Vanilla Cupcakes are an absolute classic bake and something you definitely need to have a go-to recipe for. They're a fun and delicious bake that can be customised for any occassion. Their light fluffy sponges and sweet silky buttercream always go down well at parties, bake sales and family gatherings. This easy cupcake recipe will help you to bake perfect cupcakes, and will soon become a staple in your baking repertoire!
Welcome to my Baking Basics series!
In this series I will be sharing recipes for basic baked goods, think perfect scones for afternoon tea, a classic Victoria sponge cake, and ultimate gooey chocolate brownies! So basic in name, but definitely not basic in taste and enjoyment. This series is mainly for beginner bakers who want to learn the secrets behind baking, because getting the basics right is the best place to start. More experienced bakers will really enjoy it too, as there are so many delicious recipes to try out! This time it is the turn of Vanilla Cupcakes.
The full ingredient quantities are listed in the recipe card at the end of this post. Or you can click the 'Jump to recipe' button at the top of the post to take you straight to it. This post is full of helpful tips and commonly asked questions when making cupcakes, so I do recommend reading through it all first.
What equipment do you need to make cupcakes?
You only need a small amount of basic equipment to make cupcakes. I do recommend using an electric mixer, either a hand held one or a stand mixer. It doesn't have to cost you a lot of money either, you can get hand held electric mixers for under £20 ($24)! You will also need a cupcake tin to bake the cupcakes in. Do not confuse this for a bun tin, mince pie tin or a fairy cake tin. Cupcake tins are deeper and larger, and can also be called muffin tins. The cavaties will have a measurement of around 7.6cm x 2.5cm (3" x 1"). If you want to pipe the buttercream on the cupcakes you will need piping bags and some piping nozzles. See the full list below for everything I recommend for making cupcakes!
Recommended equipment & ingredients*
- Cupcake tin
- Mixing bowls
- Cooling rack
- Kitchen scales
- Electric hand mixer
- Stand mixer
- Measuring spoons
- Piping bags
- Cake tester
- Jem 1E Piping nozzle
- Wilton 2D Piping nozzle
- Vanilla extract
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For the full recipe with measurements, head to the recipe card at the end of this post.
How to make Vanilla Cupcakes
These simple Vanilla Cupcakes only require seven basic ingredients. If you bake regularly, you probably already have everything you need in the cupboard and fridge already. If not, all of these ingredients are easy to obtain from even a smaller supermarket or grocery store.
- Butter or baking spread - I like to use a baking spread (also know as margarine, my preferred brand is Stork) for the cupcake sponge, and a block butter for the buttercream. The butter must be softened, which means at room temperature. Whereas most baking spreads can be used straight from the fridge. You can use either salted or unsalted butter. There is such a small amount of salt in salted butter, that it won't make your cupcakes taste salty.
- Caster sugar - also known as super fine sugar, you can also use granulated sugar if you don't have caster sugar, or even golden caster sugar
- Self raising flour - this is flour with added baking powder, if you want to make the cake with plain or all purpose flour, check the recipe notes
- Eggs - large UK eggs are used in this recipe, and they should be room temperature before baking with them
- Vanilla extract - this adds the essential vanilla flavour. Make sure to use an extract and not an essence. Extract is real vanilla, whereas essence is synthetic
- Icing sugar - (not pictured) this is for making the buttercream, it also known as confectioner's sugar. I recommend using Tate & Lyle as it doesn't create that troublesome icing sugar cloud when you mix it!
- Milk - a little milk is required to loosen the buttercream. You can use any kind of milk, including plant based milks
Start by mixing the baking spread and caster sugar together in a mixing bowl for 5 minutes using an electric mixer. Or mix in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Then add the eggs and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated.
Gently fold in, or whisk by hand, the self raising flour. Then divide the mixture between the cupcake cases. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until risen, lightly golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Leave the cupcakes to cool fully on a cooling rack. To make the buttercream, mix the softened butter for a few minutes on it's own. This is best done in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or you can use an electric hand mixer. Then add the icing sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Mix until fully combined and you have a smooth buttercream. Spread or pipe it onto the cooled cupcakes.
How long do the Vanilla Cupcakes last and can they be frozen?
The cupcakes will last for 2-3 days in an airtight container in a cool place. You can freeze both the cupcakes and the buttercream. To freeze them separately, wrap the cupcakes well in cling film or put them in an airtight container. The buttercream can be frozen in a sealed tub. To freeze them decorated, freeze the cupcakes on a plate until frozen solid, then carefully wrap in cling film. Remove the clingfilm when you take the cupcakes out of the freezer to defrost, as if they defrost with it still on it could damage the buttercream.
Do you have to beat the butter and sugar together for the full 5 minutes?
You don't have to, but I do recommend doing this to achieve the same results as me. I like a very slight bump or dome on my cupcakes, and for them to rise all the way to the top of the cupcake cases. I've tested this recipe multiple times and found that beating the butter and sugar together for 5 minutes achieves what I consider to be the perfect rise!
How do you make cupcakes with a flat top?
Whilst these cupcakes are mostly flat, they do have a very slight bump/dome. For a completely flat topped cupcake use my Victoria Sponge Cupcakes recipe.
Is butter or a baking spread better for cupcakes?
I prefer to use a baking spread (my preferred brand is Stork) for cupcake and cake sponges. I find that they are easier to use and they make the sponge rise more. You can also use most baking spread straight from the fridge, which is handy during a last minute baking emergency!
Should you use salted or unsalted butter for cupcakes?
I always use unsalted butter and baking spread for baking. This is because if you want to add salt to your recipe, you then have complete control of the salt level. Lots of people add salt to enhance the flavour of baked goods, so when you do this you want to know exactly how much you're adding. I personally prefer not to add salt to cakes and cupcakes. However, using a salted butter or baking spread will not affect the bake negatively and won't make it taste salty.
How do you make the cupcakes all the same size?
The simplest way is to use an ice cream or cookie scoop. You want to use the ones where you squeeze the handle and it releases the batter from the scoop. Or if you want to be extra precise, you can weigh the batter, then divide it by 12 to get the amount for each cupcake. Place the bowl onto your scales and zero them off. Scoop out one cupcakes worth of batter and place into the paper case, zero your scales off again and repeat the process until all of the batter is used up.
What size are these cupcakes?
This recipe is for standard cupcakes, also known as American cupcakes. They are around 2" tall (not including the buttercream), and 3" wide at the top.
What are the best cupcake cases to use?
Good quality cupcake cases that are made from high strength and greaseproof paper will improve the overall appearance of your cupcakes. They will also help to prevent the cases from peeling. My favourite brand is Culpitt, which you can get via Amazon and also several online cake decorating retailers.
Can this recipe be made into a cake?
Yes, for a two layer 8" cake I recommend doubling the recipe. You should also use cake tins that are at least 2" deep.
Can this recipe be made in a smaller batch?
Yes, you can either make 4, 8 or 12 Vanilla Cupcakes with this recipe. Divide the ingredient amounts by three to get the amounts for 4 cupcakes. For 8 cupcakes, multiple the 4 cupcake amount by two.
Do you need an electric mixer to make this recipe?
While you can absolutely make this recipe with a wooden spoon and some elbow grease, I do recommend using an electric mixer for the best results. The cupcakes will be lighter and fluffier when made with an electric mixer. The buttercream will also be smoother. You don't have to use an expensive stand mixer either, you can get electric hand whisks for as little as £10!
Can these cupcakes be made with plain or all purpose flour?
Self raising flour, which is very commonly used in the UK where I am based, already contains a raising agent and a little salt too. Therefore if you want to swap it for plain or all purpose flour, you will need to add some baking powder and also a little salt if you like. Some people like to add salt to cake recipes and some don't, so I'll leave that up to you as it won't affect the bake. The general advice is to add 2 teaspoons baking powder (a measuring teaspoon, not the kind you stir your coffee with) per every 200g plain or all purpose flour. So for this recipe you'd need to add 1 + ¾ teaspoons baking powder. Please note, I have not tested this recipe using plain or all purpose flour.
Can these cupcakes be made gluten free?
Yes! For gluten free you can replace the self raising flour with a gluten free self raising flour blend. If you only have a gluten free plain flour blend, you will need to add baking powder. The general advice is to add 2 tsp baking powder per 200g flour, so for this recipe you'd need to add 1 + ¾ teaspoons baking powder. You may also like to add ¼ tsp Xanthan Gum for better texture. Please do check the labels for everything you use to make the cupcakes if you are serving it to someone with an allergy or intolerance.
Can these cupcakes be made dairy free?
For a dairy free version, use a dairy free baking spread and dairy free milk for the cupcakes and the buttercream. For the buttercream I recommend using a block butter alternative, such as Flora Plant or the Stork Baking Block, for best results. Please do check the labels for everything you use to make the cupcakes if you are serving it to someone with an allergy or intolerance.
What can you decorate the Vanilla Cupcakes with?
The list really is endless, but here are some ideas:
- Fresh fruit
- Dried fruit
- Freeze dried fruit
- Edible flowers
- Drizzle with caramel sauce
- Drizzle with Nutella, Biscoff etc.
- Chocolate chips
- Edible glitter
- Fondant shapes or figures
- Sweets or chocolates
- Spun sugar
More tips for making the Vanilla Cupcakes:
- I used a Wilton 2D piping nozzle for these cupcakes.
- You can spread the buttercream onto the cupcakes with a spoon if you don’t want to pipe it.
The batter is lumpy
This is most commonly caused by the ingredients not being at room temperature before they were mixed together. Butter and eggs in particular need to be at room temperature to combine into a smooth batter. It could also be caused by lumpy flour, if your flour is lumpy, sieve it before adding it to the batter.
The cupcakes did not rise
Here is a list of possible causes:
- Your self raising flour (or baking powder if you're using plain/all purpose flour) is out of date and has lost it's power
- Under beating the butter and sugar, beating butter and sugar together adds air pockets to the batter that helps it to rise. Not beating them for long enough will reduce the batters rising potential
- Over beating the batter once the flour is added, this overworks the gluten and makes the cupcakes tougher and denser, and they don't rise as well
- Incorrectly measuring ingredients. Baking is an exact science, so changing any ingredient amounts will affect the final result
The cupcakes sank
There are a few reasons this can happen:
- The cupcakes may be underbaked when they were removed from the oven. Make sure they are baked by inserting a thin skewer into the centre, or a cocktail stick, it will come out clean if they're baked
- Your self raising flour (or baking powder if you're using plain/all purpose flour) is out of date and has lost it's power
- The amount of sugar in the recipe was reduced. Sugar contributes a lot more to cake than just sweetess, it's necessary for moisture, rising and a tender crumb too
- The incorrect sized eggs were used. Smaller eggs do not usually cause a problem, you can make up any lost moisture with a little milk, but too much egg can cause cupcakes to sink
- Over beating the cupcake batter
The cupcakes rose too much
This is most likely caused by your oven being too hot. Did you know that the temperature of many home ovens can be as much as 50 degrees off the displayed temperature? To find out the real temperature of your oven, you can purchase an oven thermometer* for around £7 ($8.50). If it's not your oven causing the issue, then adding too much raising agent could also be the cause.
The cupcake cases peeled off
The main cause of this is poor quality cupcake cases. Make sure to choose cases made of high quality greaseproof paper. Cupcakes should also not be left to cool in the cupcake tin, as this causes moisture to build up around the cupcake and can make the cases peel off. Always remove them from the cupcake tin, and leave them to cool on a cooling rack.
The cupcakes are dry
The most common cause of dry cupcakes is over baking them. But over beating the batter and incorrectly measuring the ingredients can also cause this.
If you have any questions about this recipe, or if something went wrong and you need help, please use the comment form below and I will get back to you. You can also get in touch with me on my Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. I'd love to hear from you!
More baking basic recipes...
For the cupcakes
- 175 g Baking spread (or butter) softened, unsalted
- 175 g Caster sugar
- 3 Eggs large
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
- 175 g Self raising flour
For the buttercream
- 175 g Butter softened, unsalted
- 350 g Icing sugar
- 2 tsp Vanilla extract
- 1-2 tbsp Milk
- Pre-heat your oven to 140C Fan/160C/325F/Gas Mark 3, and line a cupcake tin with cupcake cases
- For the cupcake sponge, mix together the butter and caster sugar, ideally using an electric mixer, for 5 minutes until smooth and fluffy
- Add the eggs and vanilla extract and whisk them in well
- Then gently whisk, or fold in, the self raising flour
- Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases, and bake them for 25-30 minutes or until a thin skewer inserted in the centre of the cupcakes comes out clean. Put them on a rack to cool completely
- For the buttercream, mix the softened butter on it's own for a few minutes. Then add the icing sugar, vanilla and milk, and mix until smooth. You can do this by hand, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer with paddle attachment will provide the best results. If the buttercream is too stiff, you can add a little more milk
- Spread or pipe the buttercream on top of the cupcakes. Decorate however you wish
- Store in an airtight container in a cool place and eat within 3 days
- Make sure all your ingredients (particularly the butter and eggs) are at room temperature before you start baking.
- I used a baking spread for the cupcakes and unsalted butter for the buttercream.
- I recommend using a good quality vanilla extract, and not an essence. Extract is real vanilla, whereas essence is synthetic.
- If you want to use plain or all purpose flour, the general advice is to add 2 teaspoons baking powder (a measuring teaspoon, not the kind you stir your coffee with) per every 200g plain or all purpose flour. So for this recipe you'd need to add 1 + ¾ teaspoons baking powder. Please note, I have not tested this recipe using plain or all purpose flour.
- Although I provide cup measurements, I highly recommend weighing your ingredients out using digital kitchen scales*. It is the most accurate way to measure ingredients and will ensure the best results. Digital scales are very low cost and can be purchased for around £12 ($16.50) .
- For teaspoon (tsp) and tablespoon (tbsp) measurements, please use measuring spoons* and not the type of spoons you eat with. Again this will ensure accuracy and provide the best results.