Good vanilla cupcakes should be able to come together in 30 minutes or less, whenever the mood strikes. A one-bowl-batter is good, though one bowl for the batter *and* frosting is best.
They have to dome well, too—an outcome that rests not just on ample leavening, but cups filled daringly high, and trust in the oven (no peeking!). Domed cupcakes look especially pretty when frosted. The crumb should be denser than a sponge (to support frosting), but lighter than a pound cake (to make way for frosting).
For the first drafts of this recipe, I employed the reverse-creaming method. It’s exactly what it sounds like—you build the batter backwards, coating flour with fat first, before introducing the liquid, which increases tenderness. But batch after batch, the cupcakes emerged mottled and flat. While reverse-creaming might work well for cake layers, I reversed the reverse, and the cupcakes were all the happier for it.
While this comes together quickest in a stand mixer, you can also make these cupcakes with a hand mixer, or even, by hand—it’ll just take a bit longer. Before swiping with a buttercream or vinegar-spiked cream cheese icing (as I did), let your canvases cool thoroughly. A slightly warm cupcake will melt your beautiful piping—hardly a problem—just call it a baker’s snack, and gobble it while watching, waiting for the remaining to cool.
stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
(200 grams) sugar
vanilla bean paste or extract
1 1/2 cups
plus 1 tablespoon (188 grams) all-purpose flour
Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a standard 12-muffin pan.
Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, on medium-high speed until lightened and ultra-fluffy, about 7 minutes. Stop and scrape down the bowl as necessary—there should be no visible crystals of sugar left in the butter. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, and stir with a fork.
Reduce the speed to low, and add in the eggs one at a time, again scraping down the sides of the bowl. (If the mixture looks curdled, it means the butter and eggs have separated—bring them back together by heating the stand mixer bowl with a torch, or with a warm, damp towel.) Increase the speed to medium, and whip until batter is webby and thickened, another 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and alternate adding the milk and dry ingredients until there are no traces left of either.
Fill each lined muffin cup 3/4 of the way full, using a size 16 disher or 1/4 measuring cup. Bake for 5 minutes, then drop the heat to 350°F, and bake another 22 to 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes bounce back when pressed lightly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga.
When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.