These easy vanilla cupcakes are moist and fluffy with a delicious buttery, vanilla flavor. Topped with creamy vanilla buttercream – they’re perfect for birthdays and celebrations.
**This recipe was originally published February 13, 2016 and updated February 2, 2020**
I wanted to develop the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe that tasted better than bakery cupcakes but were simple to make – even if you feel like a beginner in the kitchen. Vanilla cupcakes are a classic for birthday parties, bridal showers, or just about any holiday. And after so many recipe tests, taste tests, and re-tests – this is the perfect recipe.
They have a super soft crumb, light and fluffy texture, and a delicious buttery vanilla flavor without being too sweet. Plus they’re topped with creamy, fluffy vanilla buttercream and pretty sprinkles. Because buttercream is delicious. And sprinkles are tiny dots of happiness. Too often I find vanilla cupcakes are dry and bland. Or, they fall on the opposite end of the spectrum and are too sweet, weirdly greasy and leave an oily after taste in your mouth. But these are perfect.
Making the Perfect Vanilla Cupcake
Let’s talk specifics. This recipe is a white cupcake recipe (as opposed to yellow cupcakes). A white cake recipe means that it only uses egg whites, instead of the whole egg (like yellow cupcakes). It means that the cupcake crumb is more delicate and a little fluffier. It also means that the cupcakes are more white in color instead of a deep yellow.
- Butter. Often chocolate cupcakes or carrot cake cupcakes are made with oil because since they have so much flavor already, they don’t need the extra flavor from the butter. But with vanilla cupcakes – the butter is key for that delcicious flavor.
- Egg whites make the cupcakes lighter and more delicate in texture. They add air to the batter when they’re beaten in.
- Cake flour gives the cupcakes a finer cake crumb and lighter texture. For white vanilla cupcakes, I always use cake flour. If you don’t have any on hand – I’ve included a substitution in the recipe notes for how to make your own with all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
- Buttermilk and sour cream for moisture. Buttermilk makes the cupcakes softer, whereas the sour cream makes them perfectly moist and a little sturdier (perfect for lots of frosting). I definitely prefer buttermilk to whole milk, but whole milk will work. If you don’t have sour cream, you could use Greek yogurt if needed.
These homemade cupcakes are not hard to make – but each step in this recipe is important for ensuring that the cupcake batter is evenly mixed, but without overmixing the batter. (ATTN: BAKING SCIENCE COMING YOUR WAY).
- Sift together the dry ingredients – cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. This gets rid of lumps in the cake flour and ensures that that baking powder and baking soda (which make the cupcakes rise) are evenly distributed.
- Then in a separate bowl, you’ll beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. This process (aka creaming the butter and sugar) adds air to the batter and makes the cupcakes lighter in texture.
- Mix in the egg whites and vanilla extract. Remember – we’re using just the egg whites.
- In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream and milk.
- Carefully mix about 1/2 of the sour cream and milk into the butter mixture.
- Then mix in about 1/2 of the flour mixture.
- Then repeat the process until its all combined. This process of alternating between additions of liquid and dry ingredients makes the cupcakes have a uniform crumb and rise beautifully.
- Spoon the batter into a lined muffin pan so that each paper is filled about 2/3 full. You should end up with about 12 cupcakes in total. I like to use a cookie scoop for this process because I find that I spill less – but that’s totally up to you. They’ll bake for about 16-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Baking Tips & Tricks
- Ensure your butter, eggs, sour cream and buttermilk are room temperature before getting started.
- Make sure the flour isn’t self-rising. On that same note – don’t do a 1 to 1 substitution with cake flour and all-purpose flour. Use the substitution of flour and cornstarch listed in the recipe description.
- Only mix the batter until just combined, otherwise, the cupcakes can end up not rising properly, or with tunnels/holes in the middle.
- These are also delicious with strawberry frosting, raspberry frosting, or even cream cheese frosting.
- I do not recommend doubling this recipe, as it can lead to over mixing.
- To make mini vanilla cupcakes – try this recipe. I’ve included a ton of tips and tutorial info in this post.
Storage & Make-ahead Tips
Cupcakes are best if enjoyed the same day that they’re baked. Cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 5 days. Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen for up to 2 months. Then thaw in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before enjoying.
If you’re wanting to make the cupcakes in advance, I recommend not frosting the cupcakes until the day you plan to enjoy them. Bake the cupcakes the day before, and store in an airtight container at room temperature. You can make the frosting, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Bring the frosting out of the fridge about 30 minutes prior to frosting the cupcakes, then frost them. You may need to beat the frosting again to get it to soften.
These cupcakes are light, fluffy, so moist & filled with delicious flavor. I recommend not waiting for your next birthday party to make a batch of these. Or why not make a batch of chocolate cupcakes or red velvet cupcakes to go with them!
Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream
- 1 and 1/3 cups cake flour* spooned and leveled
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter* softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large egg whites* discard the yolks
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sour cream*
- 1/4 cup buttermilk* or 2% or whole milk
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 3 - 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (omit if you want pure white frosting)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons whipping cream
- food coloring if desired
- sprinkles for decorating
- Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line a regular sized muffin tin with muffin/cupcake papers.
- In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking soda & salt. Give them a whisk & set aside.
- In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the egg whites and vanilla extract.
- In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream and buttermilk.
- Beat about 1/2 of the sour cream mixture into the butter mixture.
- Beat about 1/2 of the flour mixture into the batter.
- Beat in the rest of the sour cream mixture, followed by the rest of the flour mixture. Only beat the batter until combined. Do not overmix.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each about 2/3 full.
- Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 16-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and the cupcakes feel slightly firm to the touch.
- In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft.
- Add in the 2 cups powdered sugar, the vanilla extract and salt and beat on low speed until combined.
- Beat in the rest of the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with 1 tablespoon whipping cream until the desired sweetness and thickness is reached.
- Optionally, beat in a few drops of food coloring.
- Frost cooled cupcakes with a knife, or spoon the frosting into a piping bag to decorate. (I used a piping bag with a Wilton 1M tip). Decorate with sprinkles.
- To make your own cake flour, measure 1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour. Remove 3 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour. Then add in 3 tablespoons cornstarch. Sift together 3 times.
- Sour cream can be substituted with plain Greek yogurt if you're in a pinch.
- If you don't have buttermilk, whole milk or 2% milk can be substituted. I don't recommend skim milk however, as it doesn't have as much flavor.
- Butter, eggs, sour cream and buttermilk should be room temperature before getting started. Take them all out of the fridge about 30 minutes prior to getting started.
- Nutrition information is based on 1 cupcake with frosting.
- I do not recommend doubling this recipe, as it can lead to overmixing and the cupcakes not rising properly.
- For mini cupcakes, use this recipe. Or line mini cupcake pan with mini cupcake liners (not candy papers). Fill about 1/2 (you'll get about 24 cupcakes total) and bake for 10-13 minutes, or until an inserted tootphick comes out clean.
- Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen for up to 2 months. Then thaw in the fridge overnight before frosting.
- To make cupcakes in advanced, bake the cupcakes the day before and cool fully. Then store in an airtight container at room temperature. Make the frosting, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Bring the frosting to room temperature by letting it sit on the counter and beat again to soften, then frost the cupcakes.