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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!), all guarantee 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 below as well as basics like baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Let me explain why the remaining 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 and whole milk.

Tip: Make sure ALL cold ingredients are room temperature before beginning, otherwise your batter could split and the results aren’t pleasant. See more about room temperature ingredients 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 6-inch vanilla 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 essentially 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
  • 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. if I make these on a tuesday for a saturday event (I work a full time job) would they still be moist?

    1. Hi Jasmine! We recommend freezing the cupcakes to keep them fresh. Frosted or unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

    1. Hi Josephine, you should be able to halve this recipe without any issues.

  2. I made them many times and they are always yummy but I find the batter is spliting for me lately right after ill put the whites in and I’m doing everything same way …all in room temperature.
    Even tried doing them ald fashion way mixing by hand but still happening
    They still come out tasty but not as fluffy.. what could I be doing wrong?

    1. Hi Aga, Batter will look curdled if all ingredients aren’t properly room temperature – the different temperatures keep the ingredients combining correctly. But, some curdling is normal with wet ingredients, does it come together once the dry ingredients are added? Thanks for giving this recipe a try!

  3. 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!

    1. Hi Kimberly, pure cane sugar *should* work just fine in this recipe. The granules are a little larger so it’s possible there could be some grittiness, but it shouldn’t be an issue.

  4. This cake was pretty good! Very spongy and moist. I made this for Father’s Day and my whole family loved them!

  5. I absolutely adore this recipe. Would adding sprinkles to these to make them funfetti have any material effect on the results, or do I need a specific recipe for that alteration?

    1. Hi Max, sure can! We’d start with 1/2 cup of sprinkles in the batter. Then add a little more if you think it needs more. Happy baking!

  6. I love this recipe and have made it a bunch of times! I am making these for a client who has an egg allergy, can anyone recommend a great substitution with this recipe? Thanks!

    1. Hi Judy, 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. I finally made this recipe and they were a hit. Mine looked like your photo, but they were more white than golden colored around the edges. Also mine had a sponge cake consistency. I wondered if that is the texture? Or should they have a soft crumb texture? Did I do something wrong with the eggwhites?
    I absolutely had all ingredients at room temperature.

    1. Hi Marylou, the color of the cupcakes is likely the pan you are using. Whenever I bake these in a lighter pan, the cupcakes do not usually brown around the edges. Using my slightly darker pan, however, leads to more of a golden exterior. The taste and texture do not change though. The cupcakes should have more of a soft crumb texture. You really want to mix the egg whites into the creamed butter and sugar, for at least 2 full minutes.

    1. Hi Nav, you should be able to halve this recipe without any issues.

  8. These have always been our favorite! Love the new photos and video.

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