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Naked vanilla cake with blush buttercream on a pink cake stand.

Fluffy Vanilla Cake - a High Altitude Recipe

Heather Smoke
A soft, moist vanilla buttermilk cake, made with real vanilla bean, frosted with vanilla buttercream.
4.92 from 35 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 16


  • Stand Mixer



  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 3 ¼ cups cake flour, spooned and leveled, then sifted
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups whole buttermilk, room temperature
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp meringue powder (optional)
  • ¼ tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tbsp milk or cream, if needed



  • Preheat the oven to 350F and spray the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans with non-stick spray.
  • In a large bowl, measure out the sugar.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod and use your fingers to rub the seeds into the sugar until very fragrant and the seeds are evenly dispersed throughout the sugar.
  • Set a fine mesh sifter over the bowl of sugar, and sift in the cake flour, baking powder and salt.  Use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients well.
  • In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, buttermilk, melted butter, oil and vanilla extract until smooth.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk until combined and smooth, about 10-15 seconds.  Divide the batter between the cake pans.  Tap a few times against the counter to pop any large air bubbles.
  • Bake the cakes for about 21-25 minutes, or until a cake tester or a toothpick comes out clean, and the tops spring back when lightly touched.
  • Set the pans on a wire rack, cover them loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely before frosting.  When ready to frost and assemble the cake, remove the cakes from the pans.


  • In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and vanilla bean seeds for 1 minute until smooth.
  • With the mixer running on low, add the powdered sugar by spoonfuls, the meringue powder and the salt, mixing until thick and combined.
  • Add the vanilla and the milk; increase speed to medium and whip for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down several times, until light and fluffy.
  • Fill and frost the cooled cakes with the buttercream.


Leftover cake should be stored in an airtight container or cake carrier, at room temperature, for up to 3 days.
Recipe Updates:  Note that I originally developed and published this recipe in 2015, but in re-testing and improving the recipe over the years, I've updated it to the current recipe that's now published in this post.  For those of you who have made and love the first recipe, here is the original list of ingredients.  The mixing and baking instructions are the same.
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs + 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 1 1/2 cups whole milk + 1 1/2 tbsp white distilled vinegar)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract.
Keyword Cake, High Altitude, Vanilla Bean