The Search for the Perfect Vanilla Cake: The Famous Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcake

magnolia frosted

My first attempt for this challenge is the famous Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcake recipe. The first time I heard of Magnolia’s was while watching Sex and the City, naturally. Who can forget those insane looking cupcakes Carrie and Miranda eat while gossiping on a park bench near the bakery? They were the first cake I thought of regarding this challenge. The reviews are very mixed on this recipe and even on the bakery itself. Lots of people seem to think it’s overrated, but curiosity won out and I decided to give it a try. Carrie Bradshaw can’t be wrong.


My first impression with the recipe was disappointment due to the self-rising flour. I really didn’t want to stock my kitchen with multiple different flours just to make cake. I recalled hearing you could make your own, so I looked it up and found it was surprisingly simple. That was the only hitch, and a pretty minor one at that. This recipe has simple, basic ingredients and a standard method. It baked true to the time given and soon enough I was left with a dozen perfectly sized cupcakes that smelled lovely.

To get the full Magnolia experience, I whipped up a batch of their Vanilla Buttercream while the cupcakes cooled. The ingredients were the typical ones used for buttercream, but I thought it was interesting that you just throw everything in the mixer at once, instead of beating the butter alone first. I think that, plus the extra beating time make for a super light icing. I loved it. Make sure to beat it as long as the recipe says. It’s so worth it.

Then came the true test: the cake itself. I cut an unfrosted one in half and my Main Taste Tester and I each had one. At first bite, I was really impressed with the texture. The perfect balance of lightness and sturdiness; I think the density was almost perfect. They were very mildly sweet and buttery, which I liked. My only complaint? The vanilla flavor was lacking for me. I really wanted to put more vanilla in the batter but I resisted to stay true to the original recipe. If these are the winner, I will be adding some more vanilla. I am really impressed with these otherwise, though. They are definitely the best vanilla cake to come out of my kitchen thus far.

Here is a closer look. Look at that beautiful crumb!

half magnolia

My scores out of 5:                                   

Density – 4.5

Vanilla Flavor – 2

 Sweetness – 4

 Moistness – 4

 Simplicity – 4


My MTT’s scores out of 5:

Density – 3  (he felt they were a little too dense)

Vanilla Flavor – 3.5

 Sweetness – 4.5  (“perfect” amount)  

 Moistness – 4

 (No comment on simplicity)


My next attempt in the series is coming up soon! In the meantime, give this recipe a try. It’s a great classic cupcake that would work well with any frosting.


Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes


Vanilla Cupcakes:

  • 3/4 cups self-rising flour (see notes below)
  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vanilla Buttercream Icing:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


For the Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool the cupcakes in the tin for 15 minutes. Remove from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

For the Buttercream:

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (I did pink, obviously.)


  • To make your own self-rising flour, whisk together 1.5 tsp. baking powder and ¼ tsp. salt with 1 cup all-purpose flour.
  • My butter, milk and eggs were all at room temperature. This is really important and contributes to how much your cake will rise.
  • My cupcakes were perfect at 20 minutes. Don’t over bake!


Recipe from: Food Network

Carrie and Miranda photo from: Bobbette and Belle


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