Vanilla Sour Cream Cake

Vanilla Sour Cream Cake

I’ve got a big, colorful cake for you today! My friend Ruth Ann runs a chamber music series here in Dallas, and I always make the desserts for the receptions after the concerts. Since last week was the final concert of the season, I decided to go all out with this 4 layer cake. I chose to color each layer to match the organization’s logo, but you can use whatever colors you want (pastels would be great for Easter). I did have one lady at the reception tell me that the yellow layer was her favorite because it was the most buttery. Hmmm…maybe I’ll start dyeing all of my cakes yellow from now on.

This cake serves a lot of people. Seriously, it’s a monstrosity- 4 big layers of vanilla cakey goodness. I had originally intended to double my favorite vanilla cake recipe from Baking Illustrated, but I needed something that was a little bit sturdier and didn’t dry out as quickly, since I knew I would be making it in advance. After some experimentation, I decided to replace half of the milk with sour cream, and use a combination of whole eggs and egg whites instead of just egg whites. I was pretty pleased with the result. I omitted the almond extract, since I avoid nuts like the plague when baking for large events, but feel free to add a teaspoon. It really enhances the flavor.

The recipe pictured below was baked in 8-inch pans, which is great if you like tall cakes. However, it was somewhat difficult to frost and didn’t fit in my cake caddy. For a more manageable cake, I would recommend using 9-inch pans.

Vanilla Sour Cream BatterVanilla Sour Cream CakeVanilla Sour Cream CakeVanilla Sour Cream CakeVanilla Sour Cream Cake

While we’re on the subject of layer cakes (specifically vanilla cakes), let talk about tools, shall we? I’m convinced that there are 2 tools every baker needs for a flawless vanilla cake. The first is an oven thermometer. Chances are, your oven isn’t 100 percent accurate, and burnt cakes are no fun. The next is a kitchen scale. It’s necessary. folks. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, the measuring cup method seems like a pain. Plus, there are less dishes with the weight method! They way I see it, you have two choices. You can use cups and hope for a good result, or you can get a kitchen scale and get the perfect cake every time.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cake

Yield: one 4 layer 8 or 9-inch cake


    For the Cake:
  • 1 cup whole milk (240 ml), at room temperature
  • 8 large egg whites (240 grams), at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 4 1/2 cups (515 grams) cake flour, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 3 1/2 (700 grams) cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 24 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 sticks/340 grams), at room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup (226 grams) full fat sour cream
  • a few drops of gel food coloring
  • For the frosting:
  • 6 sticks (680 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups (575 grams) confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla bean paste
  • pinch of salt
  • sprinkles for decorating


    For the Cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. Grease 4 8 or 9-inch pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  3. In a measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg whites, eggs, and vanilla bean paste until well blended.
  4. In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Whisk or beat together for about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the butter, one chunk at a time, into the flour mixture with the mixer on low speed. Continue mixing until the butter is incorporated and the mixture resembles moist crumbs.
  6. Add the milk mixture into the crumbs and beat on medium speed for about 90 seconds.
  7. Add the sour cream and beat for another 30 seconds on medium speed.
  8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and beat for 20 more seconds.
  9. If you want to add food coloring, divide the batter equally between the 4 bowls. Add a couple of drops of gel food coloring to each bowl and mix with a spatula until the color is evenly distributed.
  10. Spread each layer into a separate cake pan and bake (about 23 minutes for a 9-inch cake and 27 minutes for an 8-inch cake) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  11. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes on wire racks.
  12. Turn the cakes out of the pans and cool completely on wire racks before frosting.
  13. For the frosting:
  14. With an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high speed until light and creamy (about 2-3 minutes).
  15. Add the powdered sugar, and beat on low until combined.
  16. Turn the mixer up to medium high and beat for an additional 2 minutes.
  17. Add the vanilla bean paste and salt and beat to combine.
  18. To Assemble the Cake:
  19. Place one layer of the cake on an 8 or 9-inch cake board.
  20. Spread about 3/4 cup of frosting evenly over the top.
  21. Do the same with the second and third layer.
  22. Place a generous scoop of frosting on the top of the cake, and spread evenly across the top of the cake with an offset spatula. Work your way around the sides until the entire cake is covered with a thin layer of frosting. I find that a turntable is helpful when frosting a layer cake. Let the crumb coat set in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
  23. Once the crumb coat has set, spread a thicker layer of frosting on the top and sides of the crumb coat to create a smooth finish.
  24. Top with sprinkles.

You can bring eggs to room temperature quickly by placing them in a bowl of warm water for 30 minutes.
You can substitute liquid egg whites for regular egg whites.
If your frosting is too stiff, you can add a couple of tablespoons of milk to reach a spreadable consistency.
I like using vanilla bean paste because you can see the flecks of vanilla bean, but feel free to sub with pure vanilla extract.


  1. This cake is absolutely gorgeous Natasha! Such a cute comment about the yellow layer… If I could fool people into thinking my “healthier” cakes were more buttery just by dying them, I’d definitely do it too! Thanks for the reminder about an oven thermometer; I’ve been meaning to buy one for ages but keep forgetting. Maybe I can convince the Easter bunny to bring me one this year! 😉
    Amy recently posted…Target Gift Card Giveaway!My Profile

    1. Thanks, Amy! It’s amazing how a little color can play tricks on the mind.

  2. This cake looks so delicious! Love the different colors!
    Nicole @ Vanilla and Beans recently posted…Brownie Cake “Osterwiese”My Profile

  3. I’m honored that we made your blog! Astraios loves our caterer!

    1. Thanks, Ruth Ann! Anytime!

  4. This is just beautiful! What a fun surprise. I love how the colors look together. And sour cream does magical things to cake.
    Danguole recently posted…Very Peachy Peach Layer CakeMy Profile

  5. Another beautiful cake! Love the shades of the layers.
    Laura@Baking in Pyjamas recently posted…Lemon Curd and Blueberry BuckleMy Profile

  6. What a pretty cake! I like how you aligned the colors with the organization you were making the cake for…and those sprinkles are just soooo cute. :)
    Baby June recently posted…Pumpkin Spice Latte CupcakesMy Profile

  7. So pretty! I love seeing vanilla bean speckles in frosting – so yummy.
    Jenn@eatcakefordinner recently posted…Weekly Menu Planning Saturday #4My Profile

  8. Preach the scale gospel, girl! I also have to throw out a plug for a big metal offset spatula–useful in a million different ways, and I couldn’t frost a cake without one. :) Speaking of cakes, this one is gorgeous!!

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! I will preach the scale gospel until I convert everyone! And I agree 100 percent about the metal offset spatula.

  9. I love using sour cream in baking and I can imagine it made this cake even more special! It’s gorgeous! I need to get a new oven thermometer … I used to have one but lost it when we moved…
    Ashley recently posted…Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Blueberry Cream Cheese FrostingMy Profile

  10. Oh my goshhhhhhh. I am so envious that you get to bake for those big receptions!!! That is such a perfect excuse to bake a huge, crazy-decadent layer cake. They are so lucky to have you!! The latest cake obsession I’ve had is Sweetapolita’s millionaire layer cake but um…I really don’t have an excuse to make that anytime soon. I’ve been wanting to find some opportunity to bake cakes for underprivileged children’s birthday but haven’t yet…this is sparking the need to do that ASAP! Gorgeous as always!
    Erika recently posted…Chocolate Mudslide Cookies + part II of the Craig Lee interview!My Profile

    1. Thanks, Erika! Those receptions keep me from eating way too much cake. I’ve been eyeing that millionaire cake, too. Maybe I’ll try it for the next big occasion.

  11. Amen on the kitchen scale!! Cannot possibly sing the praises of that little contraption enough. Also scribbling notes on the substitution of sour cream for milk to keep the cake moist. I have had some trauma with dry cake, and this little tidbit might just save me a gray hair or two.
    Sarah|pickledcapers recently posted…Devil’s Chocolate Rum Cake with Browned-Butter ButtercreamMy Profile

    1. I hear you, I’ve had more than my fair share of dry cake drama. I did try a version of this with also sour cream, but found it to be too mushy. I think half milk half sour cream is a good balance.

  12. SO pretty!! And the layers??? Ahhh, that’s talent there.

  13. You’ve convinced my hubby to make him this cake on his upcoming b’day in May. I’ll let you know how it goes :)
    Sonia recently posted…Dhaba Style Aloo Matar Recipe (Vegan)My Profile

    1. I hope it turns out well for you, Sonia. You can easily halve this recipe if you don’t want such a huge cake.

  14. Very pretty cake. Love the choice of colours Natasha
    Chichi recently posted…Easter Egg Chocolate Chip CookiesMy Profile

  15. […] you like the idea of something colorful, but want a traditional layer cake, try the way cool Vanilla Sour Cream Rainbow Cake at The Cake Merchant. Separate the cake batter into four equal portions, color each portion a […]

  16. that cake looks so fun– I love it! a little sour cream in cake batter is always a good thing, IMO.

  17. Hi Natasha

    What brand of food gel did you use in this recipe and what are pastel colors.

    1. I used Americolor brand. The more you add, the brighter the color. You can get pastel colors by adding less color to the cake layers.

  18. Firstly this cake is a beauty Natasha. Love the colours and it looks so delicious. Great tip about substituting some of the milk with sour cream.

    I don’t know what i would do without my kitchen scale. In UK where i live most ingredients are measured in grams so a kitchen scale is a must have. I also agree with having an oven thermometer. Really should invest in one considering my oven has a mind of its own.
    Chichi recently posted…Breakfast SconesMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Chichi! I’m not sure why more people don’t use kitchen scales in the US. I didn’t realize how off my oven was until I got a thermometer!

  19. How long do you think you can keep the cake before/ after frosting? Can you keep the batter in the fridge overnight and then bake it?

    1. I wouldn’t recommend refrigerating the batter, but the finished cake will stay at room temperature for 2-3 days if it is airtight.

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