We all need a basic vanilla cupcake recipe. For birthdays, showers, bake sales, life. Like the white disco suit from “Saturday Night Fever,” you can bedazzle these as much or as little as you want. This recipe is all about changing it up – try swapping out the neutral oil for a more flavorful one (think walnut, almond, or a fruity olive) or substituting a different extract for the vanilla in the cake recipe. The same goes for the frosting – change out the milk for coffee, orange juice, maple syrup, or rum. You’re welcome.
For the cupcakes
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Line a 12-cup standard-size muffin tin with paper or foil liners. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position.
In a large bowl, mix flour, granulated sugar, and salt with a hand mixer at its lowest speed until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Add butter, milk, eggs, oil, and vanilla to dry ingredients and beat on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on high speed until very smooth and light, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl again and sprinkle baking powder over the batter. Mix on low speed for 1 minute, or until the baking powder has been smoothly incorporated into the batter.
Divide batter evenly among the 12 cups, filling each about 2/3 of the way up. Bake until the cupcake tops are lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 24 minutes.
Let cupcakes cool in a pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then transfer directly to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
for the vanilla buttercream frosting
Beat the butter until smooth in a large bowl, using a mixer on medium speed. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar and salt, beating until well mixed. Add the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the milk, continuing to beat until fluffy. Add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the frosting is a spreadable consistency.
Spread or pipe frosting on cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.
Try a few of these flavorings to put a spin on the basic vanilla buttercream frosting.
Lemon frosting: Omit the vanilla and replace the milk with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest to the finished frosting. Garnish frosted cupcakes with additional grated lemon zest, if desired.
Dark chocolate frosting: Melt 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate and cool completely. Beat cooled chocolate into butter, then continue with the recipe as written.
Coconut frosting: Replace milk with well-shaken coconut milk. Stir in 2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut to the finished frosting. Garnish frosted cupcakes with additional coconut, if desired.
For the cupcakes
For the vanilla buttercream frosting