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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 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 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. Looks great!. Can the sugar be reduced or substituted for monkfruit sweetner or Swerve without affecting the end product?

    1. Hi Vivian, We’d love to help but we are not trained in baking with sugar substitutes. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe since it may not work properly), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for sugar substitutes. Thank you!

    1. Hi Pat! We don’t whip the egg whites separately for this particular recipe. Hope you love them!

  2. Hello! I was wondering if I frosted the cupcakes, and plan to serve them the day after, should I refrigerate? Or could I just leave them covered? Looks like a promising recipe!

    1. Hi Maih, we would recommend keeping the frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator. We hope you love them!

  3. Hi Sally!

    These cupcakes look stunning! I can’t make to make them soon!

    I was wondering, would it work to use a liquid egg product in place of the egg whites? I already had some on hand and thought that might be more efficient in my case.

    Thanks!
    Kate

    1. Hi Kate! You can use carton egg whites (make sure it’s egg whites, not full egg product) in this recipe if needed.

  4. Hi Sally,
    I wanted to know if I can use ground Vanilla Bean instead of scraping the seed of 1/2 a vanilla bean?
    If so how much would you recommend I use for this recipe?

    1. Hi Jessica, we’ve never used ground vanilla bean before but don’t see why it wouldn’t work! We’re unsure of the amount needed. Let us know if you give it a try!

  5. I made these yesterday and they turned out perfectly. I’ve had trouble with vanilla cupcakes sinking in the middle when they cool. These cupcakes were beautiful and tasted wonderful. Oh, they smelled wonderful too. Thank you for your recipe.

  6. Hello. I plan on duplicating this recipe 4 times. Any recommendations? I also plan to use egg whites from a carton, is that an issue?

    1. Hi Olinda! We recommend making separate batches for absolute best results. You can use carton egg whites!

  7. I loved this recipe so much indeed! I am no pro in baking nor cooking but I feel so confident from now on with Sally’s baking recipes. I made the cupcakes following this recipe for the first time getting ready for a baby shower and they came out perfect!! I was so amazed! Thank you, Sally!!

  8. Hi Sally! How does your cake and icing come out so white ?
    Even when using “clear” vanilla mine isn’t nearly as white as yours!
    What kind of butter do you use?
    Thanks so much! Susan

    1. Hi Susan, We don’t have a favorite brand of butter and they can all be different. But if you’d like a stark white buttercream, mix in a very tiny (super small!) drop of purple food coloring into the frosting. This will “clear” out any of that yellow and leave you with bright white. Hope this helps!

  9. Can I double or increase this recipe by 1.5 without having to do separate batches? Thanks!

    1. Hi PB, a 1.5x batch should be OK, but we do recommend separate batches for more than that.

  10. Ive made these before and absolutely love them. Im planning on making them again for my son’s birthday. Would it be ok to make these two days before (cupcakes and frosting separately) and then assemble them later? Any tips? I see the recipe says you can make them a day ahead. Thanks

    1. Hi Savi, That should be fine. We would recommend keeping them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble.

  11. Just made them on a Sunday, want to serve on Thursday. Should I refrigerate or freeze?

    1. Hi Lisa, we would freeze the cupcakes! Storing int he refrigerator will dry them out. Bake and cool cupcakes completely, then place in a freezer-friendly bag or container. Once they are relatively frozen, you can remove them and then layer them between sheets of parchment paper if your container is large enough. You can individually wrap them too, if desired. We usually don’t.

  12. Hi! The recipe says that it makes 14, but I need to make 20. Any idea how to alter the ingredient amounts?

    1. Hi Courtney, You could make 1.5x the recipe. Hope you enjoy them!

  13. Hi, Do you think subbing the milk for guava nectar to add color and flavor would mess with how the texture/bake?

    1. Hi Kelsey, we haven’t tried that substitute ourselves so we’re unsure of the exact results, but we imagine the taste and texture would be different. Let us know if you give it a try.

  14. I made a HUGE mistake… and they are still good ! I used twice the amount of butter…don’t ask. I didn’t realize it until I baked some… and I doubled the recipe… planned for 30 standard cupcakes. But…good grief… I have 42 standard and 12 mini. I was terrified, but tasted one. Heavy, but great taste! I used my homemade vanilla, and am going to use a LOT of frosting and colored sugar ; ) The 2 – 5 year olds usually lick off the frosting and leave the cupcake, so we should be fine. And… I used some powdered strawberries and blueberries ( freeze dried ) to color the batter pink and purple.

  15. I absolutely loved this recipe! And they tasted amazing!
    However my cupcakes stuck to their cases a bit too much – any tips to avoid this or know why this has happened?

  16. Hello!! If I bake these on a Thursday , icing them Friday for a Saturday party, would that be ok?

    1. Hi Natalie, the frosted cupcakes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days, so that will work. See recipe notes for other make ahead options. Enjoy!

  17. I couldn’t find how many cups of batter this makes. I want to make a single 9-inch round layer cake (I’m going to cut in half and stack it for a half birthday). Would this recipe be the right amount? The other white/vanilla cake recipes are for 2 or 3 9-inch layers.

  18. Wow this will be the go to vanilla cupcake recipe. It’s so soft and flavoursome- you know this when you can eat it without frosting and it still tastes good!
    Thank you for this amazing recipe!

    1. I have been baking for years.. I have never had a cupcake have a dome like this.. ever. its beautiful. they are light , fluffy and oh so vanilla-y. these do NOT dissappoint!!

  19. Can this recipe easily be doubled? I need to make about two dozen. thank you!

    1. Hi Alexandra! We recommend making separate batches instead of multiplying for absolute best results.

    1. Hi Sammi, we recommend using 1 and 1/2 teaspoons almond extract and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. You can leave out the vanilla beans. Enjoy!

  20. Hello! I am looking to make this cupcake recipe this weekend and wanted to know if Buttermilk could be used in place of whole milk? I’ve got some left over from another recipe and I was hoping to use it up.

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

    1. Hi Sara, you can use salted butter and leave out the added salt. Unsalted butter really is best for baking because you know exactly how much salt you’re adding – more on the difference between salted and unsalted butter here!

  21. I need to make 24 cupcakes and also a 3-layer vanilla cake (6 inch) for an event this weekend.
    I am looking at the cupcake recipe as well as the Best Ever Vanilla Cake trying to decide if I should do the vanilla cake recipe for everything or use the separate recipes? The biggest difference I see is the cake uses buttermilk and the cupcake is using sour cream. Do you have a suggestion as to which I should do?

    1. Hi Theresa! Either option would work well here. You can either make the Best Ever Vanilla Cake, measure out your 24 cupcakes and use the remaining batter for your 3, 6 inch layers. Or, you can make three separate batches of these cupcakes (we don’t recommend tripling the batch for fear of over or under mixing) — two batches for your cupcakes, and one batch for your 3 layer, 6 inch cake. The final taste of both recipes is very similar. Hope they’re a hit at your event!

  22. I made them and I substituted the eggs since there is an egg allergy. I also made the regular one. They both were perfect

  23. Made these cupcakes before and they’re fabulous. They’re my go to cupcakes! Just wondering why the tops are extremely sticky? I cooled then completely on a wire rack. An ideas?

    1. Hi Barb, are the cupcakes coming out with sticky tops every time you make them, or just the last time you did? If it’s the latter, it could be humidity/weather that is affecting them.

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

  24. 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.

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