Lindsay Ann Bakes: THE BEST Homemade Vanilla Cupcakes

Thursday, November 10, 2011

THE BEST Homemade Vanilla Cupcakes

Pin It

Moist, buttery, light and fluffy vanilla cupcakes from scratch. Perfect every time and so versatile, you can pair them with just about any filling and frosting combination!

It took me a long time to formulate a recipe that yielded my version of THE BEST 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. I 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. 

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 cake flour gives these cupcakes the super soft and fluffy texture. 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. The acidity from the sour cream in the recipe also creates an ultra velvety, tender crumb/mouth feel. 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.
  • FlavorRemember, 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 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 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 sinking.
  • 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?!

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.

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.


For the finishing touch, add some sweet creamy frosting on top! I put my favorite vanilla 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 Homemade 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
  • 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 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.

Classic Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick/4oz) unsalted butter, softened 
  • 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 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. Frost completely cooled cupcakes.

      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.

      Try using my vanilla cupcakes as a base for some fun flavor combinations like cookie dough cupcakes, Banana Pudding Pie CupcakesEgg Nog CupcakesPeanut Butter Marshmallow CupcakesHot Fudge Sundae CupcakesJelly Donut CupcakesPB& J CupcakesStrawberry Champagne CupcakesStrawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes, and more!

      Pin It