out delicious, it kind of also ended up tasting like a pound cake and was dense/heavy like a pound cake… like one of those sara lee pound cakes. Is this how yours was? Or was the cake more soft and fluffy? (Two things that could have been the cause: I didn’t sift the flour and maybe I didn’t cream the butter and flour together well enough?)
    Also, I was surprised that you don’t cream the butter and sugar together first… don’t you do that on most other cakes?

    • Hi. Yes, this cake uses a kind of unusual mixing method that I think is known as “reversed creaming.” I remember this definitely being like a birthday cake, not pound. There’s a recipe on another blog I can point you to that’s also worked great for me, if this one isn’t quite for you. It’s this:

      Hope this helps!

      • I tried it again today and it still came out a little dense. Then I tried it again a 3rd time, this time instead of the extra two egg yolks, I used two egg whites. It made a world of difference! Very similar to the original, just a touch lighter!
        Thanks 🙂

      • Thank you for the feedback!

  45. Hi! Your cake looks really great! I noticed that your cake is really moist. Did you use any soaking syrup?


  46. Icing taste good but use it right away as when I put it in the fridge and tried to use it the next day it curd and got liquidy

    • Hmmm…that’s strange. I’ve made Swiss buttercream in advance many times. Just letting it come back down to room temperature and then rewhipping it for a minute has always worked for me.

  47. We made it and it’s beautiful!

  48. Can you tell me how in advance I could make the sponge for this cake please. Also do you have this recipe in grams? Thank you

    • Hi Helen. You can definitely make the sponge a day in advance and wrap it well. You can even make it a couple of weeks in advance if you wrap and freeze it. I don’t have the recipe in grams, but for the 3 cups cake flour, I’d use 340g. For the 2 cups sugar, use 400g. For the 8oz butter, use 226g.

      • Brilliant! Thank you 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: