There are the best homemade vanilla cupcakes you will ever make! They’re so moist and tender and flavored with vanilla beans for TRUE vanilla flavor. This recipe is inspired by the delicious moist and bouncy texture of box cake mix and after many many tests, this recipe is nearly identical and so much more. Oh, and we can’t forget the extra smooth vanilla bean buttercream on top!
What makes this the BEST vanilla cupcake recipe?
These vanilla cupcakes have it all. They’re moist, pillowy, tender, fluffy, and chock full of vanilla beans from top to bottom.
To get here, this recipe was tested every which way possible. Some batches were made with all purpose flour, some with cake flour, some with both, some with sour cream, some with buttermilk, some with both, some with the standard cake method, some with the reverse creaming method, some with vanilla extract, some with vanilla bean paste, some with both…as you can see I spent extra time to get this just right!
So what’s the secret ingredient combination to really good homemade vanilla cupcakes? Here’s everything you need to know:
- Cake Flour – The cake flour batch was by far much better than the all purpose flour batch. Due to the lower amount of protein in the flour, it creates a light, fluffy, and delicate texture.
- Sour Cream – To balance out the lightness of the cake flour, pairing it with sour cream is a match made in heaven. Sour cream creates a more sturdy cake (while adding tons of moisture) which creates a very interesting balance of textures. These cupcakes are light and tender, but also so rich at the same time.
- Butter + Oil – You rarely want to use all oil in a vanilla cupcake because the vanilla flavor itself isn’t enough to mask the flavor of the oil. BUT, oil does produce an incredibly moist cake so by using both butter and oil in these cupcakes, you get the best of both worlds.
- Milk Powder – I’ll go into detail about this a little later, but just 2 tablespoons of dry milk powder really helps to elevate these cupcakes! Both in flavor and consistency as it’s basically pure protein in powder form.
- Vanilla Bean Paste – Last but not least, the vanilla flavor. I really wanted a TRUE vanilla flavor in these cupcakes and you just can’t get that anywhere else besides vanilla beans. But vanilla beans themselves are rather expensive so vanilla bean paste is the next best thing. It stretches much farther, which is definitely necessary since we’re using an entire tablespoon in these cupcakes.
What is the reverse creaming method?
Standard cake batter is made using the traditional creaming method that you’re likely the most familiar with. Start by mixing together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then mix in the rest of the wet ingredients followed by the dry ingredients.
This vanilla cupcake recipe uses a different technique called the reverse creaming method. It feels a bit backwards at the start, but the first step is to combine all of the dry ingredients including the sugar.
Once combined, the fat (in this case it’s both butter and oil) is mixed straight into the dry ingredients. The fat builds a coating around the flour which slows the formation of gluten. This in turn creates a delicate cake.
Then all of the wet ingredients are combined separately and then poured in to the dry and fat mixture. Overall this method requires fewer steps and is much easier than the creaming method, in my opinion.
Reverse creaming also changes the crumb of a cake. Rather than having a much more open consistency with many many tiny little air pockets, reverse creaming creates a cake that has a tighter and bouncy crumb.
This is the secret to creating an incredibly tender cupcake that’s still so rich and moist!
What is dry milk powder?
There’s an ingredient in these vanilla cupcakes that isn’t very standard, but yields one heck of a cupcake.
Dry milk powder is essentially just milk without the moisture. It’s made by evaporating milk to a point where only the fat and protein remain.
This creates a condensed protein substance in powder form. What this does in baking is create a sturdy consistency that isn’t tough or chewy. It basically enhances any dessert it touches!
For these cupcakes, milk powder is there to ensure an even rise. I baked these cupcakes so many times in so many different ways and not once did they fall in the center!
Milk powder also enhances the flavor of these cupcakes. It adds a sweet smoothness that is very hard to explain, but it’s easy to tell when it’s not there.
If milk powder isn’t in your typical baking pantry, I definitely urge you to try it out for this recipe! Then add 1 or 2 tablespoons to any of your future bakes and watch as it creates delicious cookies, cakes, brownies, and more.
Silky vanilla bean buttercream
It’s not a perfect vanilla cupcake recipe without perfect vanilla buttercream! This recipe is so simple and easy but yields an incredibly smooth and flavorful frosting.
All that’s needed is butter, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla bean paste. For best results, use a high fat butter such as cultured or European style! Since butter makes up a large portion of the buttercream, good butter goes a long way.
Before making the buttercream, make sure the butter is softened at room temperature. If it’s not, the buttercream could turn out too lumpy and thick.
To the butter, mix in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. To measure the powdered sugar, spoon it into the measuring cup and level it off. Don’t scoop directly into the sugar or shake and pack it down. We want a nice, light, and fluffy cup of powdered sugar.
Then, milk is added to smooth out the frosting. I found that 3 tablespoons was the perfect amount, but this may vary depending on how wet or dry it is where you life and also how much sugar was added. In the end, we’re looking for a smooth and glossy consistency that’s still able to hold its shape when piped.
Tips for decorating vanilla cupcakes
To achieve the same look as the cupcakes shown in this post, here is what you will need:
First, pipe a tall mound in the center of the cupcake. Almost like a small Christmas tree.
Then, angle the spatula to a 45 degree angle. Dig the tip of the spatula into the very tip of the frosting and gently press down as you swirl the cupcake in your other hand.
Very carefully push the frosting out towards the sides as you continue to push down. Pull away with one final swoop and immediately top with sprinkles!
The frosting develops a skin rather fast, so make sure to sprinkle right away otherwise they will not stick.
Outside of this technique, feel free to frost any way you like! Use a star piping tip or spread the frosting on by hand. Sprinkle on rainbow sprinkles, coarse sugar, fruit, caramel…anyway you make these they’re sure to be delicious.
Vanilla Cupcakes FAQs
If you can, definitely use cake flour! Otherwise, you can make cake flour from all purpose flour. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of flour (192g), and then remove three tablespoons. Replace with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and whisk to combine.
Yes! Use it! It makes such a big difference in these cupcakes!
Yes, vanilla extract can be subbed one for one with the vanilla bean paste.
Keep the cupcakes in an air tight container in the refrigerator. They’ll keep soft for up to 4 days.
Absolutely! You can find my cream cheese frosting recipe here.
I prefer parchment paper liners, but any liner will do. These cupcakes don’t stick!
I have a gluten free vanilla cupcake recipe that’s just as tender and moist!
For more cupcake recipes, check out my:
- Strawberry Cupcakes with roasted strawberries
- Lemon Cupcakes
- Toasted S’mores Cupcakes
- Peach Pie Cupcakes
- Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
- Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Make sure to tag me @butternutbakery on Instagram or leave a comment below if you make this vanilla cupcake recipe. I love seeing my recipes come to life in YOUR kitchen! To pin this recipe and save it for later, you can use the button on the recipe card, the buttons above or below this post, or on any of the photos above. Happy baking!