Lindsay Ann Bakes: Best Homemade Vanilla Cupcakes Ever

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Best Homemade Vanilla Cupcakes Ever

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It took me a long time to formulate a recipe that yielded my version of THE PERFECT VANILLA CUPCAKE. Everyone has their own criteria for what a perfect vanilla cupcake should be and for me these are perfection! 

I always like to be fair when trying a new recipe, so I bake a few different recipes at the same time, take notes, pick a winner and save that recipe for the next round of recipe testing. I have seriously tried, tweaked and re-tested dozens of vanilla cupcake recipes. over the years, searching for my perfect go-to, versatile vanilla base. Some recipes were too sweet, while some not sweet enough. Some were too greasy, while others were too dry. I've bitten into dense, crumbly, bland, gummy, coarse, oily, dense, spongy and down right gross cupcakes over the years....

So, the search went on for the most flavorful, fluffy, moist vanilla cupcake recipe, that still had those box mix qualities I know and love, but without that chemically, artificial after taste. I guess it's my love for the science of baking and how fascinated I am, with the way you can just slightly alter the ratios of fat:sugar:flour:liquid to create completely different outcomes every time! Or how the way you mix the ingredients together, can create a dense brick of a cake, or the lightest, fluffy cupcake you have ever tasted. Eventually I came to love the soft, velvety texture the 2-stage/reverse cream method produced, compared to the classic creaming method. This is because, in the 2-stage method, we begin by coating the flour mixture with the fats (butter and oil) in the beginning, to reduce the amount of gluten formation, which happens when the liquid mixes with the flour, creating a tough, dense cake. It also makes the preparation of the batter a lot more quick and simple as well, for more uniform, consistent results, all made in 1 bowl!

And then one day of recipe testing... I found them! They were perfectly shaped and beautiful in every way. I slowly peeled back the wrapper, sunk my teeth into the edge... and I knew. They were absolutely perfect. So I tested them one more time just to make sure... and then again as mini cakes in loaf pans, to see if they really held true to their name.

The final test was the next day and I couldn't wait to see if my excitement would turn to disappointment as it had so many times in the past. I can't even count the number of times where I thought I had found "the one"... only to find that my light, moist, buttery cupcakes had turned so dense, dry and crumbly by the next day. So,  I frosted them so they wouldn't dry out and put them in an air tight container. For breakfast the next morning I was pleasantly surprised to find they were just as moist, fluffy, flavorful and delicious! Perfect little pale yellow clouds of cake, in a delicate little wrappers. I was in love.

These cupcakes are extra moist from the vegetable oil, but packed with flavor from the butter and vanilla, and ultra rich from the additional egg yolk. They have a super soft, velvety tender crumb because of the "2-stage" prep method and acidity in the sour cream. Best of all, they bake up nice and pretty with a perfect dome on top. I had finally found the one, my perfect vanilla cupcake recipe that pair perfectly with just about any of my homemade FROSTING and FILLING recipes for a totally homemade, from-scratch, gourmet treat!


My perfect vanilla cupcake recipe had to meet the following standards:
  • Texture: The acidity from the sour cream in the recipe creates an ultra velvety, tender crumb/mouth feel and soft texture. It took me a while to formulate a soft, fluffy cake that wasn't too soft that it crumbled apart, but wasn't too dense or coarse and dry like corn bread. To make the cupcake even lighter, you can try separating the eggs and whipped up the egg white that gets folded into the batter at the end, for an extra light cupcake, too.
  • Flavor: I used a combo of butter and oil as the fat in the recipe, for an exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth, buttery flavor with the addition of oil for moistness, that doesn't dry out. I also really amped up the vanilla flavor with the addition of a little butter flavor extract to make this cupcake really flavorful and shine on it's own. The additional yolks really add a wonderful richness to the cupcakes and give it that perfect flavor.
  • Appearance: The sugar content and extra yolks give these cupcake a wonderful slightly golden hue. And all that egg, not only makes the cupcakes light and fluffy, but helps build the structure, to give the cupcakes the perfect little dome on top, without sinking, shriveling up, or spilling over the edges and flattening on top.
  • Moistness: It took me a long time to come up with a vanilla cupcake recipe that was MOIST, but not wet, dense, heavy or greasy. Who doesn't love the ever so moist texture of the beloved box mix? Well in scratch vanilla cakes, that quality is really hard to replicate without all of the preservatives and weird sounding ingredients on the side of the box. I replaced some of the butter with oil in my recipe to ensure a moist crumb and mouthfeel and with the high fat content in the liquid mixture, it won't dry out and get stale the next day. I also removed one of the egg whites which can dry out a cake, to keep these cupcakes nice and moist.
What qualities do you look for in a from-scratch vanilla cupcake?!

Remember, the better quality ingredients you use, the better tasting cupcakes you will have. I highly recommend using a good quality butter and vanilla, as this is what contributes to the flavor the most. I use a combination of Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla extract and pure vanilla bean paste. I also like to add a little butter flavor, which can be found in the baking aisle of the grocery store by the vanilla extract and spices or you can find the Wilton brand in the cake decorating aisle of your local craft store.

This recipe also calls for cake flour. Different types of flour have different percentages of protein. Cake Flour has a lower protein content than all purpose flour, which means it will produce less gluten formation when mixed with the liquid in the recipe, yielding a softer, more tender, velvety cupcake, that will not sink in the middle or fall flat. I use Swans Down cake flour, that I get in the baking aisle of the grocery store on the top shelf, above the regular bags of flour. 

Also, don't forget to get all of your ingredients ready ahead of time. It is important that things like the eggs, butter and sour cream come to room temperature before you add it to the recipe, so all of the ingredients get evenly distributed throughout the batter, without over beating, to promote even baking. I always measure everything out first and let the ingredients I need, sit out on the counter for about a 1/2 hour, while the oven preheats to get them to room temp. But if you don't have time to sit and wait, here are some tricks for bringing your ingredients to room temp quickly:
  • Butter: Softened butter should make a slight indent when pressed with your finger. Microwaving is not a method I recommend. Microwaving tends to melt butter very easily, even if it still looks solid, and can compromise the structure of your baked good. Once the butter has begun to melt the emulsion breaks down and cannot be built up again, even after hardening in the refrigerator or freezer. I usually cut my butter into small cubes and spread them out on a plate, to expedite the process. You can also, cut your butter into cubes to soften it more quickly.
  • Sour Cream: Microwave in 15-second intervals until no longer cold to the touch and stir. Using cold dairy can cause your batter to look curdled when added to the other room temperature ingredients.
  • Eggs: To bring whole eggs to room temperature quickly, place cold eggs (not cracked) in a bowl of warm water for about 5 minutes, or until they are no longer cold to the touch. Dry the eggs with a paper towel before cracking. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO AND LEARN ALL ABOUT EGGS

Once the ingredients are ready, I measure out the flour, using a kitchen scale. Unlike cooking, baking is a science and requires precise attention to recipe, and accurate measurements. Little things people tend to not pay attention to, like the way you measure a cup of flour, can make all the difference in the outcome of your baked good.


Give the dry ingredients a little mix, for about 30 seconds on low,  to distribute the ingredients evenly and aerate the flour. 

Then, add the softened butter and oil.

Beat on low speed until it is moistened. It will look kind of like wet sand. This is the butter and oil, coating the flour, to protect it from gluten formation, once the liquid is added, preventing a tough, dense cupcake.

Whisk together the sour cream, extracts and eggs. My recipe calls for 1 whole egg and an extra yolk for added richness, moisture, structure and color. I always save the whites for a healthy egg white omelet or some low cal Flourless Chocolate Cookies (low-fat/gluten-free) so they never go to waste! On low speed, pour half of the liquid mixture into your batter in a very slow and steady stream. Increase to medium speed and beat until smooth

Scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Then, fill the pan!

This recipe make a perfect Baker's Dozen- 12 for your guests and 1 for the baker ;) If the tops spring back when pressed, the cupcakes are done, just be careful not to over bake to avoid drying them out. Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the finishing touch, add some sweet creamy frosting on top! I put my classic buttercream recipe towards the bottom of the page or click here for a list of my favorite Go-To Frosting & Filling Recipes


Make sure to check out my list of helpful baking tips, tricks, and ingredient substitutions before you start and let me know what you think!

Lindsay Ann's Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

Yield: 13 cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cup (140g) cake flour 
  • 3/4 cup (144g) granulated white sugar 
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick/57g) unsalted butter, softened 
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 
  • 1 large egg, room temperature 
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature 
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • optional: 1/2 teaspoon butter flavor extract (found by the vanilla extract in the grocery store or in the baking aisle of your local crafts store)
  • 1/2 cup (120g) sour cream, room temperature 


Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Line a cupcake pan with baking cups.

In a medium bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed for about 20 seconds. Add butter and oil and mix for about 1-2 minutes to coat the flour, until mixture resembles wet sand.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, yolk, vanilla (and butter flavoring if using), and sour cream until smooth. Slowly add the wet mixture on low speed. Increase to medium speed and beat for about 1 minute until batter is smooth.

Fill cupcake liners just over 1/2 full, about 3 tablespoons of batter per cup. Bake for 16-19 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (For mini cupcakes fill with about 1 1/2 tablespoons batter each and bake for about 8-10 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Here is a classic American Buttercream frosting recipe. You can also check out my list of Go-To Frosting & Filling Recipes (with flavor variations) for more frosting ideas.

Classic Buttercream Frosting

Yield: About 2 cups, doubles easily
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick/2oz) unsalted butter, softened 
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening (may use butter instead, if preferred)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 2 cups (1/2lb) powdered sugar, sifted
    • 1-3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (sub half and half or milk if necessary)
      • For Chocolate: Sift 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder in with the powdered sugar and add an extra 1-2 tablespoons cream or milk
      With an electric mixer, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla, salt and any flavor variations. Alternately beat in powdered sugar and cream, on low speed until smooth. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for about 3-5 minutes until light and creamy.

      Icing can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 2 weeks, while iced cake should be stored in an air tight container, at room temperature, for 2-3 days.

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      1. Thank you very much Lindsay for your great receipes! I'm going to try them all as soon as possible. here in Italy we don't have all the ingredients you have got in the US. Anywhere i will try them as well. I will let you know if I failed or not.
        Maria Cristina

      2. Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions along the way. Can't wait to see how they turn out!

      3. These look wonderful! There is nothing plain about Vanilla! And i have been so curious about the flavor extracts you have for sale here, they seem fun to work with and super yummy. Great to see one used in a recipe! I will definitely be buying several in the very near future!!

        I do have a question i feel silly asking, but need help with! :) I love the look of these cupcakes and wonder are you using a decorating tip for the frosting? I think what i bought is better for detail work, which i'm not doing yet. I have been looking at so many decorating "things" on-line, I have gotten myself very confused :) Thank you as always for your generosity in sharing recipes, i love your blog!!

      4. The flavor extracts are such a fun addition when baking! For a simple swirl, you do not necessarily need a decorating tip. I usually just cut about an inch off the tip of the decorating bag and pipe on a swirl. You can also use a large round tip, or a wilton 1M star tip for a more fancy swirl. Good luck, let me know how it turns out!

      5. Thank you so much, Lindsay! I do like the simple swirl, hopefully will be a better decorator one of these days! :) You have so many wonderfully creative things here!

      6. Thank you Amy Lynn. I am starting a youtube series very soon, so I will be sure to do a "how to frost a cupcake" video tutorial! Hopefully that will help.

      7. Thank you so very much for this beautiful recipe! I made them and they were so delicious. One question, if I want to make 16 cupcakes, can I just double every ingredient? Some people say doubling in baking recipes does not end up with a happy ending. What should I do? Any suggestions?

      8. So glad you liked them! Doubling would work just fine, since you would still only be working with 2 eggs and a small amount of ingredients. Just make sure to weigh the flour and follow directions the same as you would for the small batch. Be sure to post a photo on the Dollhouse Bake Shoppe Facebook page and let me know how they turn out! Happy baking!

      9. I love that these make the perfect amount and they sound perfect too! Thanks for the recipe!

      10. I'm gonna try these! They look lovely!

      11. I just tried the recipe and it failed horribly! I reread it and believe I did everything as directed. It was such a disappointment. The cupcakes completely overflowed and were a gooey mess.

      12. hi lindsay,
        i really love all your recipe/s the instructions are easy to follow and the ingredients are affordable. i am looking forward for more recipe/s of cupcakes :)
        most of all, thank you for keeping me posted.

        more power to you. God bless.

        Kind Regards,

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      14. Hi,
        Quite a few months ago, I pinned your vanilla cupcake recipe on Pintrest. Then one day when I opened the pin, the recipe was change to use sour cream, milk, an extra egg yolk, more sugar, more cooking time and I think a lower oven temperature. The old version had buttermilk/buttermilk substitute and a few other things different. Can I get the old version that uses buttermilk??
        Thanks in advance!

      15. Hi C.W.

        As I continue to improve my recipes to give my readers the best tasting, most simple recipes I can develop, I have updated my vanilla cupcake to create a far superior version! I suggest you give it a try, but If you are still interested in the old version, let me know if the following is what you were referring to:

        1/3 cup +1 tablespoon buttermilk OR 1/3 cup +1 tablespoon half & half plus 1 teaspoon vinegar

        1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

        1/2 teaspoon butter flavor extract (found in the baking aisle of the grocery store by the other flavor extracts)

        1 while large egg + 1 egg yolk, room temperature

        1 cup (112g) cake flour, sifted

        3/4 cup (144g) granulated white sugar

        1/2 teaspoon baking powder

        1/4 teaspoon baking soda

        1/4 teaspoon salt

        3 tablespoons (42.6g) unsalted butter, softened

        3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

        Mix together the wet ingredients; set aside. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, On low speed, pour half of the liquid mixture into your batter in a very slow and steady stream. Increase to medium speed and beat for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated. Slowly add the rest of the liquid mixture into your batter and beat for about 20 seconds.
        Distribute the batter between baking cups and bake at 350 degrees F for 16-18 minutes and minis for 8-10 minutes.

      16. Thank you for responding! The version was when you mix the two egg yolks in with the 1/2 cup (?) half n half + 2 teaspoons of vinegar (?) (making your own buttermilk substitute) & it used 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter + 3 tablespoons of veg oil. I think it still had 1 cup + 1/8 cup of cake flour.

      17. Hi C.W.,

        I too noticed that this recipe has changed. I printed the version you are looking for, so I hope this helps! (Hope you don't mind Lindsay Ann) This is my favorite vanilla cupcake, and trust me, I have tried many! I will try this new version too, just in case it is better :-) Anyway, here it is:

        Lindsay Ann's Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

        Yield: 12 standard cupcakes
        or 2 dozen minis (about 2 1/2 cups batter)

        1/2 cup half & half
        1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar (or lemon juice)
        2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
        1/2 teaspoon butter flavor extract (found in the baking aisle of
        the grocery store by the vanilla extract)
        2 large egg yolks
        1 1/8 cup (126g) cake flour
        3/4 cup (144g) granulated white sugar
        1/2 teaspoon baking powder
        1/4 teaspoon baking soda
        1/4 teaspoon salt
        5 tablespoons (70.6g) unsalted butter, softened
        3 tablespoons vegetable oil
        1 large egg white, room temperature (separate when cold)


        1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a
        cupcake pan with 12 standard size baking cups (or 24 minis).

        2. In a measuring cup, stir together the half
        & half, vinegar, vanilla extract, butter flavoring extract and egg yolks. Set aside and let mixture come to room temperature. (Mixture will clump up and thicken.)

        3. In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer,
        sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and oil and mix on low speed until moistened. Add 1 tablespoon of the half & half mixture and increase to medium speed, mixing for about 45

        4. On low speed, slowly pour in the half
        & half mixture in two separate batches, beating on medium speed for about 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated
        and beat another 20 seconds.

        5. In a clean, dry glass bowl, beat the egg
        white with a hand mixer, on medium speed for about 1 minute, to foamy, soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped egg white into your batter, in two additions.

        6. Distribute all of the batter between the 12 standard size baking cups (about 3 heaping tablespoons batter each) or 24 mini baking
        cups (about 1 1/2 tablespoons batter each). Bake standard size cupcakes for 15-17 minutes and minis for 8-10 minutes, or until your finger leaves a slight impression on the tops of the cupcakes when pressed and inserted toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not over bake. Immediately remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

      18. Well I am so glad you like it Lorraine! Be sure to let me know which version you prefer!!

      19. Wow! Thank you Lorraine! I have tried the new version twice and my cupcakes fall every time. They deflate so much that they aren't even useable. I prefer the old version you printed out and have shared with me.

        Any reason why the new version (using sour cream) deflates so dramatically, Lindsay Anne?

      20. Hi Lindsay, I have made your chocolate cupcakes a number of times and they are a hit! I was wondering if you have ever tried making vanilla cupcakes with a similar recipe? The buttermilk gives the cake such a wonderful texture. I also like that the recipe doesn't use any butter. What do you think?

      21. Love this recipe as a cupcake but is there any way to make it into a cake??

      22. Hey Lindsay Ann! I finally tried this version of the Vanilla Cupcakes, and like C.W., mine fell, horribly. I am at slightly high altitude, 3700 ft, so I may try this version again with some altitude adjustments. I think I prefer the older version, simply because I didn't have to adjust it. Thank you for such wonderful recipes!

      23. Hi Lindsay
        I have made your chocolate cupcakes and they are amazing! I tried your vanilla cupcakes and they sunk in the middle quite dramatically. I'm not sure what I did wrong.

      24. Hello Lindsay. Your cupcakes look awesome. I would like to try baking some but unfortunately I do not have a kitchen aid mixer. May I use my hand-held electric mixer? Would that make a difference? Also I am glad I found your recipe which does not use "All Purpose" flour as we do not have it here in my country. Most USA recipes I come across on-line calls for All Purpose flour. So glad I found your recipe using cake flour.

      25. I do not have a kitchen aid mixer. May I use my hand electric mixer to make these awesome cupcakes? Thanks.

      26. Hi! I also found the chocolate to be a huge hit, but the vanilla also sunk in the middle for me as well! I was quite disappointed given I had used high quality ingredients for the best vanilla flavor... Any idea what went wrong? I followed the recipe to the T. The only thing I can think of is maybe I over mixed. Thanks!

      27. Hi Lindsay! Can this recipe be used for a sheet cake?

      28. Hi Lindsay. I'm new to your blog and I inmediately subscribed. I want to try this recipe but I don't have a muffing pan just yet. What would be te cooking time if I want to make this a full cake? Thanks in advance.

      29. Thanks for compiling such nicest information in your blogs. Articles are very informative and hope again I’ll find more like that. progresive loan