Make Ahead

The Ultimate Customizable Everyday Cake

January 16, 2018
4 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Makes one 9 x 9-inch cake
Author Notes

This cake is the absolute perfect base for all of your topping, swirl, and add-in dreams. It's moist, just sweet enough, and has a great crumb—plus it's quick to whip up. Most importantly, though, it is the ultimate base for any flavor combination, topping, or general dessert experimentation you want to try. Put on your lab coat—er, apron—and get to playing! —Catherine Lamb

What You'll Need
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, or in a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Do not skimp on this step!
  3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides and making sure batter is fully combined after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.
  4. Add one-third of the dry ingredients, beat to combine, then add half of the buttermilk and mix again. Alternate between dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry, until everything is just combined.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a 9 x 9-inch square pan (or a loaf pan, or a 9-inch circular pan) with parchment paper, then butter or spray the paper.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Smaug
  • Melanie
  • Lauren Miller
    Lauren Miller
  • Trinidad Peña
    Trinidad Peña
  • Annelle Miller
    Annelle Miller

13 Reviews

Smaug August 29, 2023
I used this as a base for a pineapple upside down cake (it's really not much different from what I usually use). I added some nutmeg and cinnamon, subbed lemon juice and whole milk for the buttermilk (frozen pineapple, so I didn't have any juice), and orange oil for the vanilla. I made 1/2 recipe in a 7" springform- this is almost exactly 1/2 the size of a 9" square. A 10" round, by the way, is nearly the same area as a 9" square and would make a more equitable substitution- a 9" round will be quite a bit thicker and take longer to bake.
The volume measurements are fine; since 90% of recipes out there are written this way people should learn to use them (it's not hard), and anyway people should write recipes the way they make them- if you can't deal with the volumes, there are plenty of conversion tables available.
birdsbythesnow June 14, 2022
Finally tried this one. Prepared exactly as written in a 9” round pan. Lovely crumb, almost crunchy top crust, nice vanilla flavor, but so very sweet. Served it with sweetened organic raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and vanilla ice cream. Unsweetened berries and unsweetened cream would be a better compliment. Would try it again, reducing the sugar by 1/4 cup, though I wonder if this would eliminate the crunchy crust? Wrapped in plastic it keeps well on the kitchen counter for three days and counting. Is a high sugar to flour ratio a secret cake preservative?
Melanie March 6, 2022
I made this tonight with these modifications. Grated fresh ginger into the butter/sugar mixture, as well as grated lemon rind from two lemons. Baked in a long, narrow loaf pan I bought in Paris. Needed about 50 mins in my oven, checking for doneness every five minutes with cake tester beginning at 40 mins. Immediately after removing from the oven, I poked holes in the cake and brushed with the juice from above-mentioned lemons combined with some agave syrup. I removed the cake from the pan after 10-15 mins, and coated sides with the rest of the sweet lemon juice. Served with whipped cream. Delicious and delicate crumb. The five minutes of beating sugar and butter really makes the difference in this cake.
Lauren M. August 7, 2018
I have used this base recipe for so many spin off flavors and experiments, too. It's a great, safe cake for successful customization.
SCM April 11, 2018
This is a great cake and I had lost the recipe and kept searching on the Food52 site for a "versatile" cake not customizable. Also searched for yellow cake, vanilla cake, sponge cake...and it never came up. Please include it on at least the yellow cake search.
Trinidad P. February 27, 2018
Yes, metric weights please!
Annelle M. February 18, 2018
A lovely and delicious cake.
Annelle M. February 18, 2018
A lovely and delicious cake.
Alex N. February 10, 2018
My spin- added 1/2 teaspoon almond extract and the zest from one orange. Topped with orange glaze (powdered sugar & orange juice) and toasted almonds. This is a great size cake- small enough for a casual cake.
Kit S. February 3, 2018
I made it. Wonderful. Now roasting strawberries to accompany the delish cake.
Alix D. February 3, 2018
I made this cake this morning, it's like the Victoria Sponge of my dreams!

I doubled it-- I know, risky for a first try, but if you're bothering to make cake, why not two?-- and it came out perfectly. I rubbed the zest of two oranges (because I was making two cakes) into the sugar per one of the modifications, used bourbon instead of vanilla, and also subbed out a little of the buttermilk for OJ. I love the flavor and the crumb is perfect.
Jacquelyn S. February 2, 2018
I agree with Jerald's request. Metric weights would be very helpful in baking recipes and make for more consistent results. I'm celiac and am often converting recipes for use with various gluten-free flours, and knowing the initial metric weights of the regular (non-GF) flours is absolutely critical for a good result. I'm a big fan of Food 52 (and still wish your shop shippied to Canada) and having the metric weights on baking ingredients would put mh admiration over the top1 :-)
Jerald February 2, 2018
Would the author please provide metric weight version for this recipe? It would be fantastic if Food52 provided metric weights for all its recipes, especially baked goods.