Vanilla party cake

Prep: 1 hr, 15 mins Cook: 40 mins

A challenge

Serves 16
Cover the light buttery sponge of this classic celebration cake with silky-smooth meringue buttercream and colourful edible polka dots

Nutrition and extra info

  • un-iced sponges only

Nutrition: per serving

  • kcal510
  • fat30g
  • saturates19g
  • carbs55g
  • sugars38g
  • fibre1g
  • protein4g
  • salt0.5g
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  • 225g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 350g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 325g plain flour
  • 25g cornflour
  • 1½ tbsp baking powder
    Baking powder

    Baking powder

    bay-king pow-dah

    Baking powder is a raising agent that is commonly used in cake-making. It is made from an alkali…

  • 250ml buttermilk

For the meringue buttercream

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways and seeds scraped out
  • 360g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • multi-coloured edible polka dots, to decorate


  1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and grease 3 x 20cm sandwich tins, lining the bases with baking parchment and greasing the parchment too.

  2. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and the egg whites, a little at a time, beating until fully combined before adding more. Mix together the flour, cornflour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk. Divide the batter between the tins and level the tops.

  3. Bake for 25-30 mins or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the tins for 10 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack, peeling off the parchment. Cool completely.

  4. To make the buttercream, put the egg whites and sugar in a big bowl (the bowl of your tabletop mixer, if you have one) with the vanilla seeds and set over a pan of gently simmering water. Lightly whisk until the sugar has fully dissolved – you can test this by dipping two fingers into the bowl and rubbing them together; if you can’t feel any grains of sugar, the mixture is ready. Remove the bowl from the heat and keep whisking until a thick meringue has formed. Continue whisking until the meringue has cooled to room temperature, then slowly add in the butter, 1 tbsp at a time. By the time all the butter has been incorporated, the mixture should have transformed into a silky-smooth buttercream. If it hasn’t, continue to whisk until it does. If it still refuses to thicken, it may be the mixture is still too warm, so chill for 10 mins, then continue whisking. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.

  5. To assemble the cake, place a sponge on a cake board or serving plate and top with a thin layer of buttercream. Repeat with the remaining cake layers and finish by spreading the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake (see below). To get a smooth finish, use the edge of a palette knife, and drag carefully around the sides of the cake, smoothing out the buttercream. To decorate the cake, press the sides of it with the edible polka dot sprinkles creating a full border at the bottom with less and less the further up the cake you go. Best served within 2 days of baking, but the cake will keep for up to 4 days.

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Comments (17)

Grisiam's picture

Excellent recipe! I'm a beginner, but followed this recipe exactly (except for substituting creme fraiche thinned with fresh milk for buttermilk) when making a cake for a special birthday. Everything happened exactly as the recipe said it would -- both the cake mix and the buttercream turned out perfectly, and all tasted wonderful.

For other beginners like myself, I would add the following advice, which I found later in another recipe on your site:
When the buttercream mixtures are ready and the cake is cold, level the cakes with a bread knife, cut each one in half through the middle and stick all the layers together with the uncoloured buttercream. Cover the whole cake with a thin layer of the coloured buttercream – this will seal in any crumbs. Chill the cake for 30 mins, then cover with the rest of the buttercream and use a palette knife or pastry scraper to make the buttercream flat.

nursejen's picture

I agree with previous comments. Cakes were poorly risen despite the fact I followed the recipe to within an inch of my life. Then the buttercream appears to also be a disaster- I feel like it just tastes like butter more than anything. And is yellow in appearance, not the White the picture shows. Slightly apprehensive for people to eat it tomorrow! However as previous comments suggest persevere if the buttercream appears to have split- keep whisking for 1-3 more minutes and it comes together. Slightly disappointed, I thought the cake looked wonderful and not too difficult- how wrong I was!

loisneva's picture

I made this with and followed the cake and buttercream mix exactly. The cakes were fine but my buttercream is more yellow than on the picture which I don't know if that should happen. It doesn't look bad, hope it tastes okay.

stillsmillingca's picture

Hi Loisneva, if your buttercream is very yellow you may need to beat it more. Because of the high butter content, the butter needs to be beaten in very very will lighten the texture and colour. It will still taste fine but the colour and texture will be nicer. Hope this helps.

Deborah143's picture

I've made this cake several times now and it always goes down a treat. And the meringue my go to for all cakes...easy to make and tastes sublime.

bulbie's picture

Followed the recipe exactly. Cakes were ok, but the meringue icing was a disaster. Never thickened even a little, and the amount of butter needed in proportion to the egg whites seems way off, it was already way too runny by the time I had added half. Sugar never melted on a low or high heat, spent an hour on the icing alone. Was for a party tonight but it's ruined so will now have to start again to my own recipe this time. Complete and utter waste of ingredients. Don't bother.

RLJ86's picture

I had the same problem with the icing - the sugar melted, but it never thickened. I added icing sugar (quite a lot!), which thickened it up perfectly.

Sweet85's picture

I made this for my sisters birthday. I was a bit disappointed when the sponges didn't rise but when I stacked them and filled the middle with the lush buttercream, the cake looked much bigger. I thought the buttercream was really easy to make and tasted lovely. I topped the cake with blueberries and blackberries which worked really well because the acidity of the fruit went well with the very sweet cake. My whole family had 2 slices each! Definitely a success!

breiter's picture

Devastated, followed the recipe to the T (but I obviously not) and only one layer rose, the others were undercooked and floppy. The icing didn't stiffen up and I then tried to save with whipped cream only to result in sweet scrambled egg :-( Such a waste of ingredients. I guess really don't try if you are not a regular baker.

eryder's picture

worth mentioning that as you add the butter this frosting goes through a stage during which it appears curdled (even though it might have thickened nicely). Apparently at this stage you should keep whisking as it will then become silky smooth once more. Don't give up on it as I did!

tracy1979's picture

I was tasked with making a cake for my mums surprise birthday dinner. As I always do when looking for a recipe I came on here to browse and read the comments. To be honest I didn't think this looked that special, I wanted to do something really impressive despite not having the skill, but decided to go for this as it was suitable for the tastes of the adults and young kids and it had good reviews. I'm so glad I chose this recipe, I followed it exactly, well apart from the buttermilk which my local tesco had run out of, but a quick google and i found that natural yoghurt and milk is an acceptable substitute. So the recipe was easy enough. I decided I'd try making the cake look fancier with sugar flowers, so I had wafer flowers round the sides and decided they would look nice with this raspberry flavoured fudge. End result, it looked amazing. Taste wise, it was cooked perfectly, had a lovely vanilla flavour and the icing was brilliant, not that overly sweet way that puts my brain into a coma 5min after eating it. Combining it with the fudge turned out to be a complete winner too, it went really well with the vanilla sponge although you could easily do it with real fruit. It was indulgent but not sickly and I was chuffed to bits at the comments of how good it was, my mum asked for the recipe and my stepdad wants to put an order in

rosetta1's picture

Made this cake for my daughter's 14th Birthday. Absolutely delicious! I was really nervous about making it because I've never made a cake like this before, but I wanted to make something special. The sponge is delicious but the frosting is what tops this cake (excuse the pun). Scrumptious, just pure indulgence – heaven in a bite!
I highly recommend this recipe when you want something that bit more special. It took me ages to make but that's just because I was being over cautious, to make sure I got it right I kept reading the instructions over and over again but well worth the effort. I will definitely be making this recipe again – especially as my other two children now want it for their birthday. I have raved about it to all my friends and sent them links to this website.

I have a 14 year old daughter who thinks her mum is the bomb!

Sylviemc's picture

Nice cake, a bit heavy but tasty. A little plain for my liking but I guess for kids that's ideal. Recipe says put a small amount of buttercream between the 3 cakes, did 3 serving spoons- needs more or a jam layer. Cakes quite flat, might be my fault so cake not as tall as picture. Also can't get cream that smooth and shiny. Not a show stopper just a nice vanilla/plain ish cake

mau2000's picture

This sponge is great as the base for a cake if you want to layer and ice - stronger and easier to work with than a normal victoria sponge but it's still light and the vanilla flavour is really nice. The cakes all cooked evenly and it gave a really smart finish when iced with normal buttercream and then decorated with cake pops for a birthday cake.

heidi79's picture

Made this for a friend's 30th birthday using the silver balls like on the front cover, it turned out perfectly & meringue buttercream was easy to make & truly delicious :)

jennypugh's picture

Easy to make, turned out perfectly. A good use of spare egg whites! Found sugar circles in Sainsburys.

Merrifique's picture

Excellent and easy to make!
If you can't find coloured polka dots, mini smarties work well too.

Questions (13)

rachelhannah's picture

Is it ok to make the icing a day in advance and keep in the fridge?

lauraneil's picture

Followed the recipe exactly but cake didn't rise what did I do wrong? Can anyone help

bella 1999's picture

Can you tell me the quantities if I want to use a 10 inch sandwich tin? The recipe feeds 16 I need to feed 22/24.

goodfoodteam's picture

Hi bella 1999, thanks for your question. We haven't tested this recipe in larger tins, so cannot guarantee perfect results. You might be better to make 2 cakes or make an extra couple of layers of the same size.  Let us know how you get on. 

Lilliemaet's picture

Should the egg yolks be beaten before adding. The cake seems very heavy

goodfoodteam's picture
Hi there, thanks for your question. The recipe only calls for egg whites, not the yolks, that may be why it's turning out heavy.
amandadougans's picture

I can't find these polka dots anywhere on the internet! The ones Ed has used are pink, purple, turquoise and green and all I can find are primary coloured ones. Can anyone help?

goodfoodteam's picture

Hi there, thanks for the question, you should be able to find them online at most cake craft shops, or try Lakeland. 

ellen_ellen's picture

This seems like an inordinate amount of butter in the icing- does this really work? Surely it will primarily taste of butter in these quantities.

janeh1960's picture

I agree, when I made it my daughter described the icing as being like margarine!

cretancook's picture

Where can I buy the edible polka dots please?

hunt22's picture

I got mine in Tesco. Think the make was Dr. Oetker

mat8kat's picture

I hunted for these a couple of years ago and couldn't find them in the UK, other than at very high postage costs from the US. Bought some off the internet that turned out to be much paler and smaller and all the wrong colours. Maybe I'll have to take a trip to the US.
I think they are Wilton confetti.

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