I baked this classic moist butter cake recipe for a birthday recently. It’s truly a feather-soft crumb with a light vanilla butter flavour, which works well with most buttercream flavours and fillings. The meringue-based chocolate buttercream is deliciously silky smooth and devoid of that awful tooth-aching sugar crunch you get with some frostings. It’s even made with real melted dark chocolate. However, it’s a little trickier to make than a basic buttercream. 

Recipe adapted from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

You will need: 

  • Two 20cm (8in) round cake tins
  • Flour sieve
  • Candy thermometer
  • Digital kitchen scale

Classic Vanilla Butter Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

Classic Vanilla Butter Cake with Chocolate Buttercream
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I baked this classic moist butter cake recipe for a birthday recently. It’s truly a feather-soft crumb with a light vanilla butter flavour, which works well with most buttercream flavours and fillings. The meringue-based chocolate buttercream is deliciously silky smooth and devoid of that awful tooth-aching sugar crunch you get with some frostings, but a little trickier to make.
Servings: people, at least


Vanilla Butter Cake
Chocolate Buttercream


Vanilla Buttercake
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 degrees fan-forced; 350 F). Line the bottom of two 20cm round cake tins with baking paper. Grease the bottom and sides of the tins with extra butter or cooking spray.
  2. Weigh all 6 egg yolks using your kitchen scale and add enough of the separated egg white to them to make 112 grams total.
  3. In a small bowl lightly beat these egg yolks and white together with one quarter of the milk, and the vanilla extract. Put aside.
  4. Sift the plain flour and cornflour together at least three times then add them to a large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the caster sugar, baking powder and salt, blending them together on low speed until combined.
  5. Add the remaining three quarters of the milk, and the softened butter. Beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Increase speed to medium and beat for 90 seconds.
  6. Scrape the cake batter down the sides of the bowl with the spatula. Pour in 1/3 of the egg mixture and beat together for 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and repeat for the remaining two-thirds of the egg mixture.
  7. Split the cake batter evenly between the two cake tins. Smooth the tops. Check the oven has reached the correct temperature, then place the cake tins on the centre rack of the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes. he cake is ready when the top springs back when it’s lightly pressed in the centre. A skewer in the middle should also come out clean.
  8. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in their pans for at least 10 minutes. When they’re cool enough to touch gently run a knife along the inside of each pan to loosen up any cake stuck to the sides of the tin. Tip the cakes onto a wire rack to cool the right way up.
Chocolate Buttercream
  1. Add the 6 egg yolks to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat them until they change to a pale colour and the texture is thick. Leave them in the bowl.
  2. In a small saucepan add the caster sugar and water. On medium/high heat gently stir until it comes to a boil. Once it boils stop stirring. Use your candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the sugar syrup. Let it boil until it reaches 115 degrees Celsius (238 F).
  3. Remove saucepan from the heat, start the electric beaters on medium speed, and pour the syrup from the pan slowly down the side of the electric mixer bowl until it’s all added. Beat on high speed until the side of the mixing bowl is cool to touch.
  4. When the mixture is cooler than 30 degrees Celsius (90F), reduce speed to medium and gradually beat in the softened butter.
  5. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate. Beat the melted chocolate into the buttercream. Also add the optional liqueur here.
Cake Assembly
  1. Lay down one cooled cake layer onto your serving plate. Level the top of the cake if it formed any humps and bumps on accident. Spread a thick even layer of buttercream on top with a spatula.
  2. Line up the second cake layer carefully and place it over the first cake and buttercream layer. Spread more buttercream over the top of the cake, and down the sides.
  3. Smooth down the buttercream with a spatula for an elegant finish, or swirl patterns into it for a fancier style.

Baking Tips

The cake:

  • Skipping any of the nuanced directions will affect the texture of the cake. We’re making an uber-fluffy feathery butter cake in this recipe. It works best with full-fat milk, real butter, and all the sugar. The room temperature of the ingredients is important, as is sifting the flour.
  • Full-fat or whole milk is ideal for this recipe to work 100% The fat content is key here, and it’s perfect for the cake chemistry to bake to the right texture. If you substitute in skim milk or non-dairy milk the texture will change.
  • Leaving your eggs, milk and butter out to achieve room temperature is also key to achieving the perfect texture. If you skip this step and beat the ingredients cold the cake will still bake, but the texture will again change.

The buttercream:

  • When you make the sugar syrup for the buttercream don’t stir it at all once it starts boiling.
  • Avoid touching the mixer blades when adding the sugar syrup or you’ll get the beginnings of candy floss at best or gritty lumps of sugar crystals in your buttercream at worst.
  • Ensure the sugar syrup and egg mixture has cooled enough to add butter without melting it. Anything above 30 degrees Celsius / 90 F is too hot.
  • 115 degrees Celsius is ideal. Leave it too long and you have the makings of caramel or even hard toffee if it gets too hot!


  • Best eaten the day the cake is baked.
  • This unfrosted cake could be wrapped and kept for 2 days in an airtight container, 5 days in the fridge, or 2 months in the freezer.

TheBookDepository.co.uk The Cake Bible  (free worldwide shipping)

Amazon.co.uk The Cake Bible

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  1. chocolatesuze

    i agree with you, I much rather prefer celebrating other people’s birthdays than my own as I like showering them with cake and saying hey you’re awesome and I want you to know that! your cake looks incredible and i love the idea of adding liquer!

  2. Kari

    Gosh, this looks so much better than what I think of when I think ‘buttercake’. Beautiful!

  3. Daisy@Nevertoosweet

    This is a perfect birthday cake :) I love it when I can make my friends cakes for their Bdays hehe it’s sometimes even better than giving them a present, because cakes I know they’ll like and eat as long as their not allergic but presents they may not like :D

    this recipe is perfect for my friends and those that I’m not too close with lol because most people eat vanilla and chocolate woo hoo! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Sara (Belly Rumbles)

    I may be old fashioned?  But I do love a good buttercake with buttercream

  5. Jenny

    This looks irresistible!  I love making birthday cakes for other people too, I’ll bear this one in mind.

  6. Joanne Richards

    Hmm. I cannot understand with cakes why there is more sugar than flour. This seems to be a common theme with vanilla butter cakes (they should be called sugar cakes if that is the main ingredient) but seems like it would yield an especially sweet cake, which is then topped with a sweet icing. Can I cut the sugar down? I normally do but don’t want to kill the cake.