Our April Instagram takeover is here! I’ve collaborated with a group of food photographers, stylists, and recipe developers around a single theme, and this month we’re bringing you the best of the best recipes featuring everyone’s favorite little berry: strawberries. Say hello to my vanilla two layer cake with mascarpone buttercream!
Ugh, guys, I had big plans for this one! I wanted to stand out from the crowd and share a savory recipe. And then… life. Life happened and I got busy (busy is good — busy means new clients!), but I fell back on what was easiest, and in this case that meant baking.
Have I told you about my kids’ love affair with mascarpone cheese? We are never without a container. I dollop it in desserts, mix it with pasta, and just generally love it. It’s sort of a cross between cream cheese and crème fraîche. Anyway! I was working on a recipe for a client that required mascarpone and I ended up with way more on hand then we could work through before it expired.
…and so out of desperation mascarpone buttercream was born.
Legit not mad about this.
The vanilla cake leans sweet, but the strawberries cut the sugar and transform this into this perfect, light, spring dessert. Also, hello, it’s gorgeous.
Let’s talk about the moist vanilla cake. It’s reliably good. Browns evenly, stays moist on the inside, releases easily from the cake pan. Can’t ask for much more (unless it suddenly decided to bake itself, am I right?). And while strawberries are a necessary counterpart to the mascarpone buttercream, instead of piling them up on top you could easily serve this with thinly sliced berries on the side. Just don’t leave them off entirely!
What’s in this simple vanilla cake?
For the vanilla cake itself, you’ll need cake flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and baking soda, kosher salt, unsalted butter, buttermilk, milk, vanilla extract, and egg whites. If possible, use 2% or whole milk in the batter. It makes for a super moist vanilla cake and prevents it from drying out in the oven.
For the mascarpone frosting, you’ll need unsalted butter, mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. I know salt seems like an odd frosting ingredient, but it doesn’t make things salty. It brings out the flavor of the mascarpone buttercream even more and makes things more…interesting. Just trust me, the pinch of salt is a must.
How to make vanilla cake
To make this simple vanilla cake, you’ll first need to grease two cake pans and place a circle of parchment paper on the bottom (this makes removing the cake layers a breeze!). Then, combine the wet and dry ingredients in two separate bowls. Add one-third of the wet mixture at a time into the dry ingredients.
Divide the vanilla cake batter between the cake pans and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool for a few minutes in the pans before inverting onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
Once the cake layers have cooled completely, you can frost and assemble the two layer cake. Garnish with strawberries just before serving so the juice from the sliced berries doesn’t make the cake soggy.
How to make mascarpone frosting
To make the mascarpone buttercream, simply combine the softened butter and mascarpone in a stand mixer. Beat until light and fluffy — this will take around two minutes. Add in the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, then mix until well blended. Increase speed to medium-high and beat another two minutes.
Can I use a buttermilk substitute?
Real buttermilk is always best, but in a pinch you can easily make homemade buttermilk. King Arthur Flour has some great buttermilk substitutes you can try (the most common way to make it is by combining white vinegar with a cup of whole milk).
Tips for making simple vanilla cake
When making the vanilla cake, make sure your ingredients are all room temperature (buttermilk, eggs, etc). You want the cake batter to be the same temperature throughout so that the cakes bake evenly in the oven.
Also note that the mascarpone and butter must be room temperature before you start on the mascarpone frosting. If either is too cold, the frosting won’t whip up properly and won’t become as creamy.
Lastly, if you don’t make two layer cakes often, you might want to spread a little mascarpone buttercream onto the platter you’ll be serving the cake on before you begin assembling it. That little dollop of frosting will prevent the bottom layer of cake from sliding around and should hopefully make it easier for you to frost.
If you make my simple vanilla cake with mascarpone frosting, please let me know by leaving a review below!
For additional dessert recipes, check out the following:
- Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream
- Mini Blueberry Galettes
- Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
- Almond Cake with Lemon Curd and Fresh Berries
- Flourless Chocolate Cake
Simple Vanilla Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream
For the cake
- 2 ¼ cups cake flour
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda 1
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 12 Tbsp 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, (room temperature, cut into cubes)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 egg whites
- Fresh strawberries (for garnish)
For the mascarpone buttercream
- 2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 8 oz mascarpone cheese (room temperature)
- 1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp kosher salt
For the cake
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick baking spray, then line the bottom of each with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix to combine. Add cubed butter, then mix until small pea size crumbs form.
- In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, milk, vanilla extract, eggs, and egg whites. Whisk to combine. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in ⅓ of the liquid to the flour, then beat for 1 minute. Repeat twice more with remaining batter, for a total of 3 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans. Place in preheated oven, leaving a little space between pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (mine were done at 33 min).
- Allow cakes to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack, then invert to remove from the pan and return to the cooling rack, right side up. Cakes need to cool for at least an hour before frosting.
For the mascarpone buttercream
- Clean out the bowl of the stand mixer, then combine softened butter and mascarpone. Beat until light and fluffy, and the two are fully mixed, about 2 minutes. Add confectioner’s sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, then mix on slow until sugar is well blended. Increase speed to medium high and beat another 2 minutes.
- Once cakes have cooled completely, place on a stable surface and, using a serrated knife, even out the top of each cake so they are smooth and flat.
- Place a small about of mascarpone buttercream (about 1 Tbsp) on the center of your cake stand or cake saver, then place one layer of cake with the cut side up directly on top. Spoon about ⅓ of the buttercream on top of the cake and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Place second cake on top, cut side down (so the smoothest part of the cake is on top).
- Place about ½ of the remaining buttercream on top of the cake and, working with the same offset spatula, spread it out into a thin layer. If you want the finished cake to be “naked”, spread a very thin layer of buttercream on the sides of the cake, rotating the cake stand or turning the cake saver with your hands while pressing down slightly with your spatula. Even out as needed and wipe excess frosting off in the bowl. (If you want the cake fully frosted, use remaining buttercream to cover completely.) Slice and serve with strawberries!