“This really, really is the Best Vanilla Cupcake Recipe!!! I can’t imagine a more perfect vanilla cupcake.”
There are so many vanilla cupcake recipes out there that taste like yellow cake or white cake but don’t have a strong vanilla flavor. My vanilla cupcake recipe is moist and light, domes wonderfully, and has an amazing vanilla taste.
The vanilla cupcakes are the cupcakes on Cupcake Project that I am most proud of. I spent a year developing and testing the recipe. You can read about the testing process at the end of this post.
Even though they are easy enough to make that a total beginner baker can bake them, most people think that they are better than any cake mix and just as good, if not better, than the cupcakes at their favorite bakery.
In fact, many bakeries around the world use this cupcake recipe as their go-to vanilla cupcake.
Why Use Oil and Butter in Cupcakes
After extensive recipe testing (we’re talking nearly a year), I learned that to make the perfect vanilla cupcake, you need a combination of butter and oil.
The oil is absolutely necessary to keep the cupcake moist and the butter is needed for the flavor that it provides.
Which Oil to Use in Baking
For making vanilla cupcakes, I use any mild vegetable oil. I’ve used canola oil, generic vegetable oil, and safflower oil.
While I love using flavored oils in baking, keep in mind that they will change the flavor of these cupcakes.
You can experiment with using non-neutral oils and try baking these cupcakes with pistachio oil, for example, to get a totally different taste.
Sour Cream Versus Yogurt in Baking
This recipe uses sour cream. The sour cream gives the cupcakes a subtle tang that enhances their flavor while also adding more dairy/fat to the recipe.
If you don’t have sour cream in the house, I’ve done extensive testing and found that yogurt works perfectly as a substitute for sour cream.
Why Use Cake Flour in Cupcakes
Cake flour is a finely milled delicate flour. It is best for desserts that are more light and airy.
If you don’t have any on hand, you can use regular all-purpose flour – but the cupcakes will be more dense.
How to Give Vanilla Cupcakes More of a Vanilla Flavor
People always ask me if they can skip the vanilla bean in these cupcakes. I get it, vanilla beans can be expensive and more of a pain to deal with than vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste.
To get the most vanilla flavor possible in vanilla cupcakes, use a real vanilla bean.
Using a real bean is worth the effort. If you watch the video above, I show you how to scrape the bean to get to the seeds.
If you don’t want to use a vanilla bean, you can skip the first two steps of the recipe.
- If you do this, you do not need to increase the amount of vanilla extract in the recipe. The result will be slightly less vanilla flavored than if you had used the bean.
- Without a vanilla bean, the cupcakes will be missing the vanilla specks, but they will still be delicious.
Can You Use Vanilla Bean Paste in Place of the Vanilla Bean?
I am a huge fan of vanilla bean paste, a thick condensed syrup that contains vanilla beans and is used in place of vanilla extract, and you’ll see that I use it in my vanilla frosting recipe. However, I have not noticed any improvement to the cupcakes when I use it in the batter instead of vanilla extract.
If you don’t plan to use the vanilla bean, just stick with the vanilla extract.
What Happens if You Overmix the Cupcake Batter?
When you bake my vanilla cupcakes, or anything for that matter, be sure to follow the recipe as written. Overmixing the batter can have a dramatic effect on the end result. An overmixed cupcake will end up squat and dense. See my post on overmixing cake batter for more details.
What Are the Best Cupcake Liners to Use?
I always recommend that people use grease-proof liners.
These are the only cupcake liners that will hold their design and color when baked. Confectionery House makes some of my favorite cupcake liners.
Can You Make These Cupcakes as Mini Cupcakes or Jumbo Cupcakes?
Yes, you can convert these vanilla cupcakes to mini cupcakes. You will end up with about twice as many cupcakes. The bake time will reduce to about 10 minutes.
If you make these as jumbo cupcakes, you will make half as many and the bake time will increase to about twenty minutes.
Can You Turn a Cupcake Recipe Into a Cake?
These vanilla cupcakes make the best vanilla cake recipe! You’ll just need to adjust the baking time. All of the details are in my vanilla cake post.
Frosting for Vanilla Cupcakes
You can frost the vanilla cupcakes with any frosting that you choose. Check out my top ten frostings for some ideas to get you started.
For the full vanilla experience, I suggest frosting vanilla cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream frosting.
I also love how these cupcakes look with strawberry whipped cream frosting.
Cupcake Filling Ideas
To jazz up vanilla cupcakes (not that these need it), you can fill the centers with a filling of your choice. Filling ideas include:
How to Fill A Cupcake
- Once cooled, cut a small circle around the middle of the top of each cupcake, going down 3/4 of the way into the cupcake, creating small cylinders. Remove the cylinders and set aside.
- Fill each cupcake with 1 tablespoon of filling.
- Remove the bottom half of each of the removed cake cylinders. Place the top halves back on top of the filled holes. Don’t worry if they don’t perfectly fit as you will be covering them with frosting.
The Best Vanilla Cupcake Recipe
Best Vanilla Cupcake Recipe
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
- 1/4 cup canola oil you can also use vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract use pure, not imitation
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
- In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean. (For those of you who are new to using vanilla beans, watch the video in this post to see how it's done.)
- Using the back of a spoon, move around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
- Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes. Because there is so little butter, you'll end up with a very fine crumb texture.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
- Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
- Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined. The batter will be liquid. (Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. It's supposed to be that way.)
- Fill cupcake liners just over 1/2 full.
- Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it. The cupcakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean. They should not turn a golden brown. If they are not done, test again in two minutes. If they are still not done, test again in another two minutes.
- When the cupcakes are done, remove them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack (or just on your counter if you don't own a cooling rack) to cool.
The Testing Process
The quote at the top of this post was from Kate Dorman, one of the Cupcake Project Explorers (my team of 50 test bakers that helped perfect my vanilla cupcakes by baking three rounds of cupcakes and providing feedback).
The team consisted of professional bakers and beginners because I wanted to make sure that these cupcakes would be perfect for beginner bakers and pros alike.
You should know that the Explorers did not go easy on me.
I was sure that the first recipe I sent them would be the ultimate. It only got a 29% approval rating – ouch!
I went back to the mixing bowl and came up with a second recipe for the Explorers to try. “Surely, this will be the one,” I thought.
The round two recipe fared only a bit better, with a 36% approval rating.
I learned that, for the most part, the Explorers wanted the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake to be light and fluffy with an intense vanilla flavor. They didn’t want the Ultimate Yellow Cupcake recipe; rather they wanted the Ultimate vanilla cupcake recipe.
The recipe that I created for round 3 (the one that you read the quote about above) took all of the Explorers’ feedback into play. I created vanilla cupcakes where the cake was moist and light with an unmistakable vanilla flavor.
They got an approval of 66%.
If you had been following the quest for the ultimate vanilla cupcakes through my blog posts and status updates on Facebook, you know that my goal was for my best cupcake recipe for vanilla cupcakes to receive 80%. However, I’ve concluded that with bakers using different brands of raw ingredients, different ovens, different tools for mixing, and living in places with different humidity and altitude, 80% was an unattainable goal.
Finding a cupcake recipe that 2 out of 3 people agreed was not only good but actually the best cupcake recipe for vanilla cupcakes was an amazing achievement. After weeks of debate, I decided to declare the round 3 cupcake recipe the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake!
Here’s what some of the other Explorers had to say about the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake Recipe:
- I can officially say that this will be the last round I will participate in for the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake recipe because I love it so much. I would bake these over and over and recommend it to anyone and everyone I know. This will be a recipe that I can add to my “when I’m having a bad day, I bake” list because baking a favourite recipe always makes my day better and puts me in a great mood.
- I loved this cupcake! I have used this recipe 4 times in the last two weeks. And 3 of those batches were orders other people placed for the cupcakes! This is the Ultimate Vanilla!!
- I really don’t see how you can improve on this one. I have really had a good time with this. I used to be a boxed-mix-girl. This has changed me for life!!!!
- My future grandchildren will thank you for making me a best-baking-granny.
- I’ve been looking for my ‘go to’ vanilla cupcake and I think this is it!
- I loved this recipe – the taste was heavenly.
- It was an easy recipe to follow and the cupcakes came out perfectly.
- Is there any way to give it an 11 out of 10?!
I know that even though the Explorers and I thought this was the best cupcake recipe, some of you will not like these cupcakes. If we all liked the exact same things, the world would be a boring place. But, I encourage you to give this vanilla cupcake recipe a shot.
You’ve got a two out of three chance of finding your new best cupcake recipe for vanilla cupcakes!
Cupcake Project Explorer Reviews
As a special thanks for being Cupcake Project Explorers, I’ve promised the team that I would share any blog posts they write about this recipe and the Explorer process. As their posts come in, I will add links to them right here.
The Best Chocolate Cupcakes
I repeated this same experiment a year later with a different team of explorers to find the best chocolate cupcake recipe. If you love this recipe, you’ll want to try that one as well.
Is This Your Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake Recipe?
While you may not have been an official Cupcake Project Explorer, I’d love to hear what you thought of this recipe.
If you bake it, please share your thoughts in the comments and rate the recipe. Which frosting did you use? Did you use any fillings? Did you make any changes that people might want to hear about?
Let’s all learn from each other!