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Vanilla Cupcake Comparison

March 1, 2012

yellow cake comparison

I know that I am still very new to the world of food blogging, but there is one thing I have noticed for sure- food blogger’s are always in search of “the best”. There are numerous amounts of posts testing all sorts of baked goods. The most popular? Cake. Specifically cupcakes. I get it. Everybody wants a good solid cupcake recipe that they can depend on for parties, Birthday’s, all sorts of get together’s really. Cupcake’s are versatile, well liked, easily served, and travel wonderfully. Personally, I don’t have a “go-to” cupcake recipe. And to tell you the truth I haven’t really been too happy with any of the cupcakes I have made the last few years. Yellow cake especially. Since this is the cupcake I have the most trouble finding a dependable recipe for I decided to tackle this type of cake in the first of my recipe comparisons. Yes, that’s right, there will be more to come!

I set out looking for a cupcake most akin to a box mix since that is the texture most people expect from a cupcake. A good cupcake must be fluffy like a box mix, but not too delicate to stand up to frostings. I took into account the ease of execution with each recipe- something anybody could whip up easily with consistently good results. And one of the most important features for a frosted cupcake- how well it domed. I can not stand when cupcakes SPREAD instead of rise when they hit the top of the cup. A good cupcake should have a slight dome and little to no spread. And of course flavor is a HUGE factor.

Now which cupcakes did I decide to test? Well my first batch of cupcakes was in a group of 4. This group included Billy’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcake, Glorious Treats Yellow Cupcake, The Cupcake Project’s Best Vanilla Cupcake, and Cook’s Illustrated Vanilla Cupcake. The next batch consisted of 3 recipes- Taste of Home Yellow Cake, Taste of Home White Cake (technically not yellow, but still vanilla), and an adaptation of Ina Garten’s Coconut Cupcake. Below I have gone through each cupcake and given you my exact impression of each.

Here are the cross section’s of each cupcake so that you can compare the texture and rise of each:

 

Now let’s get into my review of each cupcake!!

yellow cupcake

Billy’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcake

I’ve made this cupcake once before, actually for my Daughter’s first Birthday Party. I ended up messing it up… so I wanted to be sure to put this recipe on the list for my test because it has so many rave reviews across the web. Martha Stewart actually had Billy on her show to make these cupcakes and you can find the recipe and reviews on her website. What makes this cupcake really unique is the method that is used to make it- reverse creaming. All the dry ingredients, including the sugar, are creamed together with the butter. The eggs, liquid and vanilla are then added individually. Personally, I don’t like this method. I think it is way too easy to over-cream the dry mixture, leading towards tougher cupcakes because you overworked the gluten in the four. This is actually what I did the first time I made them. I am so used to creaming for 3 minutes with just butter and sugar, that things just got away from me. This second time with the recipe I knew better though. I just wanted to mention that as a caution for those of you thinking about trying this recipe. Both times that I made these I ended up with rather crispy edges- something I detest in a cupcake. They have a tendency to spread onto the pan rather than rise if you fill them too full, so if using this recipe, you want to be sure to only fill it about 2/3 full. The recipe used a mixture of cake flour and all purpose flour. The two flours give the cupcake a tight crumb without it being overly delicate or losing any fluff. So aside from the crispy edges, the texture was nice. My taste tester and I found this cupcake much sweeter than we prefer, especially if you are using a regular buttercream which is incredibly sweet in itself. This was our favorite cupcake out of the first batch of four. (This recipe is very similar to Magnolia Bakery’s Cupcake, which also has great reviews)

yellow cupcake

The Cupcake Project

I have been wanting to try this cupcake for a really long time now. This was the prefect opportunity. The blogger experimented and tested numerous recipes to come up with this one. Her final recipe showed great results with 50 test bakers, at an approval rate of 66%. Should have made one great cupcake then, right? Well… here is the thin- I had to make this cupcake twice to obtain good results. They came out so awful the first time that I couldn’t believe that they were made correctly. The first batch I halved so I thought that I probably miss-measured or didn’t follow the directions to the “T”. Originally they came out very, very light and airy. Far too delicate They ended up looking nothing like the one in her photo, which is gorgeous. And aside from the texture being weird, the taste wasn’t quite all there either. It kind of left a weird mouth feel along with a funky taste. Something definitely went wrong with that batch. I tried them a second time and followed the recipe explicitly, using full quantities, all measured out on a scale. MUCH better!! I am really glad that I took the extra effort to try this one twice. I would have felt terrible if I had given you a bad review on a cupcake that a fellow blogger worked really hard on developing. Anyways, the true review on this cupcake is as follows- Light, fluffy, flavorful. The dome wasn’t quite there though. It ended up pretty flat, but at least it wasn’t over-domed. And they didn’t spread onto the pan as long as you didn’t over fill them. I didn’t end up doing the whole vanilla bean in the sugar thing, I wasn’t looking for a cupcake with the strongest vanilla flavor, just a great overall flavor. Plus vanilla beans are expensive, so using them doesn’t make for a good, everyday cupcake recipe. This recipe also uses the reverse creaming method, similar to Billy’s Vanilla (not my preferred method). Since I had so many issues with this cupcake the first time around and it doesn’t halve well, I am not inclined to recommend this recipe. Although tasty… it is very temperamental. You have to be careful with measuring and method to get the right results.

yellow cupcake

Cooks Illustrated Yellow Cupcake

I LOVE Cooks Illustrated. Their recipes always come out amazing so I had to put their yellow cupcake on the list for the experiment. I’ve made these cupcakes before and have had the same results with them twice now so I am pretty confident that I executed them properly. The recipe is made so that these cupcakes are super simple and quick to throw together. They have you throw ALL the ingredients together into a bowl and mix until blended. Now I have a problem with this. As a baker with a fear of gluten development in non-yeasted products, I don’t like to over-mix. So I always use the creaming method as an alternate to what they suggest. Maybe this is why my cupcakes come out with the texture of a muffin… but I really think it is just the recipe since it uses solely sour cream as the liquid agent. Anyways, this recipe ends up with a cupcake that should actually be called a muffin. The top is crispy and crunchy almost. The interior is soft, but not “cupcake fluffy”- it’s muffin like, more dense. It does dome well, a little too much so for frosting. I am just completely unhappy with the texture of this cupcake and if you like your cupcake’s like the box mix, then steer clear of these. If you could care less and just want something good to eat that is simple, this is it. Sorry, Cooks Illustrated- for the first time ever, you are at the bottom of my list. However! I think your Yellow Layer Cake recipe would make a lovely cupcake : ) One day I am going to try the recipe as written to see if I get different results. Stay posted.

yellow cupcake

Glorious Treats Yellow Cupcake

I found the result’s of this cupcake to be very similar to the one I made from The Cupcake Project. They both used oil and ALL cake flour. This recipe uses all oil, where as The Cupcake Project cupcake uses a combination of oil and butter. I chose to use this recipe because it was also tested numerous times to come up with great results and the blogger claimed it to be the best yellow cake recipe she has. She says that she was aiming for a texture as similar to a box mix as possible. I had to do this recipe twice as well. I don’t know what I did with this recipe and The Cupcake Project, but they both came out so awful that they rendered a second attempt necessary. Again, I think it is because I messed things up by halving the recipe. Believe me- I won’t be halving recipes for testing again! Apparently I’m incapable of doing math. Anyways, these cupcakes turned out very light and fluffy. Much more so than the Cupcake Project. This is probably because it uses all oil. So if you absolutely love your cupcakes fluffy and springy, without any density- this is your match right here! The flavor was nice. I wasn’t happy with the dome, which was non-existent, but at least there was no spread. Just be sure to not overfill the cups! Unfortunately, since I had such severe issues with this cupcake the first time around I don’t feel comfortable recommending it as my top tester. This recipe makes a delicious cupcake with a light airy texture, but you have to be careful when making it. Also, because of it’s super light texture I don’t think it balances perfectly with the heaviness of buttercream. I ended up liking the cupcake from The Cupcake Project a little more than this one.

This next batch of cupcakes are actually made from layer cake recipes. After having such poor results with my first batch of cupcakes based off of highly reviewed and tested cupcake recipes, I decided to try my luck at some good layer cake recipes. When I sat for a minute and thought about it, I realized I had never had bad results with a cupcake made from the batter of a great tasting layer cake. So I chose three of my favorite layer cake recipes and gave it a shot. WOW, what a difference! Each one of these cupcakes was by far 100 times better than those in my first batch of trial cupcakes. I believe one of the main reasons for this is that these recipes used butter and all purpose flour. Oil doesn’t do great in cupcakes, not as well as butter at least. And cake flour gives baked goods a tighter crumb. Don’t get me wrong, I love cake flour, but I definitely prefer the texture achieved from using all purpose flour in a cupcake. The crumb is much fluffier.

yellow cupcake

Taste of Home Yellow Cupcake

This was my first time using this cake recipe. I have had pretty good luck with some of Taste of Home kitchen recipes, especially their cakes. This recipe was no different. I always forget about Taste of Home and focus mostly on Cooks Illustrated, but now I think I might redirect my focus on them for a while. This cupcake was fantastic! It uses a basic creaming method and comes together easily. It uses whole milk so you don’t even have to specially purchase buttermilk for it. This recipe will make exactly 2 dozen cupcakes (when filled evenly) that rise and dome perfectly. They were the sweeter of the three recipes in this batch, but far less sweet than Billy’s Vanilla Cupcake. The edges were a tiny bit crisp, but I think I left them in a tad too long. After a night frosted in the refrigerator the tops and edges had softened completely. The texture was fluffy without being too delicate, able to withstand the weight of buttercream just fine. The taste was wonderful. Me and my cupcake tester put these in our top three- her in second place, me in third.

yellow cake comparison

Taste of Home White Cupcake

I have made this cupcake once before with great results. This is a layer cake recipe as well. Since it is a white cake recipe, it technically isn’t a fair comparison with the others since it doesn’t use any egg yolks and is in a completely different family of cakes. However! If you focus on comparing “vanilla” cupcakes- it’s fair game. And I think this recipe makes an incredible cupcake so I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to share this with you. Similar to the other Taste of Home cake recipe, these had great results. The interior was even fluffier and lighter than the Taste of Home yellow. This is probably because it uses just egg whites. It is still substantial enough to hold up to a thick frosting though. You don’t have to whip the egg whites separately, you just mix them into the creamed sugar-butter mixture, which makes this recipe easy to execute. There is ZERO crispiness to the edges and they do not spread when the batter reaches the sides of the pan. They dome softly, not flat but not overly rounded- perfect. They were slightly less sweet than the Taste of Home Yellow, but sweeter than the adaptation of Ina Garten’s recipe. This recipe ranked number one for my taste tester and number two for me.

yellow cupcake

Adaptation of Ina Garten’s recipe

As you can see, this recipe is based off of one of Ina Garten’s recipes- her coconut cupcakes. Now obviously this is a comparison for vanilla cake so I had to do some minor adjusting. I have made her coconut cupcakes before for my bridal shower and they were wonderful and fawned over at the party so I wanted to make the recipe into a vanilla cupcake to compare in this experiment. It wasn’t too hard since the only components of her original recipe that added additional flavors were the shredded coconut and almond extract. I simply swapped out the almond for more vanilla since it uses both in the original, and got rid of the shredded coconut completely. Easy! And the results- great! This were by far the least sweet of the three in the second batch. Personally I found that an endearing quality, especially when paired with a classic buttercream. I think the texture of this cupcake was slightly more moist than the Taste of Home Yellow cupcake. The rise and dome of these was also the best, with no crispy edges or excessive browning. Completely moist through and through. According to Ina’s instructions, you should be able to fill the batter  to the top and make giant cupcakes without any excessive spreading. I only filled mine 2/3 full, making 3 dozen with a full recipe, and I thought that was perfect. Her recipe dictates that a full recipe should make only 18 to 20 cupcakes, so obviously mine were a little shallow, but ended up with great results that I can attest too. The only issue was with the “XL” eggs that it calls for. I can’t find XL eggs here so I just used 6 LG eggs in the place of 5 XL. I just assume that it would about equal out and since I had great results, I would say that it did. But if you can find the XL eggs, I would stick with the recipe as written for best results. My taste tester ranked this recipe at the number 3 spot and I put them at number 1.

The Results!

Scratch my first batch of cupcake recipes that I tested- it is the last three where it is at. Honestly you can NOT go wrong with any of the recipes from my second round of testing. My taste tester and I ranked them all differently so I can’t say which we thought was the overall best since we didn’t agree. She ranked them as following: #1- Taste of Home White, #2- Taste of Home Yellow, #3- Ina Garten’s adaptation. My ranking was as follows: #1- Ina Garten’s adaptation, #2- Taste of Home White, #3- Taste of Home Yellow. See? You really can’t go wrong with any of them. If you are looking for a yellow cake that is slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so, go for Taste of Home Yellow. If you are like me and you don’t like things too sweet, especially with all that frosting, go with Ina’s adaptation. But! If you are open to an incredible white cupcake… go with the Taste of Home White for sure. I am very confident in my recommendation to you of these cupcakes- they were wonderful!!

Recipe Links

Billy’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcake

The Cupcake Project

Glorious Treats

Cook’s Illustrated

Taste of Home Yellow

Adaptation of Ina Garten’s Coconut Cupcake

Taste of Home White

Classic Vanilla Buttercream

If you enjoyed this comparison, check out my Red Velvet Cake Comparison or Chocolate Cupcake Comparison Post!

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Priscilla April 16, 2012 at 2:33 am

Thank you very much!! I’ve been looking for a blog post that does reviews on the cupcakes! I appreciate your tremendous effort in baking & testing those cupcakes. Personally I’ve made Billy’s, Cupcake Project, and Glorious Treats’ cupcakes. They were disappointing, considering the fact that many people raved about them!

I felt so discouraged from making vanilla cupcakes. I still can’t find the perfect vanilla cupcake/cake recipe. I’ve also tried the ones from Sweetapolita, disappointing too.

I’m going to try Cook’s Illustrated one, going to substitute the sour cream with buttermilk.

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lmachell April 16, 2012 at 3:30 am

Thanks Priscilla! I was feeling pretty discouraged while testing all the recipes too- I couldn’t believe how hard it was to find a good vanilla cupcake recipe! I hope Cooks Illustrated works for you, if not, you should try the White Taste of Home recipe- it’s REALLY good!

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Phoebe January 25, 2013 at 4:34 am

What an incredible post! Thank you!

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Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen January 30, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Wow, huge belated thank you for this post! I’m sure you can relate as a fellow blogger, but I am kind of insane when it comes to researching recipes before making one, and I was so grateful to come across this! I’m going to try the Taste of Home white cupcake recipe with a strawberry buttercream this weekend. Thanks for your hard work on this!

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Donna @ What The Dog Ate January 31, 2013 at 5:20 am

Wow! Thank you so much for such a comprehensive post. I have this pinned and will be referring to it often. Thanks!

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Julianne @ Beyond Frosting January 31, 2013 at 6:05 am

Wow thank you for such a detailed and well thoughtful post. I have made a few of your recipes you tested. They have produced good results but nothing I would consider over the top. Personally I found that I do not enjoy buttermilk cupcakes as much. Looking forward to seeing more reviews from you!

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Debra January 31, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Thank you so much for doing this comparison. Like many others, I too have been looking for that perfect cupcake. I have used the one from Glorious Treats in the past and today I chose to bake the Taste of Home Yellow because of the ingredients I had on hand. I have to say while I liked the texture of the Taste of Home Yellow, I liked the flavour of the Glorious Treats cupcake better. I found the Taste of Home Yellow to be lacking in something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I will keep your post on hand so I can try another of your suggestions once these ones have been eaten.

In the meantime, perhaps you could do a comparison for chocolate cupcakes. Glorious Treats has a fantastic one that is my all time favourite called Perfectly Chocolate Cupcakes, but I’m willing to do a comparison if you find several for us to test.

Thanks for the wonderful post!

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lmachell February 11, 2013 at 11:16 am

I have actually done a chocolate cake comparison as well – http://laurassweetspot.com/2012/05/28/chocolate-cupcake-comparison/ – I didn’t use Glorious Treats recipe, I’ve never even seen it. I’ll be sure to take a look at it and maybe make it at some point in the future. Thanks!

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Averie @ Averie Cooks February 8, 2013 at 5:17 am

I just read every.single.word of your post and found myself nodding the whole time. Reverse creaming method, also not a fan. Cooks Illsustrated…love them too. I got a semi-disappointment from them for the first time ever with some sugar cookies recently. Not awful but not amazing so I know what you mean to feel let down by an old friend. And Taste of Home’s recipes are geared for the every day woman who doesn’t have a million bucks to spend on cake flour, this or that extract, etc and they keep it simple, keep it real. I really have come to trust them for that reason. I despise what cake flour does to cupcakes, making the crumb so delicate and dry. Pretty much I could go on and on. I love food science and this post is just amazing. Pinned! Thank you for your work!! Soooo appreciated!

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lmachell February 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

You’re welcome!! I am so happy that you enjoyed the post : )

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Lauren February 8, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I just came across your post from Pinterest! I am a chef and have struggled with vanilla cake as long as I can remember! I recently tested a few of the same recipes you did and created a new one of my own. :) If you ever want to revisit the vanilla cupcake test, give my recipe a try!

http://sharetheloverecipes.blogspot.com/2012/06/perfect-vanilla-cake.html?m=1

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lmachell February 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

I would love to try your recipe! I am thinking of tackling the vanilla cupcake test again with the best of this one and a few new ones.

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Laura Dembowski February 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Such a great post! I don’t love cupcakes, but I make them more than I ever thought I would and I tend to be really happy with the results. The only cupcakes I have made that I didn’t like were Ina’s coconut cupcakes. I guess we all like different things :)

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Farah February 21, 2013 at 6:36 pm

I made Ina Garten cupcakes tonight after reading your review. The cupcakes domed beautifully in the oven and browned nicely in a little under 20 minutes. However, 5 minutes out of the oven, my heart sank as I watched the little beauties start to sink in the middle. I checked the insides, they were defiinitely cooked through. Could there be too much liquid in the batter that yields a moist cupcake but will suffer in terms of its appearance?

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lmachell February 24, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Aw, I’m sorry they sank on you! That’s too bad. I’ve never had that problem with those cupcakes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen obviously. I don’t know where the difference lies and why it happens only sometimes. I have read that it might have something to do with too much leavening. I had that sinking problem with her chocolate cake and reduced the leavening slightly and it helped.

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Farah March 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I will try it again then, knowing now that the cupcakes are not supposed to sink. You are right about the wonderful taste, which is why I want so very much to get it right. Thank you for your reply and take care.

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Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust March 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Thank you for this! I am desperate to find a scratch cupcake recipe that isn’t dry. That’s why I always just use a box – it’s dependable. Love all your comparisons!

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lmen March 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm

thank you for this comparison!

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Nisha April 22, 2013 at 7:57 am

Love this post, your detailed review, the comparison pictures. I keep testing various recipes from different authors too to understand how different ingredients and proportions work, so i love how i can relate to you. Visitng your blog first time and loving it. Came here from Pinterest and will be coming back again.

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lmachell April 28, 2013 at 10:50 am

That makes me so happy to hear Nisha- thank you!

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LaRae Siliga May 2, 2013 at 12:32 am

Ahhh! I am indebted to you! I am currently on my 7th recipe for vanilla cupcakes and am exasperated! Will be trying Ina Garten’s first as I want one that domes without crispy edges. Thanks so much!!

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lmachell May 7, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Hopefully one of the cupcakes I found will help you out!

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myrtle June 14, 2013 at 9:43 am

WoW! Looks definitely luscious.

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JP May 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I’m going to try the Taste of Home Yellow and White cupcake recipes soon. I’ve tried making Glorious Treats Yellow Cupcake twice and was dissapointed both times. They were light and fluffy but the texture was grainy like cornbread.

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Kim June 13, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Has anyone tried the Ina recioe with cake flour?

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Linda Billingsley August 31, 2014 at 11:28 pm

I just put in 12 cupcakes from your taste of home yellow cupcakes. I halved the recipe. It made 12 cupcakes filled halfway not 2/3 like in your recipe. I can’t wait to see how they taste! Linda

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Linda Billingsley September 1, 2014 at 8:20 am

Finished and cooked the taste of home yellow cupcakes! These are a winner! The men in my family all agreed that the cupcakes tasted great and I too agree! Will try the white cupcakes. Next!

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