The Ultimate Cupcake Guide

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Prep Time: 10 min

Cook: 50 min

Tessa Arias

The Ultimate Cupcake Guide compares six batches of cupcakes to discover which ingredients techniques make cupcakes light, dense, greasy, crumbly, or moist.

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47 Responses to “The Ultimate Cupcake Guide”

  1. #
    Diane @ Vintage Zest — October 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Your round-ups are awesome. I headed over right now!

  2. #
    Dana — October 15, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    This is SO interesting. I’m on the never-ending quest for the perfect yellow cupcake. I wonder how they would taste with part cake flour, egg yolks and sour cream? I guess the possibilities are nearly endless!

  3. #
    Tieghan — October 15, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Girl, you amaze me!! Headed to check out the post now!

  4. #
    Dina — October 19, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    great guide!

  5. #
    Shawn @ IWYD — October 21, 2013 at 7:07 am

    So awesome! Thanks for such brilliant work! 🙂

  6. #
    Hibz — November 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I actually did my own tests with this recipe. Since it was so basic, you could really go anywhere with it. I didn’t have enough sour cream to substitute the milk completely, so I added in half of each. I also added in one extra egg yolk. The cupcakes definitely yielded more than a dozen for me, and the results (looks-wise) matched the cake flour one. However, the texture was heavy , yet spongy and light–something dense that melts in your mouth, but you could have another and another. I wanted to enhance the tang of the sour cream, since the batter did smell a little plain, so I squeezed in some lemon juice and added in more vanilla as well. With some frosting, it was a great confection that everybody couldn’t wait to get their hands on. Thank you.

  7. #
    Ellouse — November 14, 2013 at 1:46 am

    Hello I’m from France we don’t have sour cream here what could be a good substitute ??? Thank you 🙂

    • #
      Tessa — November 14, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Hi! Fromage blanc is a good substitute, and creme fraiche should work too!

  8. #
    Denise — November 19, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Another alternative to sour cream is (always) yoghurt!

  9. #
    Janice — December 9, 2013 at 4:33 am

    What would you recommend I use for a frosting on the chocolate stuffed red velvet cupcakes?

  10. #
    Beth — May 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Great comparison! I found it really useful to learn how different ingredients affect cupcake texture and taste.

    My challenge is that I can’t have any cow dairy (I can’t tolerate a protein found in dairy milk). I’m wondering if anyone has tried making cupcake with goat milk or goat butter instead?

    I use rice milk in muffins and they taste good, but the domes fall.

    • #
      Tessa — May 17, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      Hi Beth, unfortunately I haven’t tried using any goat milk products. I have had good luck with almond milk and Earth balance butter in baking, but haven’t tried them with cupcakes. Mel below commented saying that macadamia oil is a good butter substitute, that might be worth trying!

  11. #
    Linda @ A La Place Clichy — May 15, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    This was so useful! I’ve always wanted to do this test myself or try to find a simpler explanation as to why some recipes call for this and that. Thanks for teaching me a little something and making me a better baker!

  12. #
    paz — May 16, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Hola!!!Lamento no escribir inglés!!!Pero no puedo dejar de felicitarte por tus incursiones y pruebas, que tanto nos ayudan en la cocina!!Cariños y quedo esperando mas buenas notas !!!

  13. #
    Mel — May 17, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Instead of canola oil, I use macadamia oil to substitute butter, it has quite a buttery flavour and tastes great! Good for a dairy free alternative 🙂

    • #
      Tessa — May 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      That’s great to know! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  14. #
    naya — June 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    hello. im from indonesia, im realy realy love your blog. my inspirations. i wish and i hope i like you soon..

  15. #
    Penha — June 12, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    você é realmente incrível, obrigada por nos ajudar sob o resultado de um produto melhor1

  16. #
    Jennifer — July 10, 2014 at 2:33 pm


    I was wondering how you exactly did your test? Did you bake the cupcakes all the same day or on different days? Were all liquid ingredients (and I would consider the sour cream and eggs liquid with this question) at room temperature or were they used straight out of the refrigerator? If they were at room temp, was it consistent across recipes or did some use room temp ingredients and some not? This can affect the degree to which a cake domes, which is why I would like to know.

    • #
      Tessa — July 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Hi Jennifer,

      As I mentioned in the post, I did my best to keep the results as consistent as possible. Everything was baked on the same day so they could be photographed together the day of baking. Ingredients were at room temperature, each batch was baked separately in the same (but completely cool) baking tin, in a carefully monitored 350°F. oven.

  17. #
    S — July 21, 2014 at 4:39 am

    Nice to see that side by side comparison!
    Just a side note, If you use sour cream or other soured milk product in the batter, there is no need for baking powder. Baking powder has the acidity already built in to the right ratio to produce the rise. Baking soda has no acidity, so it is better to use when you have a strong acid for the liquid. When you add a soured milk product, you are adding more acid, which throws off the acid/alkaline ratio… So you need more alkaline to restore balance. I have found that usually 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt to a cup of soured milk produces a pretty good rise for me.. but you can experiment.

    • #
      Tessa — July 21, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks for your feedback! I tried to only change 1 element in each batch, so I refrained from altering the leaveners in the recipe. Sounds like you have a good understanding of baking science!

  18. #
    Royce Napier — August 26, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    What if you wanted a cupcake that had a moist, shiny domed top wit a soft and granular inside?

  19. #
    Miss Kim @ behgopa — September 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Loved this guide. It’s so much more fun and personal than the boring text books I had at culinary school. My personal fav is to use the sour cream. Love it!

  20. #
    Tsholo — October 9, 2014 at 5:38 am

    I have to make 3 dozens of red velvet cupcakes tomorrow, and I can’t find all-purpose flour anywhere. All I have is cake-flour and I’ve seen from a bunch of people that cake flour just produces dry cupcakes, and I have no idea what to do. I have no all purpose flour at all, so I can’t mix half and half, what to do?

    Any suggestions would be highly appreciated.

  21. #
    Angelina — November 17, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Thanks for posting these experiments, haha! This is something I was so interested in learning about, especially since trying a “Pumpkin Beer Cupcake” recipe via Pinterest and realizing I must’ve added too much of a certain that prevented the cupcakes from baking like usual. This is a really helpful guide and will be referring to it as I continue to explore this baking hobby I’ve started. You’ve got a new fan! 🙂


  22. #
    monisa mir — December 21, 2014 at 3:56 am

    I read it and my passion for baking the right cup cake has gone more stronger.
    Every time I bake something goes wrong. Lets hope for the best.i will consider mixing up of the two flours one.
    I really appreciate your effort for the learners like me.

  23. #
    Helena — March 3, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for a great great guide! I would want to make chardonnay cupcakes, would you think it is possible to relace the milk with chardonnay?

    Hope to hear from you soon!


  24. #
    Maisy - Wonderland Eats — March 14, 2015 at 6:09 am

    Great post! I always use oil in my cupcakes and muffins instead of butter. I like to use grapeseed oil, because it has such a neutral flavour that you can’t taste it in the finished product at all. While the cakes are less buttery, I find that the crumb is still nice and soft (and hey, less butter in the cake means you can have more buttercream frosting!). Thanks for going to the effort of doing such a comprehensive test!

  25. #
    Ashley — May 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    I like to bake using oil and I had the same issue with the flavor until I started using the light tasting olive oil- it makes a huge difference in flavor and I think makes the cake super moist & irresistible! Plus, it’s a bit healthier 🙂

  26. #
    Ishara Nouman — May 19, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Wonderful guide!! I tried the controlled recipe but the cupcakes domed and cracked a bit in the middle. However, the taste is absolutely great and I love the texture so fluffy and airy. I wonder what caused the cupcakes to dome and crack?

    What do you think went wrong? 🙂

    • #
      Tessa — May 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      Hmm sounds like they could be overmixed. Stir in the flour until JUST combined.

  27. #
    Kiana — May 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

    This really helps a lot. When I bake yellow cupcakes or cakes for that matter, they never come out right. They’re usually very dry..
    My question is, what if you did the flour and egg yolk recipe together? Like the half flour half cake flour and adding that extra egg all together??

  28. #
    Leslie A. — June 11, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    I tried this recipe and it was the first time that my cupcakes ever came out. This recipe is definitely a keeper

  29. #
    ANVI THOMAS — August 6, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Hi, i tried making the cupcake with the extra egg yolk in the batter and it turned out very soft but not moist and it also crumbles when seperated from the liner.Could you please tell me a solution? Should i increase the butter quantity ?

  30. #
    Angel — February 4, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Would this transfer to any basic cake recipe? Chocolate for example?

    • #
      Tessa — February 6, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      Probably not chocolate since the addition of cocoa powder or melted chocolate can really change the structure and texture. Let me know if you do experiment at all, though!

  31. #
    Laura — February 12, 2016 at 11:19 am

    I loved your site. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about cupcakes.

  32. #
    Rachel — February 19, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Hi! I have been wanting to recreate a hornets nest cake without any box mixes. It is usually made with a yellow cake mix and a box of vanilla pudding to make it super dense (almost like blondies). Since I’m not using a box pudding, I was wondering what I could do to make a typical yellow cake denser. Perhaps sour cream and more egg yolks? Thank you!

  33. #
    Amber Brouillard — March 17, 2016 at 11:24 am

    I dont have whole milk, we only have 1% on hand, but I do have some vanilla greek yogurt….could I poss had a lil of both together? suggestions?

    • #
      Tessa — March 17, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Does the yogurt have a lot of sugar? Is it low fat? You don’t want it to change the taste or texture too much.

  34. #
    Amber Brouillard — March 17, 2016 at 11:29 am

    also, has anyone used coconut oil in place of the butter in a recipe like this? if so how did it turn out/how did it taste?

  35. #
    venita — March 20, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    thank your for your wonderful guide to bake a perfect cupcake.

  36. #
    em — March 31, 2016 at 6:51 am

    I love side by side comparisons like this! One thing to note, though: as a professional all-vegan baker, I frequently substitute neutral liquid oils and vegan butter for dairy butter, even in vanilla cakes. When substituting liquid oil, you must decrease the quantity slightly for desirable results. So if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter, 1/3 cup oil should be used in it’s place! Light olive oil and melted coconut oil are both good candidates for flavor boosting, coconut oil can even lend a buttery taste 🙂

    • #
      Tessa — March 31, 2016 at 8:37 am

      Thanks so much for sharing your expertise!

  37. #
    Shai — April 12, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I am not sure, but where does it say on the recipe to put in the baking powder and salt. It is in the ingredient list but not mentioned in the recipe. Thanks!

  38. #
    Noel — April 19, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    This was incredibly helpful and informative, and answered a lot of questions for me as to WHY my from-scratch cupcakes were flat and dense. I’m going to try your recipe. Thank you!

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