Vanilla Cupcakes

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:

  1. Great taste- always at the top of my list!
  2. Moistness
  3. Fine, delicate texture
  4. Light body (not dense or heavy)
  5. 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. ♥


Vanilla Cupcakes


  • 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


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C) and line a 12-standard well cupcake pan with paper liners.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. *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.

66 thoughts on “Vanilla Cupcakes”

  1. Great to see a new post, missed you when you were “gone”…and who wouldn’t love to have a go-to vanilla cupcake recipe that’s been tweaked to perfection by none other than Summer! Thanks so much for all of your insight and intelligence contributed to our baking adventures.

  2. I’m a HUGE fan of Reverse Cream method and this recipe sounds exactly like the “basic” vanilla cupcake recipe I have been looking for. Now, the next variation …how about lemon or an orange zest, the amount for the corresponding citrus extract, an almond and /or almond poppy seed and chocolate. 😉 Thanks Summer. Lisa G.

    1. Hi Lisa! For orange, lemon, or lime cupcakes, I would use one tablespoon zest for this recipe or one half teaspoon citrus oil, or one teaspoon of citrus extract. I would also use lemon or lime juice in place of the vinegar. I was planning on posting poppy seed and chocolate variations soon so keep your eyes out for those! Enjoy 🙂

      1. Hi Summer, thank you for your reply to my questions. I will keep an eye and anxiously await poppy seed and chocolate versions of this recipe. It’s a good one. Would I be correct in thinking that in place of vinegar or citrus (for an almond version), that I would use one teaspoon of almond extract?

        1. Keep the vinegar, it will enhance all other flavors and is important for mouthfeel and leavening. You can replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract for almond extract for a great almond flavor. 🙂

          1. Hi Summer, thank you again for your reply to my question re almond extract. I so appreciate the science “class” with your posts and now with this version of cupcake. I would not have thought to keep the vinegar, so your explanation of “why” with regard to mouthfeel and leavening is really fascinating to me. I can’t wait to try all of these versions. I’ve been a fan of yours for some time and I very much have appreciated our dialog today. I’ll stay tuned, promise. 🙂 Lisa G.

  3. They are so delicious ! However, I dont know why, but my liners are starting to peel away from the cupcake while cooling. I would like to know why ? I used professional paper liner. Thanks a lot for this yummy recipe !! 🙂

  4. What can I say, Sammer you never let me down with your beautiful recipes, I tried many vanilla cupcake recipes but always don’t turn out the way I want it, but this one is just perfect light airy, but still have very beautiful structure. Thank you sooo much for shareing your recipe and knowledge with us.

  5. Made these vanilla cupcakes yesterday, they were out of this world. Falling short of words to describe it, it’s that good. This will be my go to recipe from now. Everyone in my family loved it very much. You’re awesome, thank you so much for sharing your incredible recipes and the science behind it which makes it even more interesting.

  6. Hello Summer, I have tried your recipe and the cupcakes were delicious and especially pretty when coming out of the oven. However, things didn’t turn out so well after a few minutes as the the cupcakes started sinking. I used Bob Red Mill’s super-fine cake flour. It was my second time using this flour, the first time was on another vanilla cupcake recipe and the same thing happened… Both recipe rose in the oven and sank when coming out… I love the taste of unbleached flour, but I am become a little reluctant to use it. Do you have an idea what’s going on? Could it be because my baking powder doesn’t contain aluminum? Thank you so much for your help! 🙂

    1. Hmm, that’s what we are trying to avoid! 😉 I have had good success with Bobs flours but maybe try his pastry flour for a little extra protein. Also, when I take my cupcakes out of the oven I whack the tin on the counter. It somehow helps break individual cells into one large network and can reduce sinking. See Big Bang Theory. Sending tall fluffy wishes!

  7. Hi Summer,
    I love how you explain food science along your very easy to follow recipes. One question from me – is Cake flour = low gluten flour?

    1. Hi Grace! Cake flour is lower in gluten than all-purpose flour. It contains some gluten but comparatively less than other wheat flours.

  8. I’m so happy you are back,i kept checking the blog, I’ve tried your other vanilla cupcake, coconut, white cake, Smbc and the coconut layer cake filled with Martha’s coconut filling my husband said it was the most delicious cake ever. I’m going to try this next and the French buttercream. Thank you so much.

  9. Hi Summer! I just adore your recipes! Are cake flour and pastry flour interchangeable then? For like all recipes where either one is called for?

  10. Hi Summer, Thank you for another yummy recipe that I can’t wait to try. I have looked for pastry flour and was only able to find at the store the whole wheat one. Would that be a good alternative? and if so do i need to make any changes in the recipe?. thak you!

  11. Hi Summer,
    Hope all is well
    Made this recipe the other day and it was so good. American buttercream recipe that I made was too sweet for these cupcakes. Can you recommend a less sweet buttercream recipe for me? And can I double this recipe?

    Many thanks…

    1. Hi Mel!
      You should be able to double the recipe without problem. You might try Liz Marek’s Easy Buttercream. I have been making some variations that I really like. As soon as I work out the technical bugs on the blog I will put them up. Otherwise you can try my Simple Silky buttercream and adjust the sweetness to your taste. Hugs!

  12. I just made this cupcakes, and they passed my husband’s taste test…and mine too! Delicious and pretty…thanks so much for sharing…I wish I could send a picture…

  13. Hi Mel!
    You should be able to double the recipe without problem. You might try Liz Marek’s Easy Buttercream. I have been making some variations that I really like. As soon as I work out the technical bugs on the blog I will put them up. Otherwise you can try my Simple Silky buttercream and adjust the sweetness to your taste. Hugs!

  14. Hi Summer!
    Your recipes are the best I have ever made, thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously. Can’t tell you how many compliments I have gotten from using these recipes.
    I love your white velvet recipe, making them into cupcakes is a bit of a challenge though… As you said, it rises and then falls flat but still tastes amazing.
    Want to keep this recipe as the taste is just amazing. What do you recommend to let them rise normally like usual cupcakes? Want to make them for a wedding…
    Thanks so much!! xxx

  15. Hi Summer, all the way from Kenya…just want to thank you for all your generosity,
    wonderful recipes and experiments. The cakes and SMBC have been a huge success with my customers! You are a star!!!

  16. Hi Summer,

    I am curious as to why you use both baking powder & baking soda in the vanilla cupcakes and also in your American mud cake (possibly others also?)?

    Baking powder is baking soda and cream of tartar as the activator, is the baking soda for a deeper colour in these cakes as well as another rise/leavening agent with the vinegar activator, or is the there another reason you’ve got both of these in your cakes?

    Thanks! 😀

    1. Hi Sarah! Very good question.
      I usually use baking soda to neutralize excess acid from cake ingredients. I love the flavors that accompany acidic ingredients (chocolate, sour cream, buttermilk, fruit, etc.), but acid wreaks havoc on cake structure, leaving your cake short and dense. My goal is generally to neutralize much of the acid, but not all of it, or the cake can taste flat. Baking soda does act as a leavening agent, but not an ideal one. It expires in one fell swoop and can give up all of its expansive power too early in the baking game. For that reason I like to include baking powder for sustained leavening. Double acting baking powders leaven two-fold, once when it reacts with liquids and again in the heat of the oven. I like to think of it as leavening insurance. Also, because the acids and bases are in a certain proportional combination in baking powder, I can be sure of predictable leavening in a recipe. I hope that gives you the answer you are looking for. Best wishes in the new year!

  17. Hi Summer,
    I am looking for an eggless vanilla cupcake recipe. Can I just skip the egg and add apple sauce instead?

    1. I have not tried that with this recipe but it should work alright. I would add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, if you have access to it, to bind things together. I love the cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, if you want a collection of egg-free cupcakes. Good luck!

  18. Hi Summer! Thank you for another yummy recipe. Made these today and the kiddos were really happy with them. However, they did seem to brown quite a bit at the bottom. I might have baked them a minute too long but they’re aren’t dry at all. Where did I go wrong?

    1. Hi Joanna! It may be the way your oven distributes heat combined with the the recipe formulation. I would recommend baking them on the highest rack you are able to in your oven, or bake them on a cookie sheet or with another cupcake tin under your cupcakes to insulate from the lower oven heat. 🙂

  19. Thank you Summer for the great recipes!!! Your blog is where I go to when I need a recipe that I know will work out perfect every time!

    This is a great recipe, I’ve used it several times. I made orange ones last month and everyone loved them! Today I tried making with lactose free milk and nuttelex margarine for a lactose free friend, and they came out perfect!

    1. Yes, buttermilk would work well in this recipe too! I chose to use milk and vinegar because they are pantry items that everyone generally has on hand and it keeps the flavors a little more neutral and adaptable. I love the flavor buttermilk gives, but it is a little more assertive than milk and vinegar. Feel free to interchange the two here!

  20. I happened to stumble across this post as I googled “Foolproof Vanilla Cupcakes”. I’m a baker, but for some odd reason, finding the perfect vanilla cupcake has been a daunting task for me! they always end up flat! I followed your recipe and technique to the tee and voila…they came out perfect..beautifully domed at the end of cooking just like you said they would! Not to mention they have the perfect texture and taste! I ended up with 30 cupcakes, plus enough batter to have made about 2 more. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your page! Now that I’ve found you, I’ll be sure to check out your other recipes.

    1. I’m so sorry I missed this question! You can eliminate the lemon juice or vinegar if you use buttermilk or soured milk.

  21. Summer here about your vanilla cakes on your blog.
    I would love to try one recipe. Which one would you suggest? As a go to vanilla for all things?

    1. Hi Grace! I would go for the Essential Vanilla Cupcakes. The recipe was originally designed as a cake recipe and is universally pleasing as cake or cupcake. It has great flavor and texture and bakes consistently beautiful. These Vanilla Cupcakes are delicious as well, but were designed for recipe simplicity and are a tad less complex than the ones containing sour cream. Let me know if you try the Essentials!

      1. Thank you. I am just everywhere on your blog finding delicious recipes that I don’t know where I left a comment lol.
        Just finished baking your strawberry cake and the whole family is a fan. They love the texture and all the flavors coming through. You are a gem. Thank you for sharing your recipes. Any new recipes coming up?
        I go through your blog every time over and over and it’s like the recipes look new to me again and again

          1. I am sorry for posting delays! I have a cake baked and photographed. I just need to edit and write. But my mom had some major surgical complications a week and a half ago and was in critical condition. I was traveling 90 min away to be near her hospital for multiple days, even though Covid restrictions wouldn’t allow us to see her in the ICU. It’s been a tough time, but she is doing well and will hopefully be home soon. If everything goes according to plan, I should have the post up this weekend. Thanks for your patience! Hugs, Summer

    1. My mom is doing much better! She is getting stronger all the time. My sisters and I are grateful she is up for traveling for the holidays and we will all be able to be together. Thanks for asking! <3

      1. Hi Summer,

        Hope your good and all us well? I have been checking in hoping to see that Christmas baking post before Christmas

        I hope all is well.
        Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  22. Hello Summer, thank you for lots of amazing full of flavor recipes you have here.
    Do you by any chance have a lemon cake, coconut cake recipe in the works? Also do you make sponge cakes?

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