Vanilla cupcakes in and of themselves are pure pleasure, but they also provide the perfect canvas for showing off a wide variety of fillings and frostings. These cupcakes are delicate, light and moist, not too sweet and have a picturesque dome for dressing them up with a mound of buttercream. These are the result of a hard-fought battle for the cupcake that has many desired characteristics.
When I wrote about the Essential Vanilla Cupcakes, I described how tricky it has been for me to find a vanilla cupcake that turns out just right. I love the Essential Vanilla Cupcakes and they will remain at the top of my list of go-to cupcakes, but I wanted to offer a recipe that was even more basic than those. I wanted a recipe that contained simple ingredients that could fit every cupcake need. This cupcake contains milk as the only dairy (not sour cream as with the Essentials) and one starch and one fat. It seems simple enough to create this recipe but it took ten batches and several days until I felt they were just what I was looking for. I didn’t want to give up until I had a cupcake that was good enough for all of you to share with the ones you love.
Here is what I was looking for:
- Great taste- always at the top of my list!
- Fine, delicate texture
- Light body (not dense or heavy)
- Good shape (gently domed)
Taste and body came relatively easily but all of the other categories were evasive or all around enigmatic! There was much exasperation!
The reason is that cupcakes act much differently than a cake does. They have so much side wall support from the close sides of the cupcake/muffin tin that they easily become over leavened and then sink in if you are using a standard cake recipe. Achieving a desired result requires a delicate balance of ingredients which minimize leavening and increase the support structure of the cupcake.
For this cupcake, these are the steps that I took to ensure that it met all of the desired criteria:
- Reduce leavening ingredients- This is the first order of action to minimize the rise and fall of your cupcake.
- Eliminate a couple of eggs- Eggs tend to aid structure in cake but in cupcakes they have too great a leavening effect and can lead to a spongy or sunken cupcake.
- Increase the flour- This helps to provide a strong infrastructure to hold up the cupcakes shape.
- Increase the milk- Milk is a great way to add moisture to cake or cupcake but it also helped with shape, possibly by activating gluten and/or helping to gelate starches.
- Add vinegar- Vinegar is used as a flavor agent to brighten the taste and prevent the cupcakes from tasting flat (common in milk only cupcakes). It has the added bonus of making the cupcake very tender and delicate.
- Change the mixing method- I used a reverse mixing method here which reduces excess air that can come into play with the creaming of butter and sugar. This mode of mixing also provides a very fine texture.
The result is what I feel is a very balanced cupcake. I hope you enjoy these cupcakes as much as I do! The best of baking to you. ♥
- 7 ounces (200 grams) sugar- 1 cup
- 8 ½ ounces (240 grams) flour (pastry, or unbleached cake)*- 2 cups plus 3 tablespoons
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces (115 grams) unsalted butter softened- ½ cup
- 2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons (205 milliliters) whole milk (6 ½ ounces by weight)
- 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla and optionally ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 large egg
- Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C) and line a 12-standard well cupcake pan with paper liners.
- In a mixer bowl combine sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix on low 30 seconds to blend. Add butter and mix for about 1 minute or until it resembles fine cornmeal.
- Combine milk, vinegar, egg and vanilla and stir to blend. Pour about half of the mixture into the flour butter combination and mix to moisten. With the mixer on low add the remaining liquid. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for two minutes. Scrape down if necessary and mix to blend.
- Fill lined muffin cups about ¾ of the way full (about 2 ounces of batter by weight). Bake for 22-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Rotate half way through baking. Cool completely and frost with desired frosting such as Simple Silky Buttercream. Makes 12 cupcakes
- *You can use either of the listed flours with great results. If you cannot find unbleached cake flour (available from Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur) you can mix half all-purpose and half bleached cake flour. If you can only find all-purpose flour it should work fine but be sure to go by the weight or use 1 ¾ cup.