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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Best Homemade Yellow Vanilla Cupcakes Ever (Versatile fluffy vanilla cupcakes from scratch with a variety of frosting variations!)

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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. I honestly don't even want to think of the amount of $$ I have spent over the years on ingredients, just to formulate the perfect recipe. 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, 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, texture the 2-stage method produced, compared to the 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.




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 help 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 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 yolks. 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.
  • 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 high 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. 
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ALL ABOUT CAKE FLOUR




First get all of your ingredients ready. It is important that things like the eggs, butter and milk 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: Room temperature butter should be cool to the touch and 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, place your butter in a Ziploc bag or between 2 pieces of wax or parchment paper and use a rolling pin or meat pounder to flatten the butter about 1/4 inch thick. This softens the butter quickly while still keeping it cool. (VIDEO COMING SOON)
  • Milk/Sour Cream: Mix together the sour cream and milk. Microwave in 15-second intervals until no longer cold to the touch and stir. Using cold milk 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.

WATCH MY VIDEO BELOW FOR HOW TO PROPERLY MEASURE FLOUR (#1 baking mistake) & CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT FLOUR


Then, sift it together with the baking powder, baking soda and salt, into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer).



Then add the cup of sugar.



Give it 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, about 45 seconds.



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.



Vigorously whisk together the sour cream, milk, vanilla, butter flavor and eggs for about 30 seconds, until well combine. My recipe calls for 1 whole egg and 2 extra yolks 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!

WATCH MY VIDEO BELOW TO LEARN SOME FUN TRICKS FOR SEPARATING YOUR EGGS & CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EGGS!


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. This will allow all of the liquid to be absorbed properly. If you dump all the liquid in at one, you will end up over mixing your batter or it can curdle from too much liquid being added too quickly.

 Your batter should look something like this, sort of the consistency of white school glue or a box cake mix batter. It might seem a bit runny, but I promise, it will bake up beautifully! You are now ready to fill your pan!



OPTIONAL
Another extra option is to separate the eggs at the beginning and whip the white up to fold in to the batter at the end for an ultra fluffy cupcake. If you decide to take this extra, optional step, in a clean, dry glass bowl, beat the egg white with a hand mixer, on medium speed for about 1 minute. When whipping your egg white, make sure there is NO grease or yolk in the bowl. This will prevent the egg white from whipping into a light and fluffy mixture. After about 20 seconds, it will get nice and bubbly. Keep beating and it will eventually foam up to soft peaks, which means, when you lift up the beaters, the tips of the egg white should fall over. If you over beat the egg white and when you lift the beater up, the tips of the egg white stand stiff, glossy and straight, you have over-beaten the egg white to "stiff peaks" which will incorporate too much air into your cupcakes, causing them to puff up in the oven and then deflate. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped egg white into your batter.

Distribute all of the batter between baking cups, about 3 heaping tablespoons batter each or about 1 1/2 tablespoons batter each, for a mini cupcake pan


Bake standard size cupcakes for 16-18 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. If the tops spring back when pressed (like a lot of recipes state is "done"), the cupcakes are already loosing moistness and have been baked a little too long. Immediately 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

WATCH MY VIDEO BELOW TO LEARN HOW TO PIPE THE PERFECT CUPCAKE SWIRL & CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ON PREPARING YOUR PIPING BAG FOR FROSTING.


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: 14-16 standard cupcakes or 2-3 dozen minis

Ingredients
  • 1 1/8 cup (126g) cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (42g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract 
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter flavor extract, optional (found by the vanilla extract in the grocery store)
  • 1 large egg + 2 large egg yolks, room temperature (separate when cold)


Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cupcake pan with baking cups.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and mix for about 30 seconds to distribute the ingredients evenly and aerate the flour.  Beat in the softened butter and oil on low speed until it is moistened and looks like wet sand, about 45 seconds.

Vigorously whisk together the sour cream, milk, vanilla, butter flavor and eggs* for about 30 seconds, until well combine. 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 (about 3-4 tablespoons batter each, for standard, or 1 1/2 tablespoons batter each, for minis). Bake standard size cupcakes for 16-18 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 clean or with with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not over bake. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

*Optional: Separate the egg white to whip up and fold into the batter at the end for an ultra fluffy cupcake. Start with 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.



Flavorful, sweet, fluffy and soft with a moist, tender crumb and perfect little dome. Frost and enjoy!







Here is a classic American Buttercream frosting recipe in vanilla and chocolate. The vanilla is a traditional sweet party cake frosting, great for kids. The chocolate version is one of my favorites and is a little less sweet with a light fluffy texture. You can also check out my list of Go-To Frosting & Filling Recipes (with flavor variations) for more frosting ideas.






Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (with variations)

Yield: About 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 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 or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt, I use extra fine popcorn salt
    • 2 cups (1/2lb) powdered sugar, sifted
    • 1-3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (sub half and half or milk if necessary)
    Flavor Variations:
      • Flavor extracts: Add 1/4 t.- 1/2 t. flavor extract of your choice (coconut, almond, mint, etc.) 
      • Cappuccino: Add 2 tablespoons espresso powder/instant coffee granules
      • Cookies & Cream: Add 1 cup cookie crumbs (about 12 Oreos)
      • Marshmallow: Add one 7oz jar marshmallow creme/fluff
      • Peanut Butter: Add 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
      • Berry/Fruity: Add 1/3 cup seedless fruit puree or preserves of your choice (raspberry, strawberry, etc.)
      • Lemon (or any citrus fruit): Add zest and juice from 1/2-1 whole lemon, lime, orange, etc.
      • Cinnamon: Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      • Peppermint: 1 tablespoon finely crushed peppermint candies
      Directions
      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.



       

      Recreated by Lucy Baker from Serious Eats in New York
      Recreated by blogger, Elise, from Cupcakes Take the Cake
      Recreated by Jessica from Connecticut
      In the making by Mekenna and Ava C. from CA
      PS: Have you heard the news? Drumroll please...


      I LAUNCHED MY VERY OWN YOUTUBE VIDEO SERIES: LINDSAY ANN'S DOLLHOUSE BAKE SHOPPE,

      WHERE I WILL BE SHARING MY FAVORITE SMALL-BATCH DESSERT RECIPES, BAKING 101 TIPS, FESTIVE PARTY TREATS & MORE!

      CHECK OUT MY TRAILER VIDEO BELOW, OR CLICK HERE TO VIEW IT ON MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL and don't forget to SUBSCRIBE!




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      12 comments:

      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

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

        ReplyDelete
      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!!

        ReplyDelete
      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!

        ReplyDelete
      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!

        ReplyDelete
      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.

        ReplyDelete
      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?

        ReplyDelete
      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!

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

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

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      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.

        ReplyDelete
      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,
        Beb

        ReplyDelete

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