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Have a secret soft spot for that impossibly tender cake from a boxed mix but want to make it from scratch, with real ingredients? We’ve got you covered with the best yellow cake recipe with chocolate frosting.
Why we love this recipe
This recipe is the answer to a very particular question that I’d been dying to solve:
How do you make a cake from scratch that has all the good parts of a cake from a box mix but none of the bad parts? Obviously no unpronounceable ingredients, thank you very much. And no over-sweetness that leaves you with a sugar hangover.
Several years ago when Umami Girl was about to turn 10, I did some pretty exhaustive research to find a starting point for this cake. I knew I couldn’t be the first person to want a satisfying answer to that question, and I wasn’t.
In fact, Gourmet Magazine had once written an article kinda shaming American home cooks for using boxed cake mixes. The accompanying recipe for an all-occasion yellow cake eventually made it into the giant, yellow tome The Gourmet Cookbook, which is where I found it.
This cake boasts:
- Almost impossibly light, fluffy moistness
- Dense chocolate frosting (adapted from our sour cream ganache)
- Sort of vague nostalgia for a version of Americana you never quite possessed
To all that, I say: Yes, PLEASE.
What you’ll need
Here’s a quick glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe. It’s not much!
- Cake flour is a lower-protein flour that’s been ground to a finer consistency than all-purpose flour. It’s necessary for this recipe, so don’t substitute. See the FAQ section below for more information.
- It’s important to have your ingredients at room temperature for maximum fluffiness.
How to make it
Here’s what you’ll do to make the best yellow cake recipe. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post. Find all the details in the recipe card below.
- Sift together the dry ingredients.
- Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and beat for five minutes.
- Add the flour and the milk bit by bit, alternating between additions.
- Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.
Expert tips and FAQs
Cake flour is made from “soft” wheat with a low protein content — usually 7 to 9 percent (vs. the 10 to 12 that you’ll find in all-purpose flour). It’s also more finely milled than all-purpose flour. This combination gives cakes a light tenderness that goes above and beyond.
You’ll find people suggesting that you can mix cornstarch into all-purpose flour to make a cake flour substitute. I really don’t believe in this method — I’ve tried it in a pinch, and it really does not yield the same result as cake flour at all.
Save recipes with cake flour for when you’ve got it. There are lots of great cakes out there that don’t call for it.
We’ve provided the measurements in both volume and weight below, so if you have a digital kitchen scale, flick it to the grams setting and weigh everything for perfect, precise results. If not, it’s critical to fluff your flour with a spoon to make sure it isn’t too dense in the container. Then use the spoon and level method to measure: spoon the fluffed flour lightly into your measuring cup and run the flat side of a butter knife across the top to level it off.
Yup! Before you add the flour, you want to mix a lot. Follow the surprisingly long mixing times in the recipe to incorporate plenty of air into the batter, and beat the eggs in one at a time like it says.
But. After you add the flour, the goal is to mix only until the batter becomes smooth and homogenous. Less mixing means less gluten development means a lighter, more tender cake.
More of our very favorite cake recipes
- Norwegian gold cake with sour cream ganache (this my personal favorite of all time)
- Buttermilk chocolate cake
- The Silver Palate’s yellow cake (with white wine in the batter!)
- Carrot cake with not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting
- Raspberry lemon cheesecake
For the yellow cake
- 2 cups (256 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
- 2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea salt
- 8 tablespoons (112 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
- 3 large eggs, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 ml) vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (177 ml) whole milk
For the chocolate frosting
- 5 ounces (142 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) sour cream
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- Rainbow sprinkles
For the yellow cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the center. Butter and flour an 8 x 8-inch baking pan, tapping out any excess flour.
- Into a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, beat butter and sugar together on medium-high until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add vanilla and beat for 5 minutes more.
- Reduce mixer speed to low and alternate between adding the flour mixture (in 3 parts) and the milk (in two parts), starting and ending with flour. Mix just until batter is smooth — do not overmix.
- Spread batter into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, just until a cake tester comes out clean from the center. Cake will be pale, not brown. Cool completely before frosting.
For the chocolate frosting
- Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or in short bursts (about 30 seconds each) in the microwave, stirring between bursts.
- When melted, stir in sour cream, milk, vanilla and salt until smooth and glossy.
- Spread immediately onto cooled cake.
- Decorate with sprinkles. Frosting will set over time.
- Yellow cake adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook.
- Use cake flour for this recipe. Cake flour is made from “soft” wheat with a low protein content — usually 7 to 9 percent (vs. the 10 to 12 that you’ll find in all-purpose flour). It’s also more finely milled than all-purpose flour. This combination gives cakes a light tenderness that goes above and beyond. Good choices are Swans Down // Softasilk // King Arthur.
- You can make this cake anytime on the day you'd like to serve it.
- Keep leftovers tightly sealed at room temperature for up to three days.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 399Total Fat: 19gCarbohydrates: 52.5gFiber: 2.1gProtein: 7.1g