What Are Vanilla Cupcakes?

Suzanne S. Wiley

Vanilla cupcakes are small cakes that are flavored with vanilla. These cupcakes typically are white or yellow cake, but cooks can add unflavored food coloring to change the cupcakes' color. Vanilla cupcakes might have frostings or glazes, or they can remain plain and uncovered.

Vanilla bean seeds can intensify the flavor of vanilla cupcakes.
Vanilla bean seeds can intensify the flavor of vanilla cupcakes.

The name of these cupcakes is based on the flavor of the cupcakes and not the frosting, so it’s not unusual to see vanilla cupcakes that have chocolate or caramel frostings, or even other flavors. Vanilla cupcakes usually use the same recipe as plain vanilla cake but with a shorter cooking time. The smaller size of the cupcakes means that there is more surface area on them than on a single full-size cake, and the heat from the oven won’t need as much time to cook the center of the cupcake.

Plain vanilla cupcakes generally don’t have additions such as nuts, cinnamon or other flavored ingredients. The recipe's name usually reflects any additions, as in vanilla-walnut cupcakes or spiced vanilla cupcakes, for example. One exception is vanilla bean seeds, the addition of which intensifies the vanilla flavor. The frosting might contain sprinkles or other flavored decorations, regardless of the name of the recipe.

Some vanilla cupcakes are made using other ingredients to accommodate people who have allergies. These cupcakes must use vanilla, of course, but some recipes omit eggs or milk to make the cupcakes edible to people who can’t have those ingredients. If someone must avoid dairy products in the recipe, a butter substitute can be used. It’s a little more difficult for the sugar to be reduced, though, because that will change the texture and density of the cake.

Vanilla cupcakes have a reputation for being rather plain and not rich. They are not necessarily low in calories, though, especially when they are frosted. The small size of the cupcake allows people to have controlled portions of cake, but the ingredients and density of the cupcakes mean that even a small amount can have quite a few calories.

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