There’s a unicorn craze happening right now. Everything colorful, rainbow, sparkly, and exploding with happiness is labeled “unicorn.” I made these soft & fluffy cupcakes last month for our friend’s birthday and I can’t help but smile when I look back at the pictures. That’s the thing about colorful, rainbow, sparkly unicorn treats– they tug at your heartstrings in just the right way. And always bring a smile to your face.
The base recipe for these homemade cupcakes should look familiar to you. We’ve visited it many times:
- Chocolate caramel coconut cupcakes
- Pistachio cupcakes with strawberry frosting
- Ombré spice cupcakes
- Mimosa cupcakes
- Peanut butter & jelly cupcakes
And, of course, where it all began: simply perfect vanilla cupcakes. The reason I love it so? These are the softest, fluffiest cupcakes to ever come out of my kitchen. They’re as soft and moist as box mix cupcakes, but have that distinct flavor you only get from homemade. If you take a look back on that post, I go into hefty detail about how that cupcake recipe came to life– and why I use certain ingredients and ratios. Cake flour, you’ll read, is a must. (If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, you can make this homemade cake flour substitute.)
Sour cream is important too and you can read why I prefer it over yogurt. There’s also creamed butter + sugar and egg whites. No joke, zero yolks. 🙂
Today’s sprinkle cupcake recipe differs from my older 2012 recipe for the same cupcake. To be honest, I love that recipe because it’s unbelievably simple. You don’t even need a mixer. They’re soft and fluffy cupcakes, for sure, but they’re not quite as cakey and light as today’s version.
So what’s the difference between the vanilla cupcakes and today’s rainbow sprinkle version? Rainbow sprinkles, for starters. But I also add a little something special. This is completely optional, but I highly recommend it if you can spot it in the baking aisle: butter extract. WOW! That extra oomph of buttery goodness paired with a little sweetness from sprinkles separates these cupcakes completely from the plain vanilla version.
I like adding vanilla bean to these cupcakes, just like how we add it in the vanilla cupcake– but that’s optional. Oh! I almost forgot… if you leave out the butter extract, no need to add anything in its place. Although a splash of almond extract would be great. I’ll add that as an option in the recipe notes below.
Here’s what I love most about these cupcakes: they’re so moist that they’re almost creamy. In a good way!
Purple Tinted Buttercream Frosting
Of course you don’t have to tint the buttercream purple, but isn’t it such a gorgeous shade? I used 2-3 drops of “violet” gel color by Americolor. I prefer using gel food coloring in buttercream frosting because the color is quite concentrated, so you need a very small amount. With liquid food coloring, you usually need a lot of it and if you begin adding too much liquid to your buttercream, it will thin out and could separate.
Other than that it’s just my basic vanilla buttercream frosting. Light, creamy, and perfect for piping. Sprinkles on top are a must.
Happy Friday! PS: I got this ↑ sprinkle plate ↑ off Etsy but it looks like no more are available!Print
These are the softest, fluffiest from scratch homemade cupcakes. They’re moist and flavorful topped with creamy vanilla buttercream!
- 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*
- 1/2 teaspoon butter 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*
- 1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles*
- 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 4 – 5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- salt, to taste
- optional: 2-3 drops purple food coloring, sprinkles
- 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.
- Make the cupcakes: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
- 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 + butter extracts, 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 overmix. 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. Fold in the sprinkles– careful! Do not overmix as this could cause them to bleed color.
- 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 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
- Make the frosting: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy – about 2 minutes. Add 4 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, the heavy cream, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes, then beat in the food coloring. Add up to 1/2 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin or another Tablespoon of cream if frosting is too thick. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
- Frost cooled cupcakes. I used the Ateco #849 closed star tip.
- Make Ahead 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. Leftover cupcakes keep well covered tightly in the refrigerator for 3 days. Frosted or unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- Special Tools: 5qt Tilt-Head Glass Measuring Bowl | Mixing Bowls | Rainbow Whisk | Cupcake Pan | Cupcake Liners | Americolor Gel | Frosting Bag | Ateco Tip #849
- Cake Flour: If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, you can make this homemade 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.
- Vanilla: For best flavor, pure vanilla extract is strongly recommended. If using imitation, increase to 1 Tablespoon (3 teaspoons). You can leave out the vanilla bean if you can’t get your hands on it.
- Butter Extract: You can find butter extract with the other extracts in the baking/spice aisle. If you can’t get your hands on it, you can simply leave it out. But the flavor is outstanding here! In its place, you can use almond extract.
- Whole Milk + Sour Cream: I strongly recommend using both 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.
- Sprinkles: Avoid using nonpareils (the little balls) as they bleed color in the batter. I used Rainbow Sprinkles and Pastel Star Quins from Sweetapolita.
- Mini Cupcakes: For around 30 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.