Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

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.

vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles

Today I’m sharing my favorite vanilla cupcakes recipe, the mini version of my favorite white cake and vanilla cake. These homemade vanilla cupcakes are simply perfect. By far the fluffiest cupcakes I’ve ever made, not to mention soft, cakey, butter, and sweet. Perfection in a cupcake wrapper. I adapted them from my mimosa cupcakes, so if you’re into bubbly… go bake yourself a boozy batch!

Vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles on a purple plate

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Cupcakes

Here’s why this cupcake recipe WORKS.

  • Softened butter: A base of creamed butter and sugar doesn’t guarantee a fluffy cupcake, but it certainly helps you get there! Make sure it’s the proper room temperature.
  • Sour cream: This is a power ingredient; it lightens up and moistens the crumb. Though Greek yogurt could be used in its place, I find that cupcakes made with sour cream are much lighter. Light and fluffy is the goal and sour cream is how we’ll reach it.
  • Egg whites: No egg yolks allowed. You’ll use 3 egg whites to give the cupcakes their structure, while also keeping them pristine white. Since we are losing a little fat from the missing egg yolks, we can add that back in via sour cream and whole milk.
  • Cake flour: Switch out the all-purpose flour for 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 that entire box in no time after you taste these! In a pinch, you can use this homemade cake flour substitute using a particular cornstarch and all-purpose flour blend.

dry ingredients for vanilla cupcakes in a glass bowl

2 images of ingredients for vanilla cupcakes including vanilla beans, sour cream, milk, and eggs

The batter is moderately thick. Here’s what it will look like when everything’s mixed up. Run a whisk through it all a few times when it’s done in the mixer; this helps pick up any pieces of butter that could be at the bottom.

vanilla cupcake batter in a glass bowl with a metal whisk

This batter actually fits perfectly into 3 6-inch cake pans, making a lovely and adorable 6 inch vanilla cake!

Vanilla Bean or Vanilla Extract?

For the most well-rounded vanilla flavor, use both vanilla bean and vanilla extract in the cupcakes. You can usually find vanilla beans at Whole Foods, but lately I’ve been ordering them online. If needed, just replace the vanilla beans with an extra 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. And, for even better flavor, make and use homemade vanilla extract. You won’t regret it for these cupcakes or any other recipes calling for vanilla!

vanilla cupcake batter in a cupcake pan before baking

Vanilla Cupcakes: Recipe Disasters

Here are two cupcake prototypes from my recipe testing. This is batch #2 and batch #3. Batch #2 (left) used 3/4 cup whole milk and sifted cake flour. That was way too much liquid and the flour was too airy from sifting. See how squat it is? The inside was wet! Batch #3 (right) was just perfect. 1/2 cup whole milk, no sifting the cake flour. Just enough liquid and flour, oh-so-fluffy and divine.

(not pictured: batch #1 which was atrocious)

2 vanilla cupcakes after recipe testing

Batch #3 was the winner. This is the texture all homemade vanilla cupcakes should be!

2 images of a stack of 2 vanilla cupcakes without frosting and a cupcake cut in half showing the inside texture

Frosting for Vanilla Cupcakes

For the frosting, you can use anything. Pictured here is my go-to vanilla buttercream. I tinted some of it pink with 2 drops of red food coloring. But your frosting options are essentially endless. Here are some suggestions: Swiss meringue buttercream, rainbow chip frosting, chocolate buttercreamstrawberry buttercream, marshmallow frosting, white chocolate frosting, raspberry frosting, or cream cheese frosting.

Sprinkles not optional, but you already knew that.

vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles

Favorite Cupcake Recipes

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Vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles on a purple plate

Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Yield: 14 cupcakes
  • 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

  • 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. Beat on medium-high speed until combined, then beat in the sour cream. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. 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. I simply used an icing knife. 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. Frosting can also be made 1 day in advance, covered, and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Frosted or unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Cake Flour: If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, use this cake flour substitute. I suggest doing this twice, mixing it all up in 1 bowl then removing 1/4 cup since you need 1 and 3/4 cups in this recipe.
  3. Leftover Egg Yolks? I have some recipe ideas for you!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
  7. Vanilla Cake: I suggest following my white cake recipe as the base, which is almost double this cupcake recipe. I also have a taller vanilla cake recipe as well.
  8. Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Vanilla Beans, Flex Edge Beater, 5-qt Tilt-Head Glass Bowl, Cupcake Pan, Icing Knife, Cupcake Liners
  9. Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking the BEST cupcakes before you begin.

Keywords: cupcakes, vanilla cupcakes

301 Comments

  1. Hiya, I have a question, I need to make my own cake flour but you said not to sift the flour in the recipe. Should I still sift the flour and corn flour or would using a hand whisk be enough to combine? Thanks very much. Laura

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Laura! Yes, we still suggest sifting together the flour and cornstarch to make a cake flour substitute. See recipe notes for details on how to best make the correct amount!

  2. Had a hankering for some homemade cake this evening and thought I’d give this recipe a try. My cupcakes turned out perfectly! This will definitely be my “go to”. I added some coconut and chocolate chips because…well, why not. Yum.

  3. Australia has Lighthouse Cake Flour but they have plain & SR. Which do I use?

    1. Because the recipe already contains baking powder and baking soda, use plain cake flour.

  4. William Weber says:

    Can vanilla paste be substituted for scraped vanilla bean?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi William, Yes you can use vanilla bean paste instead – same amount. Enjoy!

    2. Can we use carton egg whites (non-pasteurized), or must they come from the egg directly? Thank you!

  5. Are “cake flour” and “cake & pastry flour” the same? (I can only find cake &pastry flour in my area.)

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Joslyn, Pastry flour isn’t quite as light as cake flour. You can use it as a substitute in recipes calling for cake flour, but the baked good won’t taste quite as light – best to stick with cake flour if possible. If you can’t find it where you live see the recipe notes for how to make your own cake flour substitute.

      1. Would you recommend cake and pastry flour vs cake flour substitute? I made these cupcakes and they were a weird texture. Not light at all, almost dense. I used cake and pastry flour since thats all we have in canada that I could find.

  6. What altitude are your recipes tested at? I need to calculate how much I need to adjust for my high altitude!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Laura, I wish we could help, but have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

      1. Hi! Perhaps my question was mid-read. I asked at what altitude the recipe was developed! I can do the calculations.

      2. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Laura, our recipes are tested at just about sea level.

  7. Kim Swanson says:

    They taste amazing but my dough stuck to the muffin wrapper. Any suggestions?

  8. I would like to say a big thank you Sally, I have tried several mini-cupcakes and I must say that you gave me the chance to make the best and especially with the buttercream icing, giving perfection in taste and lightness. I only had WOW WOW So I adopted you for all the desserts. Today the Chocolate Banana cake, can’t wait!!!

  9. Makes very fluffy and moist cakes! I made 2 6” cakes and 5 cupcakes with this batter and it was fabulous! The texture was light and fluffy with a great vanilla flavor. Goes perfectly with Sally’s Favorite Chocolate Buttercream.

  10. Hi there,

    I have to make two different sets of cupcakes on two different days. Am I able to use half the batter and put the other half in the fridge until the next day when I use it or will it go bad?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Caterina, no we don’t recommend that. As soon as the batter is mixed together the leaveners are activated and if you wait too long to bake it the cake won’t rise properly. It would be best to bake them all at once, and then store half of the baked cupcakes for use another day.

  11. You are the best
    All your recipes are big hit with my kids. Big big thank you

  12. Ajita Nawathe says:

    Hey dear can I use whole eggs instead of just whites? I really don’t wanna waste the yolk… As u run small home business I need vanilla cupcakes a lot and don’t feel like throwing away so much of yolks. Please help

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Ajita! Egg whites give these cupcakes their structure, while also keeping them pristine white. It would take additional testing to adjust the recipe for whole eggs. Are cartons of egg whites available to you? Those would work well in this recipe and wouldn’t waste any egg yolks. You could also try our larger recipe for vanilla cake (following cupcake instructions in the reicpe notes) which uses a combination of whole eggs and whites. Hope this helps!

  13. Myea Morris says:

    Hi is it fine to use all purpose flour instead of cake flour?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Myea, Cake flour is much lighter than all-purpose flour and helps to produce soft, light cakes. All-purpose flour would create a denser crumb. I’d recommend using cake flour or making your own with our Homemade Cake Flour Substitute!

  14. Hi! What would be the substitute for sour cream in this recipe? I started the recipe assuming my sour cream was good but landed up being spoilt.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sara! A full fat plain yogurt would work instead, though the cupcakes may not be as light.

  15. Hello! This has become our favorite cupcake recipe, thank you. In the past, with other recipes, I’ve been able to divide the batter and add cocoa to get a variety of both vanilla and chocolate. Is that possible with this recipe? If so, how much cocoa would you recommend adding?

    Im baking 56 cupcakes for my sons 3rd birthday. While we prefer vanilla, he’s a chocolate dude all the way!

    Thanks!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Heather, cocoa powder can be a finicky ingredient because it’s so fine, yet so drying. You could use our Zebra Cake recipe instead, and rather than swirling the batters together, separate them into vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. Let us know what you try!

  16. Flavor was great. I did the alterations from the coconut cake recipe. Mine came out tall and light, but when you cut into it, it seemed a little still stiff. I described it like a memory foam mattress. Do you know why that could be? I didn’t sift the cake flour before measuring because it said earlier in the post that you didn’t sift it. Could that have been the issue?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Natalie, we’re happy to help troubleshoot. When you say stiff, were the cupcakes overly dense? If so, it could be possible that the batter was simply over mixed. These tips on how to prevent dry and dense cakes should be helpful, too. We don’t recommend sifting the flour in this recipe, so no worries there. Let us know if we can help to troubleshoot further!

      1. I’m not sure how to describe it. It had a nice dome on it and everything. It was more like a sponge cake than a soft cupcake. Is that how they are supposed to be?

      2. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Natalie! They should be soft. Perhaps your cupcakes were slightly over-baked? That would dry them out. The link Lexi shared above should be helpful for preventing dry cupcakes. You can also check out these tips for baking perfect cupcakes!

  17. Lauren Manuel says:

    So I love this recipe, the cupcakes come out so much more moist and they’re not as yellow as other vanilla cupcake recipes. I do have one question- whenever I make these I notice the outside and bottom of the cupcake liners get greasy after baking. Any idea what causes this? Any way to avoid it?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lauren, sometimes certain brands of cupcake lines are greasier than others. If you have the option to try a different brand, we’d recommend that to see if it helps!

  18. Finally! After trying about a million and one vanilla cupcake recipes, this one is my absolute favorite! Super simple to make and the cupcakes are so light, fluffy, and delicious . Can’t wait to bake a cake !

  19. I plan on making this with a mini-cupcake pan. Any idea how long I should bake for? I plan on using convection at 325 degrees. Thanks!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Stephanie, For around 30-36 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature (or slightly decreased as you mention for a convection oven).

  20. These cupcakes are wonderful! I had to make over 300 cupcakes for my brothers wedding and 100 of them were these vanilla ones. They held up great! They are sturdy but yet so light and fluffy. They are wonderful and prefect cupcakes! I also used clear vanilla which made them even whiter and even more gorgeous!

  21. Would you recommend cake and pastry flour vs cake flour substitute? I made these cupcakes and they were a weird texture. Not light at all, almost dense. I used cake and pastry flour since thats all we have in canada that I could find. It also had the smell of batter even though it was fully cooked.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Deb, Pastry flour isn’t quite as light as cake flour. You can use it as a substitute in recipes calling for cake flour, but the baked good won’t taste quite as light – best to stick with cake flour if possible. If you can’t find it where you live see the recipe notes for how to make your own cake flour substitute.

      1. Would you recommend cake and pastry flour vs cake flour substitute?

  22. I love this recipe. I cooked it last week and my cupcakes turned out great! This week, they all sunk in. The first tray felt slightly under packed, so the next tray I baked for a little longer and they still sunk. What could have gone wrong?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Laura! Thank you for trying these vanilla cupcakes! Are your baking soda and baking powder fresh? We always replace mine after 3 months because they begin to lose strength quickly after that. The cupcakes will rise then quickly sink if there is a problem with the leaveners.

  23. Have you tried doubling the recipe? Just wondering if it it works by straight doubling of each ingredient or any modifications need to be made?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Emma, when making cakes and cupcakes, it’s best to make two separate batches rather than doubling. Doubling can make it hard to incorporate the ingredients evenly and the excess of ingredients makes it more like to over mix the batter, which can lead to dense cupcakes. Hope this helps!

  24. Sally I looked to see if this question has been asked before. Can I use Buttermilk instead of Whole Milk?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

  25. Hi – I make your Favorite White Cake for all of our family birthdays and it is our favorite! I was going to cut the recipe in half to make cupcakes, but then found this cupcake recipe. Since this cupcake recipe yields a smaller amount of batter, I am curious why there is a 1/2 cup of sour cream in both the white cake recipe and the cupcake recipe. All the other ingredients amounts are cute down. Why isn’t the sour cream cut down? Thanks.

    1. Hi Joanna, this is a great question and something I went back and forth with when testing the recipe. I actually created this cupcake recipe before the white cake! The recipe isn’t *perfectly* halved from the cake, but it just about is. I kept the sour cream at this amount because it keeps the cupcake’s crumb nice and tight, while adding just enough moisture. If I doubled it for the cake, there was too much moisture. I hope this helps!

  26. Like some of the other comments, my cupcakes turned out delicious but had a more dense texture than expected. I used cake flour and did not overmix or overbake. Could it have anything to do with the age of the cake flour? I don’t use it often and it was the last of the box. I wish I knew what I can do differently next time I try the same recipe.

  27. Suzanne Bridges says:

    This is a HUGE HIT!! The icing is fluffy and light PERFECT!

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