Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes and Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes
I’ve spent ages trying to find the right recipe to make delicious vanilla cupcakes – light and moist with nicely risen domed tops – no volcano effects here.  Something like this should be simple to do and it is – as long as you use the right recipe.

This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon!  It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!
Vanilla Cupcakes
Ingredients:100g butter, softened 225g caster sugar
100ml milk
210g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
3 eggs
2tsp vanilla extract or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste.

Preheat the oven to 160c Fan/180c/Gas mark 4.

Cream together the butter and sugar.

Add in the vanilla, eggs, milk, flour and baking powder and mix till fully combined.

See it was easy, once you have the magic recipe!  Now you have some choices – what kind of cupcake look you’re after.  I have two different types of tins.  One is silicone which holds the cupcake case tight for a straighter cupcake and the other is a large metal tray which gives a more open cupcake.  You will see in the pictures what  I mean:-

Add the paper cases to your tray  and spoon the mixture into the cake cases 2/3rds full.

I like to use a metal sprung ice cream scoop which gets the mixture into the cases really neatly.  It also makes it far easier to get equal amounts into each.

I have added some links to the equipment I use to the bottom of the page in case you’re looking to invest in any of them!

Into the oven they go, middle shelf for 18 – 20minutes until the tops are golden brown and the cakes are risen.

So now comes the troubleshooting bit,  if your cakes have the volcano effect and have erupted on the top it is an indication that the oven is too hot.  Oven thermostats are notorious for being incorrect.  I use a removable thermostat which I use to preheat the oven (that’s nothing to do with the fact that during a vicious cleaning blitz I ‘cleaned’ the temperature numbers off the dial!)  If you invest in one thing, this would be what I recommend.  Test your oven – you’ll probably be surprised.

Remove from the trays and allow to cool thoroughly on a wire cooling rack.

Meringue Buttercream

This is to die for!  Seriously you need to taste it to believe it!  It’s a bit of a faff and you do need a sugar thermometer – but so so worth it!

Makes: Enough to pipe swirls onto 24 large cupcakes.

5 large egg whites
50g caster sugar
250g caster sugar
100ml water
500g butter, softened

You will also need a sugar thermometer and electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer which makes life a lot easier but if you don’t have one an electric mixer will work fine.

In a large clean bowl place the egg whites, using the electric mixer whip the egg whites.  When they reach the soft peak stage ie. foamy but won’t hold their own shape add in the 50g sugar a spoonful at a time.  Continue whipping until they reach the firm peak stage – they will hold the peaks when you take out the mixer.  Leave to one side.

In a pan place the 250g caster sugar and 100ml water.  Heat over a low heat swilling the pan around gently to encourage the sugar to melt to a syrup.  When the sugar has melted and the syrup has turned clear turn the heat up to medium.  Boil the sugar syrup to 121c, this will take about ten minutes.

I used to use a digital thermometer but as I have now ruined two of the blighters by dropping them in to whatever it is I am heating up I have now switched to one of these.

When the syrup reaches temperature remove from the heat.  Turn the mixer back on, at a slow slow speed, in the whipped egg whites and pour the sugar syrup in gently in a steady stream.  Please be very careful it is very very hot!

When the sugar syrup is fully combined keep the mixer running whilst the meringue mixture cools.  This will be about 8 minutes.

When the bowl is cool to the touch you can start adding the butter.

I pinch off small pieces and throw them into the meringue.  You need to do this slowly, a bit at a time.  As you get about half way through adding the butter the mixture will have lost volume and will be slightly liquidy but don’t worry, keep adding the butter, still with the mixer running.  When all the butter is added whip until the buttercream looks like whipped double cream.

At this stage you can add flavouring if you wish – 2 tsp vanilla extract, 2tsp lemon oil, whatever takes your fancy but it is just as good plain!

Spread on the top of your cupcakes with a knife, or pipe swirls if you so wish!  A how to pipe frosting onto cupcakes is here.

This buttercream doesn’t keep well and certainly doesn’t like it in the fridge so use it straight away.  The theory behind the sugar syrup is that it cooks the egg white sufficiently for it to be safe and any harmful bacteria killed off.  That said, it’s really not worth the risk of giving it to the very elderly or pregnant women.

Equipment Links:

Sugar Thermometer – John Lewis
Oven Thermometer – John Lewis
Tala Cupcake Piping Set – John Lewis
Silicone Cupcake Tray – Sainsburys

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes and Meringue Buttercream

Ruth Clemens, Baker Extraordinaire

Finalist on BBC2 The Great British Bake Off

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75 Responses to Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes and Meringue Buttercream Frosting

  1. Nic's Notebook says:

    Mmmm sound great – am just printing off the recipe 🙂 Thanks xx

  2. Kim says:

    They look amazing! I think I'm going to need a bigger kitchen for all the baking bits I keep buying. And larger clothes…

  3. wendy sawings says:

    Your photos are brilliant.Please can you make a cook book as soon as possible!

  4. clare says:

    Sounds gorgeous! Got any ideas for halloween? X

  5. Hayley says:

    They look really nice. Can you halve the topping amounts, so it makes enough for 12 cakes?

  6. Audrey Watson says:

    The icing sounds delicious. I've never (knowingly) tasted that sort of icing. If i were making these i shouldn't ice them the day before then?

  7. Anonymous says:

    As a very new amateur baker I am absolutely loving your site. All the simple step by step recipes and places to buy the equipment is fab. Have only perfected a victoria sponge recipe so far and have not been brave enough to try anything else since but am definitely going to go for it and try something new and can't wait xx

  8. Mel says:

    They look wonderful! How much milk do you need in the cake mixture?

  9. Mel says:

    Sorry! For some reason I couldn't see the volume of milk when I first viewed the site. Mel.

  10. Dawn says:

    These look gorgeous and I am seriously tempted to buy a stand mixer (if hubby will let me) just so I can make the icing. if you knew how much of a klutz I was you would understand why a hand mixer and boiling sugar syrup and me would end in disaster!

  11. Lisa says:

    They look amazing! What size eggs do you use for the Vanilla cupcake

  12. Anonymous says:

    These cakes look scrummy but i havent got a thermometer for the syrup… have to wait on this for a little while yet… but you made me laugh about washing the numbers away on your oven/cooker… I have done the same thing on our oven… makes for some interesting guess work…lol

  13. Caz says:

    The meringue frosting looks so good!

  14. Judi says:

    When you say the buttercream doesn't keep well, how long say, on top of the cupcake, will it stay good for?

  15. Sarah says:

    GUTTED! These sound amazing but I am pregnant! Will be saving this one for next year! Loving the blog, keep up the good work!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Once the butter and sugar have been creamed, have I got it right that you just bung everything else in then, like eggs etc. Is there no beating in eggs one at a time and folding in flour?
    Shall wait to hear before I try these out but they do look fantastic with that fab topping. Shall def be trying that out once I get thermometer.

  17. Laura - Garden Kitchen says:

    They look lovely – the icing sounds fab!

  18. Ruth says:

    Just a quick update…if you're buying eggs then always buy large. I use my own chickens eggs which vary greatly in size so try an balance them 1 small one to each extra large one!

    The meringue buttercream – I say it doesn't keep well because you can't put it in the fridge, the butter turns it rock hard. So if you keep butter at room temperature it can soon turn sour. If you top your cupcakes with it keep them in an airtight container and they will be 'good' for a couple of days. It's not really possible to reduce the quantity when making this topping. I use what I need and then seal the rest in an airtight clip it type container and then use the rest the next day with whatever I'm making. You can use it to sandwich together a victoria sponge etc anyway in which you would use regular buttercream.

    For the vanilla cupcakes, yes this is one recipe where I just cream the butter and sugar and then chuck everything else in for a good mix up – it works so you don't need to do it all in stages! That's part of the benefit of using plain flour and baking powder.

  19. UkeleleMamma says:

    Saw this last night and tried it this morning – fabulous! Great results, big thumbs up all round. Thank you for sharing xx

  20. Marianne says:

    Ruth – we loved the program and will try this next time I make cupcakes. Does anyone know what causes cakes separating from the cases? Is it using butter or are the paper cases at fault?
    I see the sugar thermometers have sold out!

  21. Amanda says:

    They look lovely I just need to be brave to try and make the sugar syrup based frosting but failing that I'll definitely be trying the cupcake recipe. Thank you

  22. Lisa says:

    Having been diagnosed with Diabetes (type 2) i am having to control my diet. Can I substitute the sugar with canderel (or similar)? Doyou have any recipes for diabetics?

  23. Ruth says:

    Marianne – its the cupcake cases that are at fault not the recipe – try different cases. I have certain brands that I stick to.

    Lisa – sugar can be substituted just fine. At the moment I don't have any recipes specifically for diabetics sorry x

  24. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for reply Ruth and also while I'm here, a big thank you for giving Fan oven temperatures. Very few people do.
    Best wishes,

  25. Anonymous says:

    whenever I make cupcakes the cases are always greasy.Any idea why? I use a good quality butter as marg just doesn't taste as good.

    Love the blog by the way.

  26. Ruth says:

    If the tins you are using are greasefree when you start then its the cases that are at fault. Unfortunately there are a lot of poor cupcake cases on the market which will go see through when baked and worse still separate away from the edge of the cakes. Shop around, find one that works for you and then stick with it! x

  27. Anonymous says:

    I tried this and foolishly tried to halve the frosting – result? DISASTER!! However hard I whisked it never got beyond a soft runny consistency which didn't set even when ladled on the top of the cakes. I may be brave again and try with the full amount – its just such a shame it cant be done with less

  28. DAVID BISHOP says:

    Ruth, my wife and I were utterly addicted to TGBB. I love baking but have struggled by for years without an electric mixer. My aching arms tell me there must be an easier way. Do you have a favourite electric mixer?

  29. Ruth says:

    David, my favourite electric hand mixer is a dualit one but they are quite pricey. I have some links to John Lewis for stand mixers and food processors in the left hand column on the blog but will have a look at adding some hand mixers.

  30. Catalina McCall says:

    Hi Ruth,

    Just tried the cupcakes today and all my guests LOVED them!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe with us!!
    God bless.
    Catalina xx

  31. Cat :D says:

    Those look amazing! I can't wait to try this recipe. The icing looks great, I'm so bored with normal buttercream icing. I love baking cakes but the icing always bores me so this is a great recipe for me! I love this blog!! :)#

  32. Anonymous says:

    I loved watching you on the show, and I just had to comment on your Italian Meringue Buttercream procedure. In pastry school, I learned to add Kayro Syrup ( I guess you would use Golden Syrup) when the sugar/water slurry boils and is transparent. The syrup makes the bubbles become small, tight and uniform in size and champagne-colored when they reach soft ball stage.

    When the temp reaches 238F (soft ball stage), dip a spoon into the boiling sugar mix and then into a glass of ice water. If the result is a soft but pliable ball when you roll it between your fingers, your mixture is ready to add to the whipped egg whites.

    To anonymous: Here's my scalable recipe (Yes, you can halve it to a 3 egg white amount or double it to a 12 egg amount):

    6 large egg whites

    1 lb sugar
    4 oz water
    1 Tablespoon Kayro (Golden Syrup)

    20 oz unsalted butter

    When you drizzle the hot sugar mix into the whites, it can take as long as 15 minutes for the meringue to thicken and cool enough to add the butter.

    The law here in Washington DC requires buttercream items to be refrigerated after 4 hours. That's due to the butter, not the egg whites. The eggs have been cooked within an inch of their lives, so they are no more dangerous than eggs baked in a cake, according to our laws and nutritionists. You do have to let refrigerated buttercream items come u to room temp naturally. Otherwise, it might separate and slide off.

    Yes, you can whip leftover buttercream that's been chilled, in order to make it usable again.

    Hope these tips help.

    Ruth, please post all of the recipes you used on the show if you're not writing a cookbook.

    Washington DC

  33. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear, Ruth, what have you got me into. My sugar thermometer is on it's way, along with a lot of other things I couldn't resist buying! I'm looking forward to making this!

  34. Victoria says:

    I made them both today and they look amazing. The cakes taste gorgeous.
    The icing is very light, a lovely texture, piped easily, but tastes to me just like slightly sweet butter. I followed the steps and amounts but I'm wondering if I went wrong somehow. I've no idea what the flavour is meant to be like but I was expecting to be more meringue-ie.

  35. Ruth says:

    Victoria – I would describe the taste as a cross between meringue and sweetened butter but a lot of that is personal taste. If you want full on meringueness use the whipped egg whites with the sugar syrup added but don't add any butter xx

  36. Anonymous says:

    Ruth, I am dying to try these cupcakes and frosting but I don't have a sugar thermomether, is there any way around it? I would love to make them for Saturday but I won't be able to get the thermometer on time. Any advice/suggestion? If it is not possible I'll just wait till I get one.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous said…
    Ruth, I am dying to try these cupcakes and frosting but I don't have a sugar thermomether, is there any way around it? I would love to make them for Saturday but I won't be able to get the thermometer on time. Any advice/suggestion? If it is not possible I'll just wait till I get one.

  38. Ruth says:

    There's some info on boiling sugar syrups without a thermometer here – let us know how you get on x

  39. moggie says:

    I'm not quite at the stage for the meringue yet – I only started piping icing a couple of days ago but the cake mixture is perfect – makes slightly too much but way better than my last one which never had enough for the whole batch.

    I live in a student house and I've been trying out cupcake recipes on them all week (I'm sure it's been really tough for them :P) and they've all agreed this is the best! Do you think it would be adaptable to make chocolate cupcakes though – perhaps subtracting some flour for cocoa powder? Would love your advice!

  40. Ruth says:

    Moggie – lucky housemates! I use a completely different recipe for choc cupcakes but have not had time to blog it yet, this recipe may well work substituting some of the flour for cocoa powder I would suggest 40g cocoa powder x let us know how you get on x

  41. Di says:

    Hey, what a yummy receipe. My mum and I made these yesterday. Found that the mixture made 24 tho not 12. The Italian Meringue Butter Cream how delich was that!!! also made double……Maybe we did something wrong!!!!! but it really doesnt matter the more it makes the better as far as I'm concerned

  42. SamanthaLea says:

    I am trying to work on my decoration techniques (the recipes have been fantastic thank you) and I have bought myself a coupler, reusable piping bag and a few extra tips but unfortunately when I try to pipe with this bag, the icing backs up and just leakes grease through the bag.
    Do you recommend switching to plastic throw away bags or am I doing something wrong?

  43. Ruth says:

    SamanthaLea – I found the same thing with reusable bags, that and they were a swine to clean – Although not as economical the disposable bags I have found so much easier to use xx

  44. Harriet says:

    Hello Ruth,
    after reading about your tip to use disposable rather than reusable icing bags, could you tell me where you purchase your bags and icing nozzles from. Thank you very much. X

  45. Ruth says:

    Harriet – I buy the get a grip disposable bags from Lakeland and for tips I have a set of the tala large icing nozzles also available in Lakeland x

  46. Jacquie says:

    Hi Ruth,
    I am attempting the icing for my daughters 14th birthday cupcakes.
    Can you add food colouring? Paste or liquid. I would like to attempt to make the icing pink.

    Kind regards

  47. Ruth says:

    Jacqui – I would use the gel paste as you can use a tiny amount for a good colour and it doesn't affect the consistency of the icing x

  48. Clare says:

    Ruth, I used to dislike cupcakes because the cake itself was always too oily (or even waxy). But since I tried this recipe I am converted! The sponge is so soft and milky and dry (in a good way, as in not oily).

    I haven't tried the icing yet but if it's half as good as the cakes then I can't wait to give it a go.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Ruth – I have tried your cupcake recipes is the amount of sugar correct? I have found the cupcakes incredibly sweet. Could I reduce the sugar and if so by how much ?

  50. Ruth says:

    The sugar measurement is correct as this is my 'perfect vanilla cupcakes' you can drop down the sugar to 125g if they are too sweet for you!

  51. Anonymous says:

    I've just made the icing and it actually worked, amazing! (I've never made anything involving whipped egg whites successfully) It wasn't very sweet, so maybe I did do something wrong? I also didn't add all the butter.
    I will definitely make this again as it is so much lighter and nicer than normal buttercream:)

  52. Zoe says:

    Can you tell me what size cake cases to use please. I have used fairy cake cases and have made 18 cakes. Should I have used muffin cases?

  53. Ruth says:

    Hi Zoe – purely down to preference but I use the larger style cupcake cases sometimes called muffin cases in the supermarket xx

  54. Luke says:

    Just tried this recipe for the first time and they taste yummy. So great and easy to do with the kids to. My oven is rubbish an unreliable so nice to find a recipe that works. Thanks.

  55. Michelle says:

    I made these cupcakes yesterday (with pink icing & not the meringue top)and they came out so wonderfully ;o)
    I needed a new recipe and this one is so much easier and small kitchen friendly!
    Thank you for this one ;o)


  56. Bette says:

    Hi! Ruth I Have A Slight Problem With My cup Cakes. Made Them For The First Time & They Look So Yummy But They Were Slightly Dry Could You Suggest What I Might Be Doing Wrong.When Picking Up eggs From The Supermarket I Couldn't Remember The Size For The Recipe & Bought Medium Is This Where I Have Gone Wrong Should It Have Been Large ?

  57. Ruth says:

    Hi Bette – Yes it could be the eggs, I always use large x

  58. Ruth C says:

    I have just made this buttercream to put on a red velvet cake. It is delicious and very,very light. I have flavoured mine with vanilla and it just melts in the mouth as apposed to coating your mouth like regular buttercream. Yummy xx

  59. Janet Birch says:

    Hi Ruth,
    The recipe for the meringue buttercream, is there any icing sugar in it, or is it all just caster sugar?
    The recipe does sound really nice can’t wait to try it. By the way I am the lady who kept talking to you and I iced one of your biscuits, not very good I might add. The icing I mean.
    It was lovely to meet you.
    I wish you continued success in everything you do
    Janet xx

    • Hi Janet – it was lovely icing biscuits with you! Thanks for stopping by x it’s just the caster sugar to make the meringue and then adding the butter, no icing sugar required. Do let me know how you get on xx

  60. Han-Na Cha says:

    added a tbsp of strawberry jam to this to make strawberry meringue buttercream. really tasty and I’m so glad that I made the effort to try your recipe.
    had minor problem heating the sugar syrup – mine never reached 121C – should i have just left it longer?

    • Yes, sometimes it can take a little while to push it to 121 – the temp will just ensure that the egg whites are cooked and safe to eat. It might be a dodgy thermometer though so check it with some boiling water x

  61. rena says:

    hi Ruth
    i have tried all day with the frosting but the mixture keeps separating. it looks curdled and the butter doesn’t appear to have bonded with the other ingredients. Have you any idea were i have gone wrong? The actual cupcakes are brilliant and had lots of compliments but i need the frosting to finish them off properly.

    • Make sure that the meringue has cooled properly before starting to add the butter and then add it a little at a time with the mixer still running. Wait for each piece to be incorporated before adding the next lump of butter – that should stop it from separating x

  62. rena says:

    It looks curdled and the butter doesn’t appear to have bonded with the other ingredients. Have you any idea were i have gone wrong? The actual cupcakes are brilliant and had lots of compliments but i need the frosting to finish them off properly.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Very good with showing the recipes !

  64. Catherine Crocker says:

    Hi Ruth could you let me know what cases you use ? – you suggest using a different brand if the case becomes greasy, but I don’t seem to have found the right ones yet, thanks for your help – love the website x

    • I’m using a lot of the Dr Oetker Muffin cases and they are performing very well, not keen on the Sainsburys ones and Morrisons just seem to have changed the size of theirs so I’m avoiding those two at the moment!

  65. Maree says:

    Hello, love the site it’s very helpful. What is the best way to tell if the cupcakes are ready other than the skewer test?Thanks

  66. Pingback: Chocolate Whoopie Pies and Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream | Moo's Pantry

  67. claire wheatley says:

    Hi it says in the buttercream to add two olts of caster sugar, should this be icing too. thanks claire

  68. Suzanne Doe says:

    I have tried this recipe a few times now. The first time i Made 12 cakes as suggested but they overflowed and were absolutely enormous.
    I now make 16 cakes using a large muffin tin and it works perfectly..
    My new go to cupcake recipe…thanks Ruth…a real keeper.

  69. janjam says:

    Just have to tell you that for some time I have been searching for the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe, I have found it here, they are brilliant cupcakes! Haven’t tried the topping yet, but am a buttercream kind of gal. Thank you Ruth, my cupcake repetoire just got better.

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