Filed Under: Cakes & Cupcakes

Ultra Moist Yellow Cupcakes

Recipe By Tessa Arias
  |  
May 19th, 2021
4.17 from 12 votes
4.17 from 12 votes

These from-scratch, easy yellow cupcakes are tender, moist, and fluffy but can hold up to a generous amount of chocolate frosting on top!

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook: 18 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: Sweet without being cloying, these even taste good without frosting!
Texture: Ultra moist and fluffy.
Ease: Very easy!
Pros: Classic go-to cupcake recipe for so many occasions.
Cons: None.
Would I make this again? Absolutely.

Recently I set out on what turned out to be a very tedious and often frustrating baking adventure.

I had made my Yellow Layer Cake recipe into cupcakes but didn’t love how they turned out. They were too fine crumbed for how I prefer cupcakes. I want my cupcakes to be a bit looser and ultra moist.

yellow birthday cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles on a wood board and platter behind

You see, cupcakes don’t need quite the structure a layer cake demands to hold steady. They just need enough to support a generous amount of frosting.

I thought it would be easy enough to tweak my layer cake recipe for cupcakes, but that was so not the case.

It took over 8 experimental batches to get this cupcake recipe just right. I was SWIMMING in failed cupcakes. When. Finally. After weeks. I finally felt I had gotten the recipe right! I even sent it to another HTH team member, Emily, for her to test as well.

I wanted to create Yellow Cupcakes that were as moist and tender as the box mix cupcakes but without the cloying artificial flavor. The result? Yellow cupcakes that actually taste good on their own but are phenomenal with my Best Ever Chocolate American buttercream recipe.

easy homemade yellow cupcake batter in muffin tin
best yellow cupcakes with chocolate buttercream with bite taken out

How to Make Homemade Yellow Cupcakes

If you’re a Handle the Heat Member, be sure to check out Tessa’s Test Kitchen for a full video vlog and recap on how I developed this recipe! If you’re not a member, join the waitlist here to be notified when we reopen the membership doors.

How to make MOIST cupcakes:

I always recommend weighing your flour when making cake or cupcakes. I use my digital kitchen scale to weigh flour, but if you don’t have one, use the “spoon and level” method to measure with measuring cups. This helps to prevent dry or crumbly cupcakes because it’s all too easy to accidentally compact too much flour into your volume measuring cups.

There are a few key ingredients in this recipe that help create a moist and tender cupcake. The eggs with an additional egg yolk add richness and moisture. The buttermilk also tenderizes as well as adding more flavor (more on that below).

Why is there butter and oil in this recipe?

The main key to ultra moist cupcakes is a little bit of oil! This recipe creams together sugar and butter like most cake recipes, which allows air to whip into the batter for a light texture, but also takes advantage of butter’s unparalleled rich flavor.

We add in a little bit of oil to the butter mixture not for flavor, but instead for MOISTURE! Oil is liquid at room temperature so it coats the palate and gives the sensation of tons of moisture to these cupcakes. It helps to create a texture more similar to box mix cupcakes without the artificial flavor.

Why buttermilk is the secret ingredient to the best cupcakes:

The (real) buttermilk in this recipe makes a WORLD of difference. Buttermilk substitutions just don’t work as well. You can see my extensive testing on buttermilk substitutions in my Buttermilk 101 article here. For best results, I would advise using real buttermilk (which is sold as ‘low fat’ in the grocery store).

I’ve tested variations of this recipe with whole milk as well as sour cream. The whole milk doesn’t provide as much flavor as something cultured. The sour cream provided tons of flavor but made for a tighter, finer crumb. The goal for this recipe was something super tender and moist, and buttermilk was the clear winner for both texture and taste!

What is the best pan for baking cupcakes?

I like the Wilton Right Muffin Pans for baking cupcakes. Avoid using anything with a dark or gold colored lining as this can result in browning or burning the bottoms and edges of the cupcakes.

Note that every brand of muffin / cupcake pans will have cavities of a slightly different diameter and volume. Some pans have smaller cavities than others. Always fill yours with batter 2/3 to 3/4 full and not more.

How to stop cupcake liners from sticking:

Oftentimes this is due to the brand of liners either being cheap or overly decorative. This is my favorite brand that I order in bulk from Amazon. I’ve written an entire post on how to prevent cupcake liners from sticking here in case this is a common problem for you.

How to prevent cupcakes from sinking:

Overmixing, expired baking powder, opening the oven door too much, or under baking can all cause cupcakes to sink in the center.

Overfilling your cupcake pan cavities can also cause sinking. Fill 2/3 to 3/4 full. You may end up with more than a dozen cupcakes since every brand and style of cupcake pan has a slightly different cavity volume.

If you’re 3,000 feet or more above sea level, you’ll most likely need to reduce the baking powder in this recipe to avoid the cupcakes sinking or collapsing in the center. Start by cutting the amount of baking powder to 1 teaspoon if at 3,000 feet, and 3/4 teaspoon if at 5,000 feet or higher. This may require some experimentation depending on your specific microclimate.

How to decorate cupcakes:

To match the cupcakes you see in these photos, place the frosting in a piping bag fitted with a large plain open tip and pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. Sprinkle with pastel rainbow sprinkles. You can also use an open star tip, like the Wilton 1M tip.

How to make Yellow Cupcakes ahead of time:

You can bake the cupcakes a day ahead of time. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Note that the tops of the cupcakes will become slightly sticky the longer they’re stored but the frosting mostly camouflages this.

The buttercream on its own can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or the freezer for up to 1 month. If frozen, let defrost in the fridge overnight. Let come to room temperature and re-whip in the stand mixer until light and fluffy again.

How to serve cupcakes outside:

If you plan on serving frosted cupcakes outside in a warm, humid, or sunny environment, store in the fridge just until you set up for the BBQ, party, or picnic. By the time everyone is ready for cupcakes, it should be the perfect temperature without running the risk of melting.

How to store cupcakes:

Frosted cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, or in the fridge for up to 3 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Other buttercream recipes:

 

bite taken out of homemade yellow cupcakes from scratch with chocolate frosting on top

More Recipes to Try:

Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.

4.17 from 12 votes

How to make
Yellow Cupcakes

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 18 minutes
These from-scratch, easy yellow cupcakes are tender, moist, and fluffy but can hold up to a generous amount of chocolate frosting on top!

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (reduce if at a high altitude)*
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, at cool room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, at cool room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at cool room temperature
  • 1 Batch of Best Chocolate American Buttercream

Directions

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  3. In a large bowl with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the oil and beat for another minute, or until smooth. Add the egg, egg yolk, and the vanilla one at a time, beating very well between additions until combined.

  4. On low speed, add the flour mixture and buttermilk in three alternating additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Batter will be fairly thick.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake cavities, filling each about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Don't overfill, you may need to bake up to 15 cupcakes if using a pan with smaller cavities. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops are springy to the touch. Let cool for 20 minutes in tin before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Frost the cupcakes:

  1. Use an offset spatula to frost each cupcake. Alternatively, place the frosting in a piping bag fitted with a star tip and pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.

  2. Frosted cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, or in the fridge for up to 3 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Recipe Notes

High Altitude Note: If you’re 3,000 feet or more above sea level, you’ll most likely need to reduce the baking powder in this recipe to avoid the cupcakes sinking or collapsing in the center. Start by cutting the amount of baking powder to 1 teaspoon if at 3,000 feet or cut to 3/4 teaspoon total if at 5,000 feet or higher.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: yellow cupcakes
Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

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Recipe Rating




  1. #
    Kerri — May 19, 2021 at 10:32 am

    Looks great! Is there a recipe for the frosting or is there a frosting that you would recommend?

    • #
      Tessa — May 19, 2021 at 11:52 am

      Yes! There’s a link right in the ingredients list for my Best Chocolate American Buttercream 🙂

  2. #
    Kyndra Wevers — May 21, 2021 at 8:55 am

    Is this recipe okay to double for I need more than 12 cupcakes

    • #
      Tessa — May 21, 2021 at 11:57 am

      Absolutely!

    • #
      Nichole — June 9, 2021 at 5:42 pm

      What temperature would “cool room temperature” be?

      • #
        Tessa — June 10, 2021 at 9:59 am

        Cool room temperature is about 67° 🙂

  3. #
    Al — May 22, 2021 at 1:45 am

    These cupcakes look delicious. Do you think chocolate ganache will go with it?

    Also, what is the difference between yellow cake and white/vanilla cake?

  4. #
    Yvette — May 22, 2021 at 4:05 pm

    HI!

    Ive just made these with my daughter and they were fantastic! She couldnt wait for the frosting and just ate the cupcakes when they were still warm….. 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    • #
      Tessa — May 24, 2021 at 4:17 pm

      So happy to hear this recipe was a hit!! It’s definitely hard waiting for them to cool:)

  5. #
    Paj — May 27, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    What kind of cupcake liner and pan do you use? Mine usually turn out greasy and I’m not sure why, thanks!

    • #
      Tessa — May 28, 2021 at 10:03 am

      I list my favorites with links in the pink box above the recipe 🙂

  6. #
    Alice Tan — May 30, 2021 at 7:56 pm

    Can I reduce the sugar level from 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar to 150aig??

    • #
      Tessa — June 1, 2021 at 3:08 pm

      Lowering the sugar will alter the outcome of the cupcakes as even the slightest change to an ingredient has been proven to make a difference in my testing. I will say that these aren’t super sweet cupcakes, and they’re incredibly fluffy and moist. I’d personally recommend trying them out as written, and then alter if you need to once you’ve tried them. Let me know how it goes if you change anything! 🙂

  7. #
    Julie — June 8, 2021 at 1:30 am

    I made these 2x in a matter of 3 days! First batch were a trial to see if the family gave them the thumbs up. They did so then I doubled the recipe to make for my daughters grade celebration! The taste is similar but loads better than a classic yellow box cake with the added bonus of being homemade! My only issue was after they cooled, they all sank. This did not really matter as taste was not affected and I piped frosting on top but I do wonder why? This is my new #1 cupcake recipe!

    • #
      Tessa — June 8, 2021 at 9:51 am

      I’m so happy to hear they were such a hit!! Did they sink at all while they were still in the oven or only after you checked them for doneness and took them out? Sunken cupcakes can happen for quite a few reasons: baking at high altitude, expired leavening agents, over mixing the batter, overfilling your liners (try about 2/3 full next time) or also if your oven is running high, that can cause your cupcakes to rise rapidly but the middle won’t be baked, causing them to sink. Did you substitute any ingredients? Also, do you use a scale to measure your ingredients? I know my batch sunk when I was working on the amount of all-purpose flour to be used and had too much!

      • #
        Julie — June 8, 2021 at 10:21 am

        I appreciate you taking the time to reply! They had a nice slight dome shape when I took them out but when they cooled, shrunk and sunk! Sounds funny!

        – I weighed all my ingredients
        – Did not make any substitutions
        – not at night altitude
        – nothing was expired
        – cakes were half filled (smaller cupcake liners in-between a mini and American full-size called English “fairy cake”
        – BUT now I’m thinking that I’m in England with a fan only oven so that could be it!?
        And I may have over mixed them, so I’ll be aware to not over-mix next time.
        Regardless, I’m a keen amateur baker who has been looking for the best home made cupcake recipe for many years and my kids and husband have all said this is it!!!
        Thanks again!

        • #
          Tessa — June 10, 2021 at 10:25 am

          I’d pay attention to the over mixing next time, but I’m thinking your oven may be the issue as well! I don’t recommend using a convection setting for delicate foods or anything that raises tall like a muffin or cake-it will make it develop an a-symmetrical shape due to the windy environment. I’d recommend checking out my Oven 101 article, it includes the adjustment you’ll need to make when using a recipe that doesn’t call for the convection setting. Hope this helps! Let me know how it goes the next time you make them, good luck! 🙂

  8. #
    Lynn — June 16, 2021 at 9:08 am

    These are not good. I made them twice exactly per the instructions and they sunk twice, I am not an inexperienced baker. Don’t waste your ingredients

    • #
      Tessa — June 17, 2021 at 8:41 am

      Oh no, I’m sorry to hear your cupcakes sunk! Did they sink while they were still in the oven or after you checked them for doneness and took them out? Sunken cupcakes can happen for quite a few reasons: baking at high altitude, expired leavening agents, over mixing the batter, overfilling your liners (this has been a popular one in our FB group, 2/3 full has worked well!) or also if your oven is running high, that can cause your cupcakes to rise rapidly but the middle won’t be baked, causing them to sink…I want to make sure that you didn’t substitute any ingredients as well. Please let me know if I can help troubleshoot more. I also want to let you know that reviews are published, we just have to moderate them due to spam.

  9. #
    Emily — June 17, 2021 at 9:38 am

    These are INCREDIBLE!! So full of flavor and truly the perfect yellow cupcake. Make SURE to not overfill your liners as that was a problem of mine! I also had too warm of butter the first time, but once fixed the second time I made these, they turned out perfectly 🙂

    Also… that chocolate buttercream it is TO DIE FOR, yummy!!

    • #
      Tessa — June 17, 2021 at 9:40 am

      I’m so happy to hear you tried these again, Emily, and that they turned out perfectly after your corrections 🙂

  10. #
    Bailey — June 21, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    I love baking but I sometimes have a hard time with cakes and cupcakes. Most of the time my cakes come out dense. Not this recipe though! I loved this recipe. Great flavor and they turned out light and fluffy. Tessa definitely knows what she’s talking abbot when it comes to baking.

    • #
      Tessa — June 22, 2021 at 9:15 am

      Thanks so much for your kind comment, Bailey! I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed your yellow cupcakes!

  11. #
    Amber — June 25, 2021 at 11:59 am

    The flavor was sweet but not reminiscent of a yellow cake recipe. Additionally, the texture just fell apart even after cooling and was extremely crumbly.

    • #
      Tessa — June 28, 2021 at 1:07 pm

      Oh no, I’m sorry to hear your cupcakes didn’t turn out! Normally crumbly cupcakes are due to too much flour. Do you use a digital scale to measure your ingredients to ensure accuracy? Did you substitute any ingredients?

  12. #
    Samantha E — July 9, 2021 at 2:11 pm

    These yellow cupcakes are delicious and make the most beautiful batter. I followed the directions to a T (weighing ingredients, following every step precisely), but my cupcakes still came out sunken in the middle. I live at at 4,000 elevation and so decreased the amount of baking powder according to the recommended amount (1 tsp). I trust all of Tessa’s recipes, so I’m sure it was something on my end.

    • #
      Tessa — July 12, 2021 at 2:51 pm

      hmm…the first thing I’d check is to make sure your leaveners are fresh (read my article here). I’d be cautious next time about overmixing your batter as well as possibly overfilling your liners (maybe try 2/3 full next time). Do you have an oven thermometer? If so, I’d check to see if your oven is running high-that can cause your cupcakes to rise rapidly but the middle won’t be baked, causing them to sink. I’m glad they still tasted delicious, but hopefully next time we can solve the sunken middle issue!

      • #
        Samantha E — July 13, 2021 at 10:55 am

        Thank you for the feedback! I filled them 2/3 full, and I didn’t feel like I overmixed them. I will check the leaveners, and probably should invest in an oven thermometer. Thank you!

  13. #
    Paula — July 30, 2021 at 8:11 am

    Would you consider this recipe a “vanilla” cupcake as well as a “yellow” cupcake?

    • #
      Emily — July 30, 2021 at 9:32 am

      Hi Paula! Both white and yellow cakes are actually vanilla cakes. The difference is that yellow cupcakes contain egg yolks, whereas white cupcakes contain only egg whites; however, they are both vanilla cakes. Here is a great article explaining more in detail: https://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-white-yellow-and-vanilla-cake-230663. Hope that helps!

      • #
        Paula — July 30, 2021 at 1:51 pm

        Hi Emily and thank you for the great article. I have gone around and around with flavors and colors for a long time. I did read a great article from Tessa Huff explaining the differences. She said “vanilla” is simply the flavor, it’s about what kind of crumb/structure you are after: butter cake; sponge cake…..that was a great article. So…if I wanted to make this yellow cupcake recipe, but didn’t want a strong yellow color, more of a mix of the white and yellow (does that make sense), would I eliminate the extra yolk? Prob not….over thinker here.

        • #
          Emily — July 30, 2021 at 2:57 pm

          We haven’t tried that, so I can’t say for sure! I’ve made this recipe 6 times so far (I test all of our recipes prior to publishing), but the eggs (and yolk) add extra richness and moisture (these cupcakes are SO good), and I don’t think I’d mess with it! What I would suggest is to try the recipe as written, see what you think, and then experiment with a second batch removing the yolk and compare the difference. Sorry I can’t help more! If you experiment, let us know what you find out 🙂

  14. #
    Ruchi Bahety — August 14, 2021 at 11:40 am

    These were the best yellow cupcakes I ever made. Am not going to look for any other recipe now.. This will be my go to forever!!!!

    • #
      Emily — August 17, 2021 at 9:02 am

      So happy to hear you enjoyed them, Ruchi, and that they’re now your go-to recipe! Thanks for letting us know 🙂

  15. #
    vishal kumar — September 4, 2021 at 5:52 am

    As you mentioned in your intro that you share trusted recipe’s I am sure about that now I tried baking this cake for my wife following your recipe it turned out to be instant hit thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe with us

    • #
      Emily — September 6, 2021 at 9:17 am

      Wonderful to hear that, Vishal! Thanks so much for letting us know 🙂

  16. #
    Dena Fox — September 11, 2021 at 8:06 am

    Can I use cake flour?

    • #
      Emily — September 13, 2021 at 1:56 pm

      We haven’t tried that!

  17. #
    Eirene — September 22, 2021 at 12:11 am

    Although I couldn’t eat these delicious cupcakes due to my coeliac, my husband and several others said they were the best. My four year old granddaughter even commented on the buttercream icing which had been made as raspberry flavour. She is a definite conneseur of icing, (if you get me drift!)
    Have these been made with gluten free flour, or a mix of rice flour etc, with any success and if so would you please share the recipe.. thanks again for the yummy are there any more cupcakes.
    PS I live in Victoria in Australia

    • #
      Emily — September 22, 2021 at 9:47 am

      Hi Eirene! I’m so happy to hear that everyone enjoyed these cupcakes! Are you a part of the Handle the Heat Facebook Group? We have quite a few members who have made our recipes using gluten or dairy free options, and I think that would be the perfect place for you to ask! Here is a link to join, make sure you answer all three questions 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/groups/handletheheatcommunity

  18. #
    Anonymous — October 9, 2021 at 4:43 am

    These taste great however, I have attempted this recipe 3 times and each time they sink in the middle. I live in the mid west so my elevation is low, I did not over mix, and my leaving ingredients was just opened, the last time was the best but they were still con-caved, DO NOT OVER FILL – if you over fill they spill out and look like sugar cookies on top of cupcakes lol. The taste is GREAT but they don’t give you that risen look of a usual cupcake or muffin. I’m a little disappointed because I really like the taste.

    • #
      Emily — October 11, 2021 at 10:21 am

      I’m so sorry you’ve experienced issues with this recipe, unfortunately, it’s so tough to figure out what went wrong without watching your process! If only we could bake along with you! I live in Michigan and had issues with sinking the second time I made this recipe, and it was due to my butter being too warm. You definitely want to make sure your butter is at a cool room temperature, 67°F (along with your eggs and buttermilk). Not overfilling your liners is definitely key like you suggested, we’ve found that 2/3 full has been a popular solution in the HTH Facebook group. I’d double check to make sure your oven temperature isn’t running too high as well, as that can cause the cupcakes to rise rapidly but then sink due to not-quite-baked middles. I’m so happy you enjoy the taste of these cupcakes, and I really hope that you give this recipe another try, I’d love for them to turn out perfectly for you!

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