This vegan birthday cake is easy to make, moist, sweet, fluffy, and bursting with vanilla flavor! With a silky smooth vegan buttercream frosting, it's a classic vanilla cake perfect for any occasion. Create a festive vegan sprinkle cake as pictured, or choose classic decorations like fruit, flowers, piped frosting, or chocolate. You can also customize the frosting with extracts, fruit, spices, or food color for endless variations!
Easy Vegan Cake for Special Occasions
When it comes to vegan desserts, one of my favorite things about cake is that it always impresses the omnivores. Most people, even serious cake-lovers, can't tell the different between a vegan cake and one made with eggs and dairy.
So when it comes to life's celebrations - like birthday parties, showers, and holidays - when I need a special dessert that will feed a crowd, a layer cake is always a good choice.
And who doesn't love vanilla?! With this perfectly sweet, tender, and fragrant vegan vanilla cake you can make so many unique creations.
There are a few key differences that make this vegan cake one you'll return to again and again.
- No weird or rare ingredients. Not everyone has access to ingredients like unsalted vegan butter and cake flour. So I intentionally chose the most common ingredients and tested the recipe until it was just right.
- No special equipment needed. Other than 8-inch cake pans and an electric mixer, you don't need anything fancy to make this cake.
- Flavor and texture. Oil is what makes vegan cakes so tender and moist. But when it comes to creating a delicious vanilla sponge, we found that replacing half of the oil with vegan butter lends a richer, more nostalgic flavor.
- all purpose flour - no need to track down cake flour for this recipe! I used King Arthur's organic unbleached flour; other brands are fine, too.
- corn starch - a small amount of corn starch lightens the texture.
- organic cane sugar - using organic sugar is the easiest way to make sure the product is vegan and hasn't been refined with bone char. Regular granulated also works if that's what you have.
- oil - canola oil is neutral in flavor and works well for cakes; grapeseed oil is another option.
- vegan butter - any variety you enjoy is fine for the batter. If it's unsalted, add an extra pinch of salt to the dry ingredients.
- non-dairy milk - I prefer unsweetened soy milk for cakes; the creaminess and higher protein content seem to work better than other plant milks.
- vanilla - you can use pure vanilla extract or clear imitation vanilla. I used a combination of the two for the most robust, classic vanilla flavor. Also, clear vanilla doesn't affect the color of the cake. McCormick's clear vanilla is vegan and usually easy to find in stores.
- baking powder and soda
For the frosting:
- vegan butter (sticks) - I used original salted Earth Balance. Unsalted vegan butter is great for frosting because it allows you to control the saltiness, but depending on where you live, it's not always an option. But rest assured, salted butter works just fine!
- powdered sugar - again, you may want to look for organic here to make sure it's vegan. I usually use the 365 brand.
- a splash of non-dairy milk
- vanilla and almond extract - for lighter color cake and frosting, use a clear imitation vanilla; most brands are vegan, including McCormick. The almond extract is optional but does add amazing flavor.
- optional: vegetable shortening - I didn't use shortening in the frosting you see in the photos, but I'm including a note here in case you prefer a more stable frosting. Vegan butter eventually gets quite soft at room temperature.
So if your cake will be sitting out for several hours, replace ¼ to ⅓ cup of the butter with vegetable shortening. This won't make the frosting hard or unappetizing, just slightly more stable.
See the recipe card below for amounts and full instructions.
A few hours before you plan to frost the cake, move the butter from the fridge so it can come to room temperature.
When you're ready to bake the cakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 C). Lightly oil three 8-inch cake pans, and place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of each.
- Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, then sift into an extra large bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the wet ingredients for about 1 minute to dissolve the sugar.
- Pour wet into dry, and whisk just until a thick batter forms. Evenly divide among the three pans.
- Bake for 32 to 35 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes.
- Then flip the cakes onto cooling racks. Once the cakes are completely cool, you can frost the cake, or wrap the individual layers with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready.
- Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, cream the butter on low speed for 1 minute. Sift in half of the powdered sugar, and beat on low until smooth. Sift in the remaining sugar and mix on low again. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the extract(s) and milk, and beat on low. If the frosting is too soft, place in the fridge for 10 minutes.
- Cut 4 strips of parchment paper (about 2 ½ inches wide) and arrange on the cake stand in the shape of a box (this makes it easy to keep the base of the cake neat and tidy). Place one cake layer so the edges are resting on the parchment strips. Spread the top with approximately 1 cup frosting. Place the second cake layer and repeat. Place the third cake layer, and frost the top and sides.
Where to Find Vegan Sprinkles
You can decorate this vegan vanilla cake any way you like - with fresh fruit, drizzled chocolate, or piped frosting, for example.
To make a vegan sprinkle cake you'll obviously need vegan sprinkles!
Some sprinkles contain ingredients derived from insects or animals. Confectioner's glaze is one of the more common problematic ingredients. This post about vegan sprinkles has more info, including a list of brands that are vegan.
Sweetapolita is my go-to for vegan sprinkles. You can order directly from their website. Just make sure you're shopping within the vegan category because not all of their products are vegan.
Pictured above are Sweetapolita's Natural Rainbow Crunchy Sprinkles.
Vegan Sprinkle Cake Tips
A few years ago I came across a photo of Chef Chloe's vegan sprinkle cake and was instantly obsessed! There's just something about those cheerful colors with the simplicity of three fluffy and tall vanilla cake layers.
I've wanted to create a vegan sprinkle cake for the blog ever since! With my birthday right around the corner, I finally made it happen.
I'm not gonna lie, coating a layer cake with sprinkles requires a bit of care and patience. But the good news is that it's not difficult! Here's what I've learned:
- First, watch this YouTube video by Cupcake Jemma to see the best and easiest way to stick sprinkles to the sides of a cake.
- If you don't have a large plastic container like she uses to catch the excess sprinkles, a sheet pan works just as well.
- The frosting should be soft enough for the sprinkles stick easily but not too soft. If the frosting is too warm it can be messy, or even worse, cause the cake to lean and become unstable. But there's an easy fix! Simply refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes, then finish adding the sprinkles.
And that's it! You can totally do this!
Pair this classic vegan vanilla cake with other frostings like:
- raspberry cream cheese
- chocolate - add sifted cocoa powder (about ¾ to 1 cup) to this basic vegan buttercream.
- In the mood for something lighter? Try this low-fat vegan ganache.
More ways to customize the cake:
- spread compote or jam between the layers
- add thinly sliced strawberries or peaches on top of layers 1 and 2, then spread frosting on top of the fruit
- add powdered freeze-dried fruit to the batter and/or frosting
- add spices like chai, cinnamon, or pumpkin spice
- fold sprinkles into the batter for a vegan funfetti cake!
A gluten-free flour blend such as King Arthur's Measure for Measure should work, but I haven't had a chance to test it yet. As soon as I do I'll update the recipe. If you try the cake with a gluten-free flour, let us know in the comments below.
If your cake layers are just slightly domed, you can likely use them as is. But if the rise is significant enough to affect how the cakes will stack, you can trim off the domed portion. Use a long serrated knife and a slow, sawing motion, and try to trim off as little as possible. In the future, prevent domed cakes by using cake pans with higher sides. The 3-inch depth on these cake pans works very well.
Yes, once the cakes are completely cool, wrap individually with a double layer of plastic wrap so they stay moist, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To freeze the unfrosted cake layers, after wrapping in plastic wrap place in a freezer bag or other airtight freezer-safe container. Freeze for up to 1 month, then thaw in the refrigerator. Vegan frosting can also be made 1 to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. For the best results, frost and decorate the cake the day you plan to serve it.
Once a cake is cut it begins to dry out, so it's important to wrap leftovers very well and secure in an airtight container. Refrigerate and enjoy within 6 days, or freeze leftover cake for up to 3 months.
Can I make cupcakes with this recipe?
The amount of batter needed to make 12 cupcakes is equal to the batter in one 9-inch round cake. Since this recipe uses 8-inch pans, that makes it a bit trickier. The difference in volume between a 9 inch round pan and an 8 inch pan is significant.
I plan to add a vegan vanilla cupcake recipe to the blog soon. In the meantime, the easiest way to convert this recipe to cupcakes is to divide the ingredients by half. You'll have enough batter for about 14 cupcakes.
The oven temperature is the same for cupcakes, but bake time is reduced to around 22 minutes. Use the toothpick test and lightly press with a finger to determine when they're done.
You might also want to try these Vegan Strawberry Cupcakes.
- Use a kitchen scale to weigh the flour. If you don't own a scale use the whisk/fluff method described in the recipe notes. If you don't whisk the flour before measuring, you'll use too much and end up with a dry cake.
- Always sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda to avoid clumps.
- Work quickly once the wet and dry ingredients are combined. Baking soda reacts with the lemon juice to create carbon dioxide bubbles. We want to get the cakes in the oven quickly to take advantage of this reaction.
- To determine whether the cakes are done, lightly press near the center. If it bounces back even slightly, the cakes are done. You can also insert a toothpick, and if it comes out clean or with a few crumbs, the cakes are done.
- If the frosting is too soft when it's time to frost the cakes, pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes.
New to baking? Check out my Top 12 Vegan Baking Tips!
More Vegan Cake Recipes
I hope you love this easy vegan vanilla birthday cake as much as we do. If you try the recipe be sure to comment below and let us know!
Vanilla Vegan Birthday Cake
For the cake:
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (tap "Metric" above to see weight in grams) - see Note 1
- ¼ cup corn starch
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 ¼ cups unsweetened soy milk - or almond milk
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice - or 1 Tbsp white vinegar
- 6 tablespoons vegan butter, melted - I used original Earth Balance sticks
- ½ cup flavorless oil such as canola
- 2 ½ cups organic cane sugar
- 2 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract - real or clear/imitation; see Note 2
For the vanilla frosting (enough for a 3-layer cake):
- 7 ounces vegan sprinkles
- A few hours before you plan to frost the cake, set the butter out to come to room temperature. Arrange two oven racks near the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (176 C), and lightly oil three 8-inch cake pans. Place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan.
- Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl: flour, starch, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Then sift them into an extra large bowl.
- In a separate mixing bowl, combine the melted butter, oil, sugar, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Whisk for about 1 minute to dissolve the sugar. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and whisk just until there's no visible dry flour. Divide batter evenly among the 3 pans.
- Bake for 32 to 35 minutes (the cakes are thicker than most, so the bake time may seem longer than you're used to).
- To test for doneness, lightly press the center with your finger. If it bounces back even a little bit, the cakes are done. You can also insert a toothpick in the center; it should come out clean or with a few crumbs. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.
Make the Frosting:
- Using a handheld mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter on low speed for 1 minute. Sift in half of the powdered sugar, and beat on low until smooth. Sift in the remaining sugar and mix again on low speed. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the extract(s) and milk (only as needed for consistency), and beat on low until fluffy and smooth. If the frosting is too soft, chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
- To frost the cake, cut 4 strips of parchment paper (about 2 ½ inches wide) and arrange on the cake stand in the shape of a box (this keeps the base of the cake neat and tidy). Place one cake layer so the edges are resting on the parchment strips, holding them in place. Spread the top with an even layer of frosting, about 1 cup. Place the second cake layer and repeat. Place the third cake layer, and frost the top and sides. Decorate as desired. See Note 3 below for sprinkle cake tips.
- Carefully slide the strips of parchment paper out from under the cake. For the best results, chill the frosted cake for 1 hour before slicing.
- watch this YouTube video by Cupcake Jemma to see the best method for sticking sprinkles on the sides of the cake.
- Place a large sheet pan underneath the cake stand to catch the excess sprinkles.
- The frosting should be soft enough for the sprinkles stick but not too soft. If the frosting is too warm it can be messy, or even worse, cause your cake to lean and become unstable. Just pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes, then finish adding the sprinkles.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.