Vanilla cupcakes are the perfect base for myriad fillings and frostings. For the richest, fullest flavor and fragrance, use pure vanilla extract. Or, better yet, if you are willing to splurge, add the seeds from a vanilla bean to the batter along with the extract.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 whole egg plus 1 egg white, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
Vanilla buttercream for frosting cupcakes (see related recipe)
Nonpareils and colored sugars for garnish (optional)
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg and egg white one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk in 2 additions, beating until just combined; scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat just until no traces of flour remain, about 30 seconds; do not overbeat.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each about three-fourths full. Bake until the cupcakes are lightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cupcakes to the rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour.
Frost the cupcakes with the buttercream. (The frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before finishing.) Garnish the cupcakes with nonpareils and colored sugars and serve. Makes 12 cupcakes.
Adapted from Cupcakes, by Shelly Kaldunski (Weldon Owen, 2008).