Why vanilla is considered a neutral or negative descriptor is beyond me. It's treated as a non-flavor, as if its an absence of flavor. Perhaps it pales (PUN INTENDED) to richer, darker chocolate in some people's esteem, but I think vanilla is hard to surpass. Creamy and sweet, it can be exceptionally flavorful if you use the real stuff...and once you taste very good vanilla, you won't want to bake with anything else.
Vanilla is a bit pricy, but it's worth buying the best you can. Most baking recipes call for a least a splash of it, and if you're making something like today's cake where vanilla is the star of the show, quality matters. (Okay, you're thinking to yourself, "Doesn't it always? Does she think we are déclassé bakers over here, slumming it with cheap imitation extracts?" and no I do not think that but in case you ever—in a moment of weakness—bought imitation vanilla, please know that this is a no judgment zone and we can all just move forward into a world of only good vanilla extract.)
I use vanilla extract for most baking recipes. I rarely buy whole vanilla beans; instead, I like to use vanilla bean paste if I want something more concentrated. The other benefit of the paste is that it's thicker and more viscous than extract, so it won't dilute frostings or sauces.
In this cake, I used vanilla bean paste and double the amount of vanilla extract, hence the triple vanilla name. If you don't have vanilla bean paste or can't find it (I buy it online here, and lots of specialty grocery stores carry it), just use more vanilla extract. Or buy a whole vanilla bean, scrape the seeds out, and add that to the batter.
This cake is pretty stunning, and appropriate for a happy and busy long weekend when you don't want to be fussing about trying to search for a good dessert idea. You just want to make something excellent, and get on with the festivities already. You want to whip up your cake, then get back to sipping your 1,567th Aperol spritz of the summer, dipping your toes in the pool and eating chips and guacamole with your friends and laughing until your stomach hurts.
So this cake is just right for that. You can rely on it. It won’t stick to the pan or come out tasting just a little bland or lean too much to the left. It gets bonus points for pleasing most palates, from little to big, and there’s enough vanilla in it that you could eat a slice on its own happily. But it also functions nicely as a blank canvas: You could serve it with fruit or whipped cream. You could toast a slice and scoop some ice cream over top. If you’re making it for something celebratory like a birthday, you could glaze it with a thick chocolate ganache.
Note: I make this cake in a fancy Bundt pan (you can find it here if you like this crazy shape!) because really, why not. You can use any Bundt pan (10-cup or 12-cup), and if you don’t have one, you could use a tube pan or divide the batter between two 9” cake pans. Feel like something smaller? Portion the batter into a paper-lined muffin tin (fill each tin about 3/4 of the way full).
Triple Vanilla Bundt Cake
16 tablespoons (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly grease a 10-cup or 12-cup Bundt pan (I always use a baking spray for Bundt pans; I find this is better than butter for ensuring the cake doesn't stick).
Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then both vanillas.
Whisk together the salt, baking powder, and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture in two additions, alternating with the milk. Once all the ingredients are added, mix until the batter just comes together.
Spoon the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. A tester inserted in the center should come out clean, and the cake should be a golden brown but not too dark.
Remove from oven and let the cake cool for about 10-15 minutes before flipping it over and turning it out of the pan. If it seems to be sticking, try running a knife delicately into the edges as far as you can (if you're using a regular-shaped pan, this is easy! It's tricky with a Bundt pan). Let the cake cool before slicing.