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These vanilla cupcakes are, by far, one of the most-loved recipes on this website. Using creamed butter, plus cake flour, sour cream, and egg whites (no yolks!), guarantees a soft, fluffy, and cake-like crumb. Pure vanilla extract plus the optional addition of vanilla beans seals in a classic vanilla flavor. Use a piping tip or knife to garnish each with vanilla buttercream.

vanilla cupcakes on blue cake stand with pink, purple, and blue sprinkles on top.

Originally published in 2016, this vanilla cupcakes recipe has soared to the top of my Essential Baking Recipes list. This list includes recipes that are in regular rotation in my kitchen including banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, and sugar cookies. (So many favorites!) In fact, today’s cupcakes have been so popular around here that I’ve used the base recipe to create several other varieties.

Here’s Exactly Why This Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe Works:

Baking is a science and that’s proved over and over again in base recipes like this. Like when making white cake and vanilla cake, it’s not only the measurements you use, but the specific type of ingredient. Using cake flour instead of all-purpose produces a fluffy, soft crumb. Skipping the egg yolks keeps the cupcakes light. Sour cream helps supply a tight, yet moist crumb. My team and I have done the testing and we are confident in the results. These homemade vanilla cupcakes are simply perfect.

Reader Kristin commented: “This recipe was delicious and will definitely be a go to! I frosted with your Homemade Rainbow Chip Frosting and had rave reviews… several asked for the recipes!”

one vanilla cupcake topped with vanilla buttercream with bite taken out.

Use These Carefully Selected Ingredients

This cupcake batter calls for 11 ingredients, including the handful mentioned below, as well as basics like baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Let me explain why the following ingredients are “power ingredients” in this recipe:

  1. Cake flour: Cake flour is much lighter than all-purpose flour and helps to produce the softest, lightest cakes and cupcakes you’ll ever eat. It’s sold next to the regular flour in the baking aisle and I promise that you’ll use up the entire box in no time after you taste these! Note that you do not need cake flour for chocolate cupcakes because cocoa powder is already very light.
  2. Softened butter: A base of creamed butter and sugar (instead of using melted butter or oil) often helps achieve a soft, cake-like structure. Make sure it’s proper room temperature butter.
  3. Egg whites: While egg yolks are rich in fat and moisture, they can weigh down your baked goods. Skip the egg yolks and use the whites purely for giving structure to the cupcakes. Since we are losing a little fat from the missing egg yolks, we add it back in with sour cream and whole milk.
  4. Sour cream: This is a power ingredient because it lightens and moistens the crumb. Though plain yogurt could be used in its place, I find that cupcakes made with sour cream are lighter.
  5. Vanilla Extract & Vanilla Bean: For the most well-rounded vanilla flavor, use both vanilla bean and vanilla extract in the cupcakes. You can usually find vanilla beans in the baking aisle, but if you’re looking to purchase them online, I recommend these vanilla beans. See recipe Note if you’re skipping the vanilla bean or if you want to use vanilla bean paste.
  6. Whole Milk: Milk with fat such as whole milk or 2% milk is your best choice here. Nondairy milk is great in a pinch. I use buttermilk in this vanilla cake recipe, which is typically a fine substitution for both sour cream and regular milk in baked goods. For these cupcakes, however, the crumb stays a little tighter when using sour cream + whole milk.

Tip: Make sure ALL cold ingredients are room temperature before beginning, otherwise your batter could split and the results aren’t pleasant. Read more about why room temperature ingredients are important in baking.

cake flour, butter, vanilla extract, milk, vanilla bean, sour cream, and egg whites on gray countertop.

Want to kick the vanilla flavor up a notch? Replace store-bought vanilla extract with homemade vanilla extract and regular granulated sugar with vanilla sugar.

Success Tip: Filling Your Cupcake Pan

The batter comes together with a mixer. Give it a quick whisk by hand to make sure there are no more lumps at the bottom of the bowl.

When filling your lined cupcake pan, fill the liners only 2/3 full, which is about 3 heaping Tablespoons of batter each. Filling them only 2/3 full gives you about 14 cupcakes from this batch. Using more batter per cupcake leads to overflowing or even sinking.

This Is a Multipurpose Batter

Since the results are so crowd-pleasing, this vanilla cupcake batter has become a go-to standard for many other cupcake recipes on this website. Using this recipe as the starting point, I’ve created all of the following cupcake flavors:

  1. Mimosa Cupcakes
  2. Chai Latte Cupcakes
  3. White Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes
  4. Sprinkle Cupcakes
  5. Pistachio Cupcakes
  6. Caramel Coconut Cupcakes
  7. Peanut Butter & Jelly Cupcakes
  8. Wedding Cupcakes with Champagne Frosting

Can I Turn These Cupcakes Into a Cake?

Yes, instead of cupcakes, you can use this exact batter for making a vanilla 6-inch cake. For a 1-layer vanilla cake, I recommend my similar recipe for sprinkle cake. You can skip the sprinkles. See recipe Notes for larger layer cake options.

Frosting for Vanilla Cupcakes

This vanilla buttercream is a top choice for garnishing your vanilla cupcakes. But your frosting options are pretty much endless, including Swiss meringue buttercream, strawberry buttercream, chocolate buttercream, lemon buttercream, or cream cheese frosting. For a lighter, less sweet option, I love pairing these cupcakes with whipped frosting.

You can swipe the frosting on with an icing knife (pictured below) or with a piping bag + tip such as Wilton 1M (images in the post above). If you’re just learning how to use piping tips, my piping tips guide is a helpful resource.

And finally, here’s just one photo of our multiple test variations. The left cupcake had way too much liquid and produced a wet, squat cupcake. The right cupcake was from our final batch, simply perfect!

2 vanilla cupcakes after recipe testing.

Printable recipe & video tutorial below.

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vanilla cupcakes on blue cake stand with pink, purple, and blue sprinkles on top.

Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Yield: 14 cupcakes 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This is my favorite recipe for homemade vanilla cupcakes. Using creamed butter, cake flour, sour cream, and egg whites, these cupcakes are soft, sweet, fluffy, and infinitely buttery.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (207g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (120g) full-fat sour cream at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk at room temperature
  • vanilla buttercream and sprinkles for decorating

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. Line a second pan with 2 liners—this recipe makes about 14 cupcakes. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 2 minutes until creamed together. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg whites, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean and beat on medium-high speed until smooth and combined, at least 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed and then beat in the sour cream. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just incorporated. With the mixer still running on low, slowly pour in the milk until combined. Do not over-mix. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
  4. Pour/spoon the batter into the liners—fill only 2/3 full to avoid spilling over the sides. Bake for 19–22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For around 30–36 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11–13 minutes, same oven temperature. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
  5. Frost cooled cupcakes with vanilla buttercream. You can swipe the frosting on with an icing knife or use a piping tip such as Wilton 1M. Leftover cupcakes keep well covered tightly in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Cupcakes can be made ahead 1 day in advance, covered, and stored at room temperature. Frosted or unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Amount of Batter: This recipe yields between 3-4 cups of batter which is helpful if you’re reviewing the Cake Pan & Conversions page.
  3. Cake Flour: Cake flour is the only ideal flour for this recipe. In a pinch, you can make your own homemade cake flour but the cupcakes won’t taste as light. You can find cake flour in the baking aisle near the all-purpose flour.
  4. Leftover Egg Yolks? I have some recipe ideas for you!
  5. Vanilla: For best flavor, pure vanilla extract is strongly recommended. If using imitation, increase to 1 Tablespoon (3 teaspoons). If you can’t get your hands on vanilla bean, simply leave it out or replace with an extra 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. If you want to use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract and vanilla bean, use 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste.
  6. Whole Milk & Sour Cream: Whole milk and sour cream are strongly recommended for the best taste and texture. A full fat plain yogurt would work instead, though the cupcakes may not be as light. Same goes with a lower fat milk. Nondairy milk works in a pinch. You can replace both the whole milk and sour cream with buttermilk (1 cup; 240ml) if needed.
  7. Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
  8. Vanilla Cake: I suggest following my white cake recipe as the base, which is almost double this cupcake recipe. I also have a taller 3 layer vanilla cake recipe as well. For a 1 layer cake, I recommend this sprinkle cake and you can skip the sprinkles in the batter.
  9. Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking the BEST cupcakes before you begin.

Keywords: cupcakes, vanilla cupcakes

Reader Questions and Reviews

    1. Hi Megan, You can replace the whole milk AND sour cream with buttermilk in this recipe (1 cup total).

  1. Hi! I’m from the UK, and made these today – I have a couple of questions! They turned out a little rubbery, almost like they were too eggy. I used large egg whites, but perhaps it was too much. Do you have an idea of the weight of the egg whites you have used? Also, I have a fan assisted oven. I set it to 350F as per the recipe, but not sure if should adjust down for a fan assisted oven? Flavour was great, so definitely want to try again!

    1. Hi Rachel! A large egg white weighs about 30g. All of the recipes on this site are written for conventional settings. Convection ovens are fantastic for cooking and roasting. If you have the choice, we recommend conventional settings when baking cakes, breads, etc. The flow of air from convection heat can cause baked goods to rise and bake unevenly and it also pulls moisture out of the oven. If you do use convection settings for baking, lower your temperature by 25 degrees F and keep in mind that things may still take less time to bake. Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you so much Trina, I can’t alternate between convection and standard, so I will try these adjustments and see how they come out 🙂 Thanks!

    2. Hi Rachael, when I bake in the UK, I usually set a fan-assisted oven to 160 degrees. Try that next time, and see if they turn out better!

  2. This is the best cupcake recipe ever!! I’ve tried it many times now and absolutely love it! I use this recipe for my vanilla cake too! I made it for my family as a cake with cream and strawberries on top of it and they couldn’t stop saying how fluffy, moist, and delicious it was!

  3. Very experienced baker here and this batter split twice. Followed recipe to a tee. So disappointed. And wasted an absolute ton of ingredients down the drain. Your recipes are usually so reliable but this one is a total fail for me.

  4. An absolutely perfect vanilla cupcake! They were so light and fluffy with the perfect amount of vanilla sweetness. Thanks for a wonderful recipe!

  5. I only buy skim milk. Is there a way to use that along with increasing or adding something? Thanks.

    1. Hi Barb, you could remove 1-2 Tbsp and add more sour cream, but I’m unsure of the exact results.

  6. My daughter has an egg allergy. What would you recommend as a replacement? Buttermilk, yogurt or an egg replacer?

    1. Hi Lauren, we haven’t tried this recipe with any egg replacements, but let us know if you give anything a try. If you’re interested, here are all of our egg free recipes on the site.

  7. Could I swap the cake flour for gluten free flour? I absolutely love this recipe but I need to make gluten free cupcakes and I’m really hoping this will work with a simple flour swap.

    1. Hi Raegan, We haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flour, but we’d love to know if you give it a try.

  8. I actually just have a question. Could you combine the dry ingredients from this recipe in bulk to have a master mix and then add other flavors and ingredients to make different flavor cupcakes or cakes?

    1. Hi Alexis! I’m sure that would be great, but it depends on the flavor you are planning to add. Do you mean different extracts in the wet ingredients?

  9. Hi Sally! What if someone is allergic to baking powder? Is there a substitution or something that you know of?!

    1. Though I have not tested this, you could try using 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (so, increase it a bit) and skip the baking powder. Again, this is not tested, but it’s the first thing I would try if I needed to skip the baking powder.

  10. Hi there— All I have on hand is either light sour cream, or plain fat free Greek yogurt. Which would be the better substitute for the full fat sour cream? (I do have whole milk.)

    1. Hi Shannon, you can use either in a pinch, the cupcakes may not be as light, though, without the full fat content.

  11. Hi! I was wondering if I can make these into mini cupcakes? If so, what changes would need to be made?

    1. Hi Erica, yes, you can make mini cupcakes! See step 4 for baking instructions.

  12. Hi Sally. I’m from Sri Lanka and you are my inspiration on becoming a home baker. Thank you for all the yummy recipes you have shared! Can you please explain how to adjust the vanilla cupcake recipe to yield 18 cupcakes? TIA!

    1. Hi Gayani! Your best bet will be to 1.5x the recipe. You’ll get more than the 18 you need, but you can freeze the unused cupcakes to enjoy at another time. See recipe Notes for freezing details. Enjoy!

  13. Hi Sally and Team! Could I add sprinkles and chocolate chips to the batter? If so, at what step in the process would you recommend? Also, could I use gel food coloring in the strawberry buttercream? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Linda! You can add food coloring to our strawberry buttercream, but keep in mind the natural pink color will interfere with the coloring. You can add sprinkles and mini chocolate chips to this cupcake batter – gently fold them in at the end of preparing the batter.

      1. Thanks so much for the quick reply, Trina! Look forward to trying it.

  14. Hi sally im in a bit of a hurry my daughters birthday part is this Saturday her birthday is on Halloween and i was wondering if i could replace the whole milk with heavy whipping cream

    1. Hi Ashley! Heavy whipping cream would be a bit too thick, but you could water it down (about half and half should be fine) with some water.

  15. I love this recipe! Made them this morning. One question. Are they supposed to be airy? Didn’t over mix, followed to a tee. What went wrong?

  16. Very disappointed. Not moist at all. I think the oil would have worked a lot better

  17. Sally, you are a ROCKSTAR! I made these cupcakes, doubled the recipe, and refrigerated them overnight for a neighbor’s 17th Birthday party. I used your Vanilla Buttercream Frosting recipe to top them off. OMG! That young lady went nuts! Her guests, her parents, and anyone else there went bonkers for these cupcakes. now I’m the rockstar! LOL
    Thank you, Sally, for this perfect recipe!

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