The Winner of the Best Vanilla Cupcake Recipe (and I’ve tested a lot)

While Rock Star and the Band have been touring, I’ve had command over the tv remote and got to watch something I want (there’s only so many times I can talk the guys into watching Gok’s Fashion Roadshow). As a result, I’ve become slightly obsessed with The Great British Bake Off. The first week was all about cupcakes and it got me wondering – what is the best vanilla cupcake recipe?

I decided to create my own version of The Great British Bake Off, however not knowing a huge number of people in the UK, I had to be all 8 contestants myself. I couldn’t get Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry to judge, so I got a few friends to do a blind taste test to decide what was the best vanilla cupcake recipe.

The Recipes

To make sure I knew which cupcake won, I cooked each batch in a different cupcake liner. I bought the liners from here.

So here are the contestants in colour order:

In the Red Corner we have The Pioneer Woman’s basic vanilla cupcakes (I included her recipe as she is the first blogger I ever read and I love her cinnamon scrolls recipe)

I did tweak it slightly as it is hard to get vegetable shortening both here and in Australia, so in the end I had to use Stork. I also could not bring myself to add 1 and ¼ teaspoons of salt and so only added ½ teaspoon (not sure why I felt I couldn’t add that much salt but was more than happy to put 200g of pure fat into the mix).

Pink was my “cupcakery crush” – Peggy Porschen’s vanilla sponge. I got the recipe from here but it is available in her book  cake chic – which is on my Christmas wish list.

Yellow was a recipe based loosely on this recipe for poundcake.  This recipe uses what Australians call lemonade (Sprite or 7up in the USA).  The pound cake recipe is all over the internet but I tweaked and changed this one to make it my own.

The Crabapple Bakery who produced this delightful book were green. Their white chocolate mud cake is A-MAZ-ING (I’ve made it for wedding cakes amongst other things) and so I was keen to try their vanilla cupcake recipe.

Growing up my Mum used to send Cupcakes made from the Australian Woman’s Weekly Recipe to school with me for my morning tea (I always found them a little dry and so would often sell them to my friends at lunch time). I thought I should give them a try for old times sake. These were made from the vanilla cupcake recipe in this book. They were in the blue cases.

I’d previously made these cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery Recipe and had great feedback so I made them again putting them in purple cases.

Just to have a control I decided to make a packet mix. The only vanilla cupcake packet mix I could get from Tesco (the local supermarket) were themed and so in the end I went with Postman Pat. These were in the white cupcake cases that came with the packet mix.

Finally in the Brown cases I made a batch of Hummingbird Bakery Cupcakes from their cookbook. This is my “go to” book whenever I want a good baking recipe. You can get it here

The Method

I measured out all the ingredients the night beforehand and put them into Zip-lock bags so that I didn’t have to waste time on the day of the bakeoff.

All ingredients were at room temperature, all flour was sifted, any baking powder was added just prior to sifting. I followed all of the instructions exactly. The only variance to the recipes was that across all the recipes I used a ¼ cup to measure out the batter into each cupcake case.

This resulted in all cupcake cases being evenly filled so I could compare the rise of each batch. (The Postman pat cake mix was extremely small so I did only use a tablespoon of batter per cupcake for this mix).

Unfortunately I used 1/3 cup accidentally for Pioneer Woman’s, and the oven temperature was a bit out, which may have adversely affected the batch).

I used an oven thermometer to make sure the oven was the right temperature for the others and all cupcakes were brushed with a sugar syrup then placed in an airtight container to prevent drying out. From the first batch to the final tasting there was a span of 5 hours.

The Highlights

Who would of thought that there could be such a difference between 8 different recipes. Some were peaked. Some were puffy and some were flat.

The tastes and textures also varied greatly between the recipes. Here are the results after a tasting session with nine willing participants.

Worst Cupcake Award

Everyone agreed the Postman Pat cupcakes were the worst. Sorry Postman Pat – I do feel bad for you but you were dry and artificial tasting (even though there were no artificial colours or flavours). I feel bad giving you the “Worst Cupcake Award” but half the group found your cupcakes inedible


 The Best Looker

We all agreed that Peggy Porschen looked the prettiest but the cakes still tasted a little dry. This recipe was in fact a sponge and my first ever attempt at making a sponge so it may have been more to do with my lack of skill than the recipe itself.

The Top Three Vanilla Cupcake Recipes

In the end we had to narrow it down to a top 3 as we all had different things we were looking for in a cake.


Third Place & The Moistest Cake Award

Congratulations to The Pioneer Woman!

Second Place & The Best Flavour Award

Well done to the Lemonade cake – it would be very hard to frost but it’s flavour was certainly the best and it’s consistency light and airy.

First Place & The Best Cupcake for Frosting

Our overall winner of the best cupcake recipe was Magnolia Bakery, including it’s ability to stay fresh for more than a day (both in it’s form as well as being a good carrier).

In the end, although I would like to say the real winner on the day was “cupcakes” (there were 133 of them), those three recipes were our favourites.

I did get the Magnolia recipe from here however I have converted my version into weight rather than cups so there is no confusion (FYI cups and tablespoon sizes vary around the world so I find weight is a much easier way to make sure you are following the recipe.)

I’d like to thank the wonderful Victoria and Andrew for allowing me to destroy their kitchen for a couple of days. I’d also like to thank Alice for the use of her Kitchen Aid and camera. Finally I’d like to thank Rock Star and the Band as well as Dave, Alice, Victoria and Andrew for tasting lots of cupcakes. Coming soon, best pastry recipe.



12 thoughts on “The Winner of the Best Vanilla Cupcake Recipe (and I’ve tested a lot)

    1. @Naomi – You could make your own batch of Magnolia Cupcakes with the recipe here or get that chef husband of yours to make them for you. Give me a few more weeks and I should be able to recommend the best frosting to you as well.


  1. I knew it – you are brilliantly funny and I also knew you would have to go to Lakeland for something very soon. And, no, I don’t feel obliged to write something in your blog. I do it because i think you are amazing, adaptable and so very clever.
    Thank you for the entertainment again. Love you, RSW!


    1. @Lee Thank you again for commenting. I have now found a two story Lakeland store. There are so many gadgets there it is overwhelming. I require a lot of discipline not to buy half the store.


  2. The frosting tasting is a great idea! Do on-the-cake and off-the-finger!

    I’m still hoping for a low-fat, low-sugar bake-off! Although I have perfected my LF-LS muffin recipe, so maybe they can be the healthy option and cakes can be an indulgence 😉

    Great post love!


    1. @Kristen – I’ve decided to go for quality (full fat and sugar) and eating less rather than low fat and eating a tonne of cupcakes. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’ll be just as satisfied if I eat one as I will be if I eat 4.


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