Life can get complicated, and making a cake from scratch is not always in the cards. That’s where boxed cake mix comes in handy. It takes a handful of ingredients and boils them down to only four, using the box itself along with eggs, water, and vegetable oil. But have you ever followed those instructions and ended up with a cake that absolutely blew you away? Doubtful. There are dozens of ways to hack boxed cake mix, but they often require a pantry full of ingredients. We found another way by making a few substitutions while keeping the ingredients list tight.
Our incredibly easy 3-ingredient vanilla cake recipe uses an ingredient that might surprise you, but we promise it works! The cake comes together in less than an hour, and it’s ready to decorate as soon as it cools. We’ll show you how to make it and how easy it is to turn this recipe into cupcakes. Not only that, but we’ll also explore how to make variations if you want to change things up. You can even make a gluten-free version of this vanilla cake by making your own cake mix.
Gather the ingredients for this easy 3-ingredient vanilla cake
To make this easy 3-ingredient vanilla cake recipe, grab a box of white cake mix and the three eggs it calls for on the back. You can use any cake mix you like, but we chose plain white so the vanilla flavor would really shine through. To spice things up, you can feel free to grab a box of chocolate cake, spiced cake, or a fruit-flavored cake mix like cherry or strawberry.
If you don’t have cake mix, don’t despair. You can make a homemade version by combining 2-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour) with 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar, 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
The final ingredient is vanilla ice cream. Make sure you use a brand that strongly tastes like vanilla. Otherwise, the flavor won’t come through in the cake. Of course, you can always add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract to the mix if your ice cream isn’t vanilla-y enough.
Can you really make this easy 3-ingredient vanilla cake with melted ice cream?
When we told our friends that we were developing a vanilla cake recipe made with melted ice cream, they were shocked. It sounds like a ridiculous choice, but we promise it works! Here’s why: Ice cream is basically a mixture of milk, cream, and sugar. It may contain eggs or other ingredients, but its base is milk and milk fat. According to The Spruce Eats, it must contain between 10 to 16 percent milk fat, which is enough fat to substitute for the vegetable oil. The rest of the melted mixture contains enough liquid to compensate for the cup of water called for on the box while adding a significant boost of flavor.
You can plan ahead and melt the ice cream naturally in the fridge overnight, or you can use the microwave as a shortcut. Melt the ice cream in 15-second intervals, stirring in between sessions so it melts evenly. You don’t want it to get hot, but you do need enough heat to turn it into its liquid state. After the ice cream is melted, it may not reach the two-cup mark anymore. That’s okay; you can either add additional ice cream or add a splash of milk or water until it reaches the line. If you’re adding any extra vanilla extract, do it now.
Choosing the right pan for this easy 3-ingredient vanilla cake
While the ice cream is melting, it’s time to consider what pan you want to use to make this easy 3-ingredient vanilla cake recipe. Our box of white cake mix says it makes two 8-inch rounds, one Bundt cake, or about 24 cupcakes. They all cook in an oven preheated for 350 degrees Fahrenheit, but the cooking time varies based on the type of pan.
We chose a Bundt pan because we love the look of the slices. Plus, it means we wouldn’t have to fuss with a thick frosting (although our 3-ingredient peanut butter frosting would taste great on the cupcake version of this vanilla cake). No matter which pan you choose, make sure you grease it thoroughly to help the cake release easily after it’s baked. That means using nonstick baking spray (we like the kind that contains flour best for Bundt cakes) or greasing the pan with butter or shortening.
The Bundt cake should be finished in 40 to 45 minutes, while the rounds only take 30 to 35 minutes. Cupcakes are finished even more quickly: about 15 to 20 minutes.
Make this easy 3-ingredient vanilla cake in two steps
When the ice cream is melted, the oven is preheated, and the pan is properly greased, it’s time to make the cake itself. Grab a large bowl and combine the melted ice cream, cake mix, and eggs. It doesn’t really matter how you mix it — by hand, using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or with an electric hand mixer — just make sure the batter doesn’t contain any large clumps of dry flour.
Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake it on the oven’s middle rack for about 40 to 45 minutes. You can test for doneness by inserting a knife into the middle of the cake (it should come out clean when the cake is finished), but we like using an instant-read digital thermometer instead. When the temperature reads between 205 and 210 degrees, the cake will be perfectly set. This method is the ideal way to ensure the cake turns out nice and moist.
How do you get this 3-ingredient vanilla cake out of the Bundt pan?
Cooking with a Bundt pan can be a little nerve-wracking. These pans create a gorgeous design on the top of the cake, but its appearance can be ruined if the cake sticks. If you properly greased the pan, the cake should drop right out without any issues. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven. Then, flip it over onto a wire rack. Gravity should do most of the work for you here, but you can also tap the bottom and sides to help gently coax the cake out of the pan.
If the cake doesn’t come out in one piece, you still may be able to fix it. Taste of Home advises to patch in any small pieces of cake that stayed behind in the Bundt pan while the cake is still warm. The heat of the cake should help the piece adhere, or you can use a small amount of frosting to help. You can probably cover up any imperfections with frosting later, too. In the event that the cake completely falls apart and there’s no saving it, you can turn the pieces into chocolate-covered cake balls, make a cake-based bread pudding, or add layers of fruit and custard to create an English trifle.
How to make an easy optional frosting for this 3-ingredient vanilla cake
Frosting isn’t one of the ingredients in our 3-ingredient vanilla cake, but you can definitely add a few extra ingredients to fancy it up. The easiest way is to use pre-made drizzles like chocolate sauce, butterscotch, caramel, or dulce de leche. Or, you can make a super simple glaze by combining one cup of confectioners’ sugar with one tablespoon of milk. After pouring it on the cake, smooth out the glaze using a pastry brush or the back of a silicone spatula. If you’re adding rainbow sprinkles, move quickly to get them on the icing before everything sets. This easy icing is perfectly sweet, and the sprinkles created a colorful contrast that will make your mouth water before you even take a bite.
For a thicker frosting, you can look to store-bought frosting or make a simple homemade frosting. The easiest way is to whip a cup of confectioners’ sugar into an 8-ounce container of frozen whipped topping. A more decadent topping can be made by melting a half pound of butter with one cup of white chocolate chips. When the mixture is fully melted, place it in the refrigerator until it solidifies again. Then, whip it on high speed to create a light and fluffy white chocolate frosting.
How did our 3-ingredient vanilla cake turn out?
We were absolutely thrilled with this 3-ingredient vanilla cake recipe. For starters, it couldn’t have been easier to make. The mixing process only took about five minutes (including the time it took to melt the ice cream in the microwave). From there, we did have to exercise a little patience while the cake baked and cooled, but it was worth it when we took our first bite. The cake was light and airy, with a deliciously moist crumb. It was vanilla-forward and sweet, but not so sweet that we didn’t want to eat a slice for breakfast.
Now that we know how easy it is to make a cake with ice cream, we can’t wait to start experimenting. What would happen if we swapped in strawberry ice cream? Chocolate ice cream? Will chunky ice creams like cookies and cream, chunky monkey, or cookie dough work? There’s only one way to find out!