Filed under: Cakes / Cupcakes
May 19, 2023

Vanilla Brown Butter Cupcakes

Super soft, fluffy vanilla cupcakes made with vanilla bean brown butter. Topped with a vanilla brown butter frosting.

5 from 5 votes
Yield: 12 cupcakes
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Have you ever had a vanilla cupcake and thought, this is okay i just wish it were more… something? What if I told you we could get there not by turning it into a chocolate cake, or adding any other flavors, but working with it as it is: amping up the flavors and adjusting the method to get the ideal fluffy cake texture? 

So let’s do it: we’ll take the basic vanilla cupcake and elevate it tenfold with a freshly scraped vanilla bean, brown butter and by reverse creaming method to give it a tight, suuuper tender crumb. 

white cake –> vanilla bean brown butter cupcakes

White cakes are, I think, quite lovely when you are making birthday cake or a rainbow cake, and on occasion I might even like them as is, made without the gorgeously distracting rainbow colors. Most days though, they are overly plain and I wanted to create a standout vanilla cupcake recipe that you’d instantly fall in love with, for the depth of it’s flavor. 

For testing, I started with an old favorite white cake: King Arthur’s Tender White Cake which uses the reverse creaming method. I wanted to employ the vanilla bean cooked into the butter as it browns method, like I did in this cake , as it emphasizes the vanilla so much more. There’s also some compensations that need to be made in lieu of loss of fat and loss of moisture from the browning. But a year later, I got it down – and it’s truly become the only vanilla cupcake I can see myself making for a long, long time. 


Recipe Ingredients 

Butter: American or European style butter will work here. You can use salted, just omit 1/4 tsp of the salt from the recipe. 

Vanilla: A fresh vanilla bean. If you can’t find them you could brown the butter without it then add some vanilla paste or extract to the butter after it has browned and while it’s still hot.  

Cake flour: contributes nicely to that very tender crumb and the featherlight fluffiness. If you need to sub, use all purpose and swap out 1 tablespoon of it for 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. 

Eggs: It’s common for white cake recipes to have just egg whites so that the batter is crisp white (my rainbow cake for example) but I saw no reason to remove the yolks for these. The browned butter gives them a little cream color anyway. 

Buttermilk: please note that you cannot replicate the effect buttermilk has in baking with milk and lemon juice/vinegar. Kefir is a great substitute. And if you don’t have it, thin out some yogurt with water to create a similar consistency. 

Oil: use anything flavorless, canola, sunflower or avocado. 


How to correctly brown butter 

Whether it’s your first time browning butter or you’ve done it before, there’s a few things to keep in mind when browning and using it in a recipe: 

Stir often: where the heat is strongest, you’ll see the butter start to melt quickest and this is where the first brown spots will appear. 

Stop when most of the solids have browned (but before any burn!): this is probably where I see the most variation in terms of browning butter and it can have a considerable effect on the baked good when using the butter.

A good formula to go by: every stick of butter is 113g. If you brown it correctly it should weigh 90-93g after browning. If you have more than this, you probably haven’t browned it enough. 

Allow it to solidify: For recipes when you need to cream (or reverse cream), or when you need softened butter, you’ll chill the butter for about an hour, until it’s the consistency of room temperature butter. If you need cold butter, like we use in my brown butter scone recipe, leave it in the fridge until it’s completely firm. 

Add back some moisture: As you brown butter, water evaporates. Let’s say you have a cookie recipe that requires a stick of butter and you decide you want to brown it. You do so then add it back to the dough. But remember the formula above? You’ve lost over 20g of ‘butter’ and moisture. That’s not an insignificant amount and is going to impact the cookies; they’ll be dry and crumbly. 

So we have to add it back somehow; sometimes you can do this by just adding water to get back to the 113g you started with. Personally, my preferred method is to use sour cream because it adds moisture but also creaminess. Heavy cream or milk will work too. In this brown butter cupcake recipe buttermilk does the job. 


How to make vanilla brown butter cupcake batter

Usually when making a cake you’d beat together the butter and sugar and then add the eggs in, and lastly alternate between adding the flour and liquid. 

With the reverse creaming method, we’ll start with slightly solid, close to room temperature butter (it’ll be creamy), the flour and the sugar. Beating these three ingredients (along with the leavening and salt) will coat the flour with fat so that very very little gluten will develop leading to a very tender crumb. Basically, you want to do the opposite of what you’d do if you were making bread.

What’s important: 

Get that sandy texture: To ensure all the flour gets coated in fat, you don’t want to stop mixing too soon. If you’re using a stand mixer this will take at least 3 minutes and up to 6, depending on how firm the butter is. 

Add eggs slowly: One at a time to allow the mixer to beat enough air into the cake batter as it’s beating in the egg. This will be even more important if you are doubling or tripling the recipe. 

Scrape down the bowl: Because of the way this batter is mixed, it’s even more likely than usual that you’ll have bits of sugar/butter that haven’t gotten whipped up into the batter. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl often, getting every last bit of unmixed batter. 

Brown butter vanilla buttercream 

Just like in the white cake, toasted milk solids do something quite lovely to the frosting, taking an otherwise plain buttercream and adding bits of nuttiness and lots of toasty flavor. 

To make it, we’ll chill the brown butter and then use it to make buttercream as we would – no other steps or adjustments needed. The frosting will be speckled with brown (and black, from the vanilla bean!).


Vanilla Brown Butter Cupcakes

Super soft, fluffy vanilla cupcakes made with vanilla bean brown butter. Topped with a vanilla brown butter frosting.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Chill (for the butter): 1 hour
Yields: 12 cupcakes
5 from 5 votes


Vanilla Bean Brown Butter

  • 3 sticks or 339g butter unsalted, cold is fine
  • 1 vanilla bean split

Vanilla Brown Butter Cupcakes

  • 220 g or 1 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 200g or 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 90g browned butter*
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil or any flavorless oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 160g or ⅔ cup buttermilk or kefir

Brown Butter Buttercream

  • Remaining brown butter (should be about 200g)
  • 113g or half a brick cream cheese at room temperature (or sub with 60g or 1/4 cup sour cream)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 360g or 3 cups powdered sugar preferably made with tapioca not cornstarch


Brown the butter

  • In a large frying pan, add the butter and turn the heat to medium low. As it begins to melt, split and scrape the vanilla bean. Add the bean and scrapings to the butter. Once it has all melted, let cook as it sputters and spits stirring often. When you see brown bits (they will be different than the vanilla seeds which are smaller and black) stir gently. Once you see a lot of brown bits, turn the heat off and immediately transfer the butter to a heatproof bowl. Remove the vanilla pod and discard it. You can make this up to a week ahead of time.
  • Measure out 90g of the browned butter (be sure to get some of the brown bits and not just the top yellow liquid) and set aside. This will be for the cake. The remaining will be for the buttercream. Chill both in the fridge for about an hour until firm but not fully solid.

Make the buttercream

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer press down the cream cheese to remove any lumps, if using. Add the firm but soft brown butter and mix on low until combined; adding the vanilla and salt as it’s mixing.
  • Sift in the powdered sugar and mix until the buttercream is blended and creamy. You might need to add a splash or two of milk to get it to the right consistency. If it’s a bit too melty set it in the fridge to chill. If you are using sour cream, add it last and you won't need the milk.

Make the cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Line a cupcake tin with 12 muffin cups.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, add all the dry ingredients and the cooled, creamy browned butter. Mix on low until it’s combined and resembles the texture of sand (this coats the flour in the fat).
  • Add the eggs one by one and turn the speed to medium, mixing very well between each egg (this whips air into the batter).
  • Add the vanilla, oil and buttermilk and mix until you have a smooth batter. Scrape down the bowl as many times needed to make sure no bits remain unmixed, this is especially important with a reverse cream batter.
  • Divide the batter between the 12 liners, they will be mostly full.
  • Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes, until they spring back when pressed gently. Let cool completely before topping with the buttercream.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. Hi! I’m wanting to try this recipe out, but I don’t have any vanilla bean. Should I add vanilla extract to the browned butter or just leave it out? How much will this impact the flavor?

  2. Question – would vanilla bean paste work in lieu of vanilla bean split? Wasn’t sure if texture would be off with the paste?

  3. 5 stars
    First time using the reverse creaming method and it’s a game changer! The cupcakes are so soft, light and fluffy, and the brown butter flavour is prominent and so so good!

  4. 5 stars
    I bake these cupcakes this week, and they were a great cupcake! The brown butter adds a wonderful flavor and they had a nice texture and they were moist. I will definitely bake these again. I made the uocake recipe as written; however, I didn’t make the buttercream since I was just baking numerous recipes in an attempt to find a good vanilla cupcake, This cupcake recipe won hands down! Thank you for another excellent brown butter recipe.

  5. Looks beautiful. Could I brown the butter a couple days in advance and just bring to proper temp once ready? Thank you!!

  6. 5 stars
    Of course this recipe is hugely calling to me, as your creations have been so spot on in our home. My sole question regards my penchant for following weights whenever possible. In the cupcakes I see 220 g. for the 1 cup granulated sugar. Clearly for this recipe, you’ve given the amount of sugar that is appropriate….I would like to know if 220 g. sugar is what you typically use as a cup of sugar.

    • Hi Jeff! Yes I’d generally say it’s 220g but sometimes you’ll see it listed as 210g and I do that when I think a tiny less won’t at all impact the final result. Tbh, for sugar I usually measure by cup but I do it over the scale so I always have the weight for readers as well and it’s always in that range of 210-220g.