These vanilla cupcakes are, by far, one of the most-loved recipes on this website. Using creamed butter, plus cake flour, sour cream, and egg whites (no yolks!), guarantees a soft, fluffy, and cake-like crumb. Pure vanilla extract plus the optional addition of vanilla beans seals in a classic vanilla flavor. Use a piping tip or knife to garnish each with vanilla buttercream.
Originally published in 2016, this vanilla cupcakes recipe has soared to the top of my Essential Baking Recipes list. This list includes recipes that are in regular rotation in my kitchen including banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, and sugar cookies. (So many favorites!) In fact, today’s cupcakes have been so popular around here that I’ve used the base recipe to create several other varieties.
Here’s Exactly Why This Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe Works:
Baking is a science and that’s proved over and over again in base recipes like this. Like when making white cake and vanilla cake, it’s not only the measurements you use, but the specific type of ingredient. Using cake flour instead of all-purpose produces a fluffy, soft crumb. Skipping the egg yolks keeps the cupcakes light. Sour cream helps supply a tight, yet moist crumb. My team and I have done the testing and we are confident in the results. These homemade vanilla cupcakes are simply perfect.
Use These Carefully Selected Ingredients
This cupcake batter calls for 11 ingredients, including the handful mentioned below, as well as basics like baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Let me explain why the following ingredients are “power ingredients” in this recipe:
- Cake flour: Cake flour is much lighter than all-purpose flour and helps to produce the softest, lightest cakes and cupcakes you’ll ever eat. It’s sold next to the regular flour in the baking aisle and I promise that you’ll use up the entire box in no time after you taste these! Note that you do not need cake flour for chocolate cupcakes because cocoa powder is already very light.
- Softened butter: A base of creamed butter and sugar (instead of using melted butter or oil) often helps achieve a soft, cake-like structure. Make sure it’s proper room temperature butter.
- Egg whites: While egg yolks are rich in fat and moisture, they can weigh down your baked goods. Skip the egg yolks and use the whites purely for giving structure to the cupcakes. Since we are losing a little fat from the missing egg yolks, we add it back in with sour cream and whole milk.
- Sour cream: This is a power ingredient because it lightens and moistens the crumb. Though plain yogurt could be used in its place, I find that cupcakes made with sour cream are lighter.
- Vanilla Extract & Vanilla Bean: For the most well-rounded vanilla flavor, use both vanilla bean and vanilla extract in the cupcakes, just like we do in strawberry shortcake cupcakes. You can usually find vanilla beans in the baking aisle, but if you’re looking to purchase them online, I recommend these vanilla beans. See the recipe Note if you’re skipping the vanilla bean or if you want to use vanilla bean paste.
- Whole Milk: Milk with fat such as whole milk or 2% milk is your best choice here. Nondairy milk is great in a pinch. I use buttermilk in this vanilla cake recipe, which is typically a fine substitution for both sour cream and regular milk in baked goods. For these cupcakes, however, the crumb stays a little tighter when using sour cream + whole milk.
Tip: Make sure ALL cold ingredients are room temperature before beginning, otherwise your batter could split and the results aren’t pleasant. Read more about why room temperature ingredients are important in baking.
Want to kick the vanilla flavor up a notch? Replace store-bought vanilla extract with homemade vanilla extract and regular granulated sugar with vanilla sugar.
Success Tip: Filling Your Cupcake Pan
The batter comes together with a mixer. Give it a quick whisk by hand to make sure there are no more lumps at the bottom of the bowl.
When filling your lined cupcake pan, fill the liners only 2/3 full, which is about 3 heaping Tablespoons of batter each. Filling them only 2/3 full gives you about 14 cupcakes from this batch. Using more batter per cupcake leads to overflowing or even sinking.
This Is a Multipurpose Batter
Since the results are so crowd-pleasing, this vanilla cupcake batter has become a go-to standard for many other cupcake recipes on this website. Using this recipe as the starting point, I’ve created all of the following cupcake flavors:
Can I Turn These Cupcakes Into a Cake?
Yes, instead of cupcakes, you can use this exact batter for making a vanilla 6-inch cake. For a 1-layer vanilla cake, I recommend my similar recipe for sprinkle cake. You can skip the sprinkles. See recipe Notes for larger layer cake options.
Frosting for Vanilla Cupcakes
This vanilla buttercream is a top choice for garnishing your vanilla cupcakes. But your frosting options are pretty much endless, including Swiss meringue buttercream, white chocolate buttercream frosting, strawberry buttercream frosting, chocolate buttercream, lemon buttercream, or cream cheese frosting. For a lighter, less sweet option, I love pairing these cupcakes with whipped frosting. You can even fill them with raspberry cake filling before frosting.
You can swipe the frosting on with an icing knife (pictured below) or with a piping bag + tip such as Wilton 1M (images in the post above). If you’re just learning how to use piping tips, my piping tips guide is a helpful resource.
And finally, here’s just one photo of our multiple test variations. The left cupcake had way too much liquid and produced a wet, squat cupcake. The right cupcake was from our final batch, simply perfect!