For the syrup


  • STEP 1

    Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease a round, deep 20cm tin, then line the base and sides with non-stick baking paper.

  • STEP 2

    Using electric beaters or a tabletop mixer, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and ¼ tsp salt together until pale and fluffy, then pour in the eggs, one at a time, giving the mix a really good beating before adding the next.

  • STEP 3

    Add 1 tbsp of the plain flour if the mix starts to look slimy rather than fluffy. Beat in the yogurt. Mix the flours; then, using a large metal spoon, fold them into the batter, followed by the milk.

  • STEP 4

    Spoon the mix into the tin and bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until well risen and golden – a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.

  • STEP 5

    Meanwhile, make the syrup by gently heating 50ml water with the sugar and vanilla in a pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. Once the cake is out of the oven, leave to cool for 30 mins in the tin, then use a skewer to poke holes all over the cake, going right to the bottom. Pour the syrup over, letting it completely soak in after each addition.

  • STEP 6

    Leave to cool completely, then either wrap the cake well or fill and ice it. If you wrap it with baking parchment and cling film, the unfilled cake will keep well for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to a month.

  • STEP 7

    For ideas on how to decorate the cake and to try out some variations on this basic cake mixture, have a look at the 'Goes well with' recipes for Simple elegance wedding cake, Birthday bug cake and Summer celebration cake.

Why is it called vanilla cake?

Vanilla cake is a basic sponge which is enriched with vanilla flavouring and typically covered in a plain buttercream. It is made by using the creaming method whereby butter and sugar are creamed together before being mixed with eggs and finally folded with flour. It is similar to the American pound cake which uses equal quantities of butter, sugar and flour. However this recipe also contains yoghurt which keeps the sponge damp and being slightly acidic helps activate the self raising flour..

What vanilla should I use to make this cake?

For the best flavour, we recommend making your own syrup using a vanilla pod or vanilla bean paste heated with caster sugar. It is worth paying a little extra to buy good quality vanilla extract and avoid anything that says vanilla essence or flavouring, as the flavour is much deeper from real vanilla pods.

Tips for making the best vanilla cake

  • Measure all the ingredients precisely.
  • Make sure all your ingredients are the same temperature and not fridge cold.
  • Your butter must be soft. Do not melt it, just leave it to come to room temperature. If you need to speed up the softening process, cut it into cubes and lay flat on a plate.
  • Use eggs at room temperature - they will volumise better resulting in a fluffier sponge, and incorporate better with the other sponge cake ingredients.
  • Ensure you cream the butter and sugar sufficiently until pale and fluffy, this will result in a lighter texture. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to get all the butter and sugar creamed together perfectly.
  • Don’t overmix when adding in the flour as this can cause a tough cake texture. Ideally you want to sieve in the flour and then fold in with a large metal spoon or spatula to keep as much air in as possible.
  • Make sure to grease and line your baking tins.
  • Always set your timer for 5 minutes less than the recommended baking time and check on the progress of your cake. Don't open the oven door for the first half of the cake or the loss of heat may cause the cake to flop.
  • Cool the cakes in the tins for up to 30 minutes after baking - if you leave them much longer, the sponges may start sticking. If you try to remove them too early the cakes may still be fragile and could crack when turning them out.
  • Cool cakes completely before decorating. Do not be tempted to ice a cake whilst still warm, this will melt any buttercream.
  • When using buttercream, apply a thin layer called a ‘crumb coat’ to even out the edges and to lock in any crumbs. Refrigerate the cake and then apply a second more generous layer which will then be crumb free.

Ideas for decorating vanilla cakes

Can this vanilla cake be made in advance?

  • Yes, the sponges can be baked, cooled completely, then wrapped tightly with non-stick baking parchment and cling wrap.
  • Do not ice or fill the cake.
  • The unfilled cake will keep well for up to 3 days in an airtight container, not in the fridge, or can be frozen for up to one month.
  • To defrost, allow them to thaw at room temperature, still wrapped, before icing and layering the cakes.

Recipe from Good Food magazine, June 2009

Goes well with


Comments, questions and tips

Rate this recipe

What is your star rating out of 5?

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Overall rating

A star rating of 4.5 out of 5.216 ratings