Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

4 from 2 votes

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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.
Vanilla cupcakes with colored frosting on a cooling rack.

**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. Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting on a cooling rack, from overhead.

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.

Key Ingredients:

  • 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.

The Process

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Mix in the egg whites and vanilla extract. Remember – we’re using just the egg whites.
  4. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream and milk.
  5. Carefully mix about 1/2 of the sour cream and milk into the butter mixture.
  6. Then mix in about 1/2 of the flour mixture.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

8 step-by-step photos of making vanilla cupcake batter.

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.

Cupcake with pink frosting with a bite taken out of it with a glass of milk.

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 colored frosting on a cooling rack.
4 from 2 votes

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

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.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 2 hours
Servings: 12 cupcakes
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Ingredients 

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 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

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 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

Instructions 

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 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.

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 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.

Notes

  1. 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. 
  2. Sour cream can be substituted with plain Greek yogurt if you're in a pinch.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. Nutrition information is based on 1 cupcake with frosting.
  6. I do not recommend doubling this recipe, as it can lead to overmixing and the cupcakes not rising properly.
  7. 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. 
Make-Ahead & Storage: Cupcakes are best the same day that they'er baked.
  • 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. 

Nutrition

Calories: 557kcal, Carbohydrates: 88g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 14g, Cholesterol: 60mg, Sodium: 147mg, Potassium: 63mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 77g, Vitamin A: 696IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 33mg, Iron: 1mg
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13 Comments

  1. 3 stars
    Made these yesterday and although they had a good flavor, they were so dense that overall, they really weren’t that good. I don’t know what happened as I followed the recipe to a T. Maybe I over mixed? The icing was tasty and I was thrilled that it made exactly 12 cupcakes with just enough icing to generously top all 12, which almost never happens!

  2. Can you please tell me how many cupcakes the frosting recipe as is yields? I am going to need to double the cupcake recipe and I only plan on using enough frosting on each to do a rose swirl, so I don’t necessarily want to double the frosting recipe if I don’t have to, since often times I end up with lots of frosting left over. Thanks!

    1. This recipe will make about 12-14 cupcakes, and the frosting makes enough to frost all the cupcakes (12-14) with a large, classic swirl like they’re pictured. If you’re planning to double the recipe but only need enough frosting to do a rose swirl on each cupcake, instead of doubling the frosting recipe you could change the frosting to be use 1 and 1/4 cup butter (2 and 1/2 sticks), 4-5 cups powdered sugar, and 3-4 tablespoons of whipping cream. 🙂

  3. Hi Fiona,

    So I made these cupcakes today and while the flavor is very good I was not very happy with the texture or fluffliness of them. I do have some theories as to why it could be that they didn’t taste nor look as light and fluffy as they look on yours and would like to get your opinion.

    So in testing this recipe I halved everything, I did 1/2 cup + 8 tsp of flour and so on and so forth. I also used whole milk to make the buttermilk by adding 1tsp of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk. I just tested my baking soda and it works well in the test to see how fresh it is. Another thing is I baked the cupcakes 3 at a time twice and then 1 cupcake on the 3rd round. I wanted to see how the cupcake would hold up to the batter sitting out while they bake. I filled some of the cupcakes a bit more than 2/3 full but others I did 1/2 to see how the amount would affect it. Some were more domed then others but none of them were completely flat. Another thing is after the cupcakes cooled which took over 30 min I put them in an airtight container and they were sitting in the container for no more than an hour when I opened up the container to try one. I noticed the tops were sticky and I know that this has to do with keeping them in an airtight container because the moistness is all contained but when I tried the cupcake it didn’t feel all that light and airy I would say more spongy.

    My plan was to make them today and frost tomorrow, so I haven’t even made the frosting. The cupcake flavor itself is wonderful but I’m just not a big fan of the texture of these cupcakes and would like to know what you think it could be. Thank you!

  4. I’m going to try and make these cupcakes. One question though, when you refer to whipping cream are you speaking of heavy whipping cream or whipping cream? Whipping cream has less fat, but I’m not sure if its as readily available. If I couldn’t find whipping cream and had to use heavy whipping cream would I need to change the amount?

    1. Either heavy cream or whipping cream will work no problem. When adding the cream, just add 1 tablespoon at a time until you get your desired consistency. It should be about 2-3 tablespoons whether you use heavy cream or whipping cream. If you decide to pipe the frosting you’ll want it a little thicker.

  5. Hi! Made a batch today using this recipe and they came out delicious! However, I was wondering, what if I need to make 2 batches of this recipe but my oven can accommodate only 1 batch, would letting the batter sit for approximately 18 minutes affect its leavening effect for the second batch?

    1. Hi Bea,

      That should be fine, as long as you don’t wait too much longer. I’d double the batter and spoon it into your first pan and pop them in the oven. Then while the first tray is baking, fill your second tray with batter. The second batch will likely have a slightly more domed shape, but the taste should be similar. I’m so glad you liked the cupcakes!!

    1. I add the food coloring into the frosting right at the very end a couple of drops at a time while beating until you get the level of color you’d like.