The Best Vanilla Cupcakes
This is my absolute favorite vanilla cupcake recipe! It yields light, fluffy, and moist cupcakes that dome perfectly, and you can really taste the vanilla in every bite.
While this recipe is used by bakeries all over the world, it is easy enough to make that a beginner can whip up a batch.
Along with my chocolate cupcakes, this recipe is one that I am most proud of on the site. I spent a year developing and testing it with the help of 50 test bakers.
UPDATE: This recipe was highlighted by Kitchn as the best vanilla cupcake in a head-to-head competition with three of its amazing peers. Read their article to learn all about why this recipe took the crown – and check out their test of chocolate cupcakes, too!
There are a few ingredients that set these cupcakes apart:
- A vanilla bean
- Using a bean gives the cupcakes a strong vanilla flavor. If you don’t have a bean, you can leave it it off without adjusting any other ingredients. The recipe will still be amazing, just not as strongly-flavored.
- Both butter and oil
- Cupcakes that are made with only only oil lack the flavor that butter provides; using only butter, they can end up being too dense and not moist enough. The combination ends up giving a perfect flavor and texture.
- Sour cream
- Sour cream adds a little extra fat to the recipe and a slight tang. Yogurt works perfectly as a substitute for sour cream.
- Cake Flour
- Using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour produces a lighter crumb.
Use any mild vegetable oil for this recipe. 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 the recipe. You can experiment with using non-neutral oils and try baking with pistachio oil, for example, to get a totally different taste.
While I am a huge fan of vanilla bean paste, I have not noticed any improvement to the cupcakes when I use it in the batter. Use normal vanilla extract here and save the expensive paste for your buttercream.
How It’s Made
If you’re a beginner baker, stop here and first take a minute to read my post on how to make cupcakes. It covers some of the basics and offers up a lot of tips. I also recommend that you get yourself some essential baking tools.
Preheat your oven to 350 F before beginning.
First, scrape the inside of a vanilla bean (the seeds) into sugar and thoroughly mix everything up. Using this vanilla sugar will give the cupcakes a strong flavor and you’ll end up with visually appealing vanilla bean specks all over!
Whisk together the vanilla sugar with the rest of the dry ingredients (cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) in the bowl of a stand mixer. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use an electric hand mixer or even mix by hand.
Tip: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute all-purpose flour in equal amounts; the cupcakes will end up a little bit denser. Cake flour is a finely milled delicate flour and it is best for desserts that are lighter and airier.
Mix in the butter.
Whisk together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. These include sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract.
Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients.
Tip: It’s very important to not over-mix the batter at this point. Mix until just combined. A cupcake with an over-mixed batter will end up squat and dense – something you definitely don’t want here. (See my post on overmixing cake batter for more information.)
Add milk to the batter, again mixing until just combined. This cupcake batter is very thin – almost liquid.
Tip: While whole milk will provide the richest flavor, any milk you have in the house will work fine.
Fill liners just over halfway full. The easiest way to fill the liners is with an ice cream scoop.
Bake for 14 minutes or until done. You can check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of a cupcake; it should come out dry to indicate doneness.
Remove the cupcakes from the tins immediately and set on the counter or a cooling rack to cool.
Expert Tips and FAQs
Always make sure your ingredients are at room temperature. This will help them to better incorporate into the batter.
Because everyone’s oven is just a bit different and your liners may be a slightly different size than mine, I highly recommend that you bake a test cupcake before baking your whole batch of vanilla cupcakes. Read my FAQ on filling liners to learn all about how and why you should do this.
You can frost these with any frosting that you choose. Here are some of my suggestions:
- For the full experience, I suggest using vanilla buttercream frosting. This makes them perfect birthday cupcakes, but you could also decorate them like flowers and turn them into a gorgeous cupcake bouquet!
- If you prefer the contrast of vanilla and chocolate, then you can’t go wrong with chocolate buttercream or chocolate cream cheese frosting.
- Try a super easy sweetened condensed milk buttercream if you want your frosting to have a subtle caramel taste.
- For an Italian twist, try my silky smooth Italian meringue buttercream or fluffy and irresistible tiramisu frosting.
- If you like fruity toppings, try strawberry whipped cream frosting.
- Cookie dough frosting is always a fun choice!
Keep cooled, frosted cupcakes in large Tupperware-style airtight containers. Food safety experts recommend that anything frosted with whipped cream, buttercream, cream cheese, or ganache should be refrigerated.
While I always keep cupcakes frosted with whipped cream or ganache in the refrigerator, I often keep my buttercream and cream cheese cupcakes on the counter. Do so at your own risk.
If you know you’ll need to store your cupcakes for more than 3-4 days, these can be frozen without a problem. If you want to use whipped cream frosting, do not frost them until after removing from the freezer; other types of frosting can be frozen right on top of them. Also, be sure to store these in an airtight container to avoid freezer burn.
Always return cupcakes to room temperature before serving.
Unlike cookie dough, this batter should be thin – almost liquid – to yield a light end result. I thin out the batter in this recipe with whole milk.
Yes; I do this all of the time and they’ll still taste great!
I don’t find that the paste adds as much flavor as the bean. If you don’t have a bean, I suggest leaving it off and sticking with the recipe as written.
Yes! The cupcakes will just be slightly more dense.
Grease-proof liners are the only ones that will hold their design and color when baked. Confectionery House makes some of my favorite liners.
Be careful not to overmix the batter. That can cause gumminess.
You can easily convert this recipe to mini cupcakes. You will end up with about twice as many. 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.
This recipe also makes the best cake recipe! You’ll simply need to adjust the baking time. All of the details are in my vanilla cake post.
You can also use this recipe along with your favorite frosting to make cake pops or cake truffles!
- Vanilla cake
- Vanilla buttercream
- Chocolate cupcakes
- Strawberry cupcakes
- Banana cupcakes
- Apple cupcakes
- Web Story: the best vanilla cupcakes
The Best Vanilla Cupcakes
- 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 room temperature
- 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.
- Use a vanilla bean for the best vanilla flavor. But, you can leave it off and the cupcakes still taste amazing!
- Use cake flour for a lighter crumb.
- Be careful not to over-mix the batter.
- Use room temperature ingredients – everything will mix together more smoothly that way.
- Because everyone’s oven is just a bit different and your liners may be a slightly different size than mine, I highly recommend that you bake a test cupcake before baking your whole batch of vanilla cupcakes. Fill one liner halfway and see how much it rises during the bake.
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