This strawberry vanilla cake is a 6-inch layer cake with tons of fresh strawberry flavor. The fluffy vanilla cake layers are super soft and tender. It's topped and filled with strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream, making a perfect light, beautiful dessert.
If you're a fan of sweet and fruity desserts, you're in for a treat with this delicious strawberry vanilla cake recipe! This mouthwatering cake is a perfect blend of two classic flavors everyone loves. Imagine biting into a fluffy and moist vanilla cake that's layered with luscious strawberry filling and topped with creamy strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream. Heavenly, right?
This cake is perfect to make for Spring and Summer special occasions, like birthday parties, anniversaries, Mother's Day, bridal showers, and more. It tastes super similar to strawberry shortcake or like eating strawberries and cream or strawberry mousse!
While this cake is perfect for strawberry season, you can make it year round. The frosting is made with freeze-dried strawberries that are easy to find at most grocery stores.
This recipe is a variation on my small vanilla cake with strawberry frosting. It's also similar to my small batch vanilla cupcakes. For more cake recipes, check out my lemon berry cake, chocolate lemon cake, mini carrot cake, blueberry chocolate cake, and rhubarb crumb cake!
Here are some notes about the ingredients used. For quantities and full instructions, see the recipe card below.
Ingredients for the Cake
- Cake flour- Cake flour is light and fluffy with less protein and gluten than all purpose flour, giving the cake a tight, soft, tender crumb! It's essential for the vanilla sponge's texture, so don't use all purpose flour. You can make your own cake flour substitute though.
- Granulated sugar- White sugar adds the perfect amount of sweetness and lets the vanilla flavor shine. I don't recommend reducing the amount.
- Baking powder- This helps the cake rise by adding air bubbles. Make sure it isn't expired.
- Baking soda- This leavener interacts with the acid in buttermilk to release gases and make the cake rise. Make sure it's fresh and be careful not to mix up the baking powder and baking soda quantities!
- Sea salt- Finely ground salt activates the baking powder and contrasts the sweetness.
- Unsalted butter- Butter adds a richness and helps cake get light and fluffy. Make sure it's room temperature to mix in easily. Room temperature butter will be cool and easy to indent applying pressure with your finger.
- Oil- Vegetable oil adds more fat, making the cake incredibly moist. I usually use butter and oil in my cake recipes because I prefer the texture using both fats. Oil alone can make the cake too spongy and cakes made with just butter tend to be a little stiff.
- Egg + egg white- One large egg binds the ingredients together and adds extra fat and moisture. I love using an extra egg white to make the cake even more airy and light. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature so they blend into the batter evenly. Pull them out of the refrigerator about an hour before baking.
- Vanilla extract- Use pure vanilla extract for the best flavor, not imitation or artificial vanilla
- Buttermilk- This adds additional tang and helps to tenderize the gluten, giving the cake an even softer texture. It's the secret ingredient! Pull it out of the refrigerator the same time as the eggs and butter.
Ingredients for the Buttercream
- Pasteurized egg whites: We're gonna make Swiss meringue buttercream the easy way, so get some pasteurized egg whites. Pasteurizing makes food safe to eat or drink by heating it up just enough to kill harmful bacteria. Pasteurized egg whites are totally safe for everyone to eat, and using them instead of raw egg whites eliminates the need to heat them over a double boiler like you would making Swiss Meringue buttercream the traditional way. You can find them in the egg section at the grocery store; double-check that the box says "pasteurized." Pull them out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before making the frosting so they reach room temperature and whip up more easily.
- Powdered sugar: Using powdered sugar eliminates the need to dissolve granulated sugar in hot egg whites. You don't need to worry about sifting it.
- Vanilla extract: Pure vanilla extract rounds out the flavor profile.
- Salt: A little finely ground salt keeps the buttercream from being teeth-achingly sweet.
- Unsalted butter: Use butter that's unsalted for the most flavor control. Make sure it's softened and at room temperature. If the butter isn't softened, the buttercream will curdle. Pull it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you start.
- Freeze-dried strawberries: Crushing these into a powder adds the strawberry flavor and pretty light pink color. Make sure yours are unsweetened.
- Butter: If you only have salted butter, no worries! Just skip the additional salt in the recipe.
- Oil: Feel free to use any mild option such as vegetable, avocado, grapeseed, or canola oil.
- Salt: If you don't have sea salt, you can substitute with fine Kosher or pink Himalayan salt, adding an extra ⅛ teaspoon if your salt is coarser.
- Buttermilk: Plain kefir, plain Greek yogurt, or sour cream can be used interchangeably at a 1:1 ratio. If you don't have buttermilk, you can easily make your own by mixing 1 cup of whole milk with 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, letting it sit for 10 minutes until it curdles.
Helpful Equipment & Tools
- For this cake, it's best to use 6 inch round metal pans rather than glass or silicone since they don't heat up evenly and can cause your cake to burn. For the best results, I highly recommend non-stick pans. If your pans aren't non-stick, don't forget to spray them with baking spray before lining them with parchment rounds.
- For mixing your cake batter, a 5-quart stand mixer with a paddle attachment is ideal.
- For decorating the cake, an offset spatula is a must-have! A bench scraper also comes in handy for smoothing everything out.
- This is optional, but if you want to take your cake decorating skills to the next level, consider getting a revolving cake decorating stand with a non-slip pad. This makes it easier to apply icing and other decorations evenly to the sides and top of your cake.
How to Make The Strawberry Vanilla Cake
Here are the steps to make the cake! Before you start, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease three 6-inch round cake pans with non-stick baking spray and line them with parchment rounds. Wrap cake strips around the pans if you have them to help the cakes bake evenly; no worries if not!
STEP 1: First, place the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Give the ingredients a gentle mix on low, spinning the paddle about 5 times.
STEP 2: Next, add the softened butter to the mixing bowl and beat on low until no clumps remain and the texture is sandy. This process should take about 5 minutes.
Beating the butter into the dry ingredients instead of creaming it with sugar is called the reverse creaming method. It keeps gluten from forming and creates a fluffy, tender texture!
STEP 3: Turn off the mixer and add the oil, egg, egg white, and vanilla extract to the bowl. Mix everything on low until a batter starts to come together.
STEP 4: Keep the mixer running on low and gradually pour in the buttermilk. Keep mixing until the batter becomes smooth with no lumps or puddles of liquid.
STEP 5: Divide the batter between your 3 cake pans. You can be precise and weigh it, but I just use a large cookie scoop to make it easier. Pop both pans in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the center springs back when touched gently.
STEP 6: Once your cakes are done baking, take them out of the oven and put them on a wire cooling rack. Give them around 20 minutes to cool down before gently flipping them upside down onto a wire rack. Let the layers cool to room temperature or pop them in the freezer for 20 minutes to make them easier to decorate with fewer loose crumbs.
Now you can start making the frosting!
How to Make Strawberry Buttercream
Before you start making the frosting, grab a clean bowl for your stand mixer, a wire whip attachment, and a paddle attachment. Wipe everything down with vinegar to remove any fat or residue and dry. For more tips and tricks, see my faux Swiss meringue buttercream recipe.
STEP 1: First, attach the wire whip attachment to your stand mixer and add the egg whites and powdered sugar to the bowl. Mix them together on low for about 30 seconds to prevent a powdery mess.
STEP 2: Crank up the speed to medium-high and whip the mixture for 8-10 minutes until you get a thick, opaque white meringue. Keep an eye out for peaks that stand up but have slightly bent tips.
STEP 3: Pour in the vanilla and salt, mixing on medium-low. Then, start adding the room temperature butter bit by bit, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add 1 tablespoon of butter at a time, waiting for the previous addition to mix in before adding more. Keep mixing for about 10 minutes until it's fluffy and combined nicely.
STEP 4: Once you've added all the butter, it's time to switch to your paddle attachment. Add the freeze-dried strawberry powder and mix on low for a few minutes to get rid of any pesky air bubbles.
Tips for Assembling the Cake
The first thing to do before assembling your strawberry vanilla cake is to check to see if the cake layers are even. If the tops aren't flat, use a serrated knife or cake leveler to make them flat. Flat surfaces are easier to frost and prevent air bubbles.
Now add a tablespoon of frosting to the middle of your cake stand or board, fanning it out with your offset spatula. This is the glue that'll keep the cake from sliding around. Next, place one cake layer in the middle and spread a thick layer of frosting on top with your spatula. Place a second cake layer on top and repeat.
After that, place the third layer on top upside down, making sure everything is straight. Press down gently with both hands to remove air bubbles that can create bulging sides. Placing the cake upside down creates a clean flat surface on top.
Spread a very thin layer of frosting all over the cake from top to bottom. This is the "crumb coat" that locks in crumbs, preventing them from getting in the final layer of frosting. Use an offset spatula or bench scraper to smooth out this layer. You can leave the cake like this for a semi-naked look or add another layer after chilling the cake for 20 minutes.
Once the crumb coat is firm and not tacky, spread a thick second layer of frosting all over the cake. I ran a bench scraper around the sides and edges of the cake and then piped dollops of frosting on top, fanning them out into a flower pattern with my offset spatula. You can do this or use any decorating technique you like.
Garnish the cake with fresh strawberries and dollops of whipped cream. Slice and enjoy at room temperature!
Expert Baking Tips
- Use a kitchen scale. Using a food scale and measuring in grams is much more accurate than using cups. If you don't have a scale, spoon-measure your flour. Fluff up the flour and spoon it into your measuring cup without packing it in.
- Use room temperature ingredients. Using room temperature eggs, butter, and buttermilk creates a fully blended, smooth batter that bakes evenly with a uniform texture.
- Don't overmix the batter. Over mixing results in a dense cakes with sunken centers.
- Wait until the cakes cool to frost. Wait for the layers to cool completely before frosting them. It's hard to resist, but the frosting will melt and slide off if the cake's too warm.
Additions and Variations
- Fresh strawberries: Consider adding sliced or diced fresh strawberries to the batter or as a topping for extra sweetness and texture. You can also add layers of strawberry cake filling like I used in my strawberry crumb cake and strawberry cream cheese icebox cake.
- Lemon zest: Lemon zest adds a bright, citrusy note that goes so well with the sweetness of the strawberries.
- Chocolate: Incorporating chocolate chips or a ganache from this chocolate ganache cake complements the strawberries and add a rich flavor to the cake.
- Almonds: Toasted slivered almonds add a nice crunch on top of the cake. The nutty flavor goes well with strawberry and vanilla.
- Different fruit: Not a strawberry fan? You can make the buttercream with any kind of freeze-dried fruit you like, including blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
- Different frosting: If you don't like the texture of Swiss meringue buttercream, you can make an American buttercream or cream cheese frosting for the cake.
Storage and Freezing
The frosted strawberry cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week since the frosting seals in moisture and keeps the cake fresh. I suggest storing it in a cake carrier or other large airtight container. Cover the cut section with extra frosting so it doesn't dry out.
For leftover frosting, simply store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. When you're ready to use it again, give it a quick mix to soften and smooth it.
To freeze cake slices, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and store them in an airtight container. These slices can be stored in the freezer for up to three months. To thaw a slice, just unwrap it and let it sit on a plate at room temperature for about an hour.
While I don't suggest freezing a whole, frosted cake, one helpful tip is to freeze the layers before frosting them. This breaks up the baking and decorating tasks. Plus, frosting frozen cakes tends to be easier because fewer crumbs break off.
I don't recommend freezing leftover frosting by itself because the texture won't be the same. Egg whites also tend to weep after they're frozen. It'll be fine on the cake but not by itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use 2 6-inch pans (the layers will be thick!), 2 8-inch pans, or a 9x13" cake pan.
Yes, you can use fresh strawberries to flavor the buttercream or use as decoration. ½ cup strawberry puree or jam should be enough to flavor the frosting.
It sure can! It'll make 12-15 cupcakes. The bake time should be the same but keep an eye on them while they're in the oven.
Yes, you can! Use a little store-bought jam or homemade strawberry cake filling between the layers.
More Cake Recipes to Try
Strawberry Vanilla Cake
Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 113 grams pasteurized egg whites
- 453 grams powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 453 grams unsalted butter softened
- 32 grams freeze-dried strawberries crushed
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Spray three 6-inch cake pans with nonstick baking spray. Line the pans with 6-inch parchment paper circles. Spray again.
- Add the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low 5 spins.300 grams cake flour, 300 grams granulated sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder, ⅜ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt
- Add the butter to the bowl and beat on low for 5 minutes until the texture looks like wet sand.114 grams unsalted butter
- Add the oil, eggs, egg white, and vanilla. Mix on low until a batter forms. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until well combined.114 grams oil, 2 large eggs, 1 egg white, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 240 grams buttermilk
- Pour the cake batter evenly in the three cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let the cakes sit in the hot pans for 20 minutes. Then, transfer to a cooling rack and let the cake layers cool completely.
Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Place egg whites and powdered sugar in a clean 5-quart stand mixer bowl. With the wire whip attachment, beat the ingredients on low for 30 seconds.113 grams pasteurized egg whites, 453 grams powdered sugar
- Increase the speed to medium high and beat for 8-10 minutes until a thick and opaque meringue forms.
- Beat in the vanilla and salt on medium speed for about 20 seconds.1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon salt
- Turn the speed down to low and add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix on low for 10 minutes.453 grams unsalted butter
- Stop the mixer and switch the wire whip for the paddle attachment. Add the freeze-dried strawberry powder and beat for 1 minute on medium speed.32 grams freeze-dried strawberries
- Spread a small amount of frosting on the cake board to keep the cake from sliding around.
- Place the first cake layer in the middle of the board. Spread ½ cup of frosting on top. Place the second layer on top of the first and repeat.
- Place the last layer of cake on top with the bottom facing up. Spread a very thin layer of frosting all over the cake. Freeze for 20 minutes to seal in crumbs.
- Spread a thick second layer of frosting all over the cake. Pipe with decorations, garnish with fresh strawberries, and enjoy.