There are many cupcake recipes on this blog (see them all at the bottom of this post) and it was time to breathe more life into these perfect vanilla cupcakes. They’re already a favourite for the custard buttercream that sits on top but I’ve dialled this up a notch and topped them with a totally addictive and silky smooth buttercream – German Buttercream. 

8 vanilla cupcakes lined up close together on a marble surface

There are 3 amazing parts to these little vanilla cakes:

  1. The cake: my favourite – soft and fluffy but still moist. They’re easy to make and always get rave reviews whenever I serve them up. They’re also great like these, topped with oreo buttercream.
  2. Pastry cream centre: remember that pastry cream I posted last week? Well there’s a little teaspoon of that hidden away in the middle there.
  3. Custard buttercream: aka German Buttercream. While my original recipe called for using custard powder and making this ermine frosting style, I’ve updated the buttercream recipe so that you can make it without custard powder.

Ok, so this recipe starts with the perfect vanilla cupcakes. Now I realise that ‘perfect’ is different for different people so I don’t use the word lightly. Pinky promise! For me the perfect cupcake should meet a number of criteria.

1. Flavour – it’s got to taste good
2. Texture – it should be light and fluffy
3. Moist – it should be moist. Definitely not dry.
4. Easy to make – just a few simple steps, nothing too involved

Well, check, check, check and check. This recipe ticks all those boxes and then some . In fact, this is the same recipe I used for our wedding cupcakes.  

The wonderful thing about these is their versatility. So many of my cupcake recipes start with this basic recipe which I then build on to create other unique cupcake flavours like my Cherry Pistachio Cupcakes and my Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes.

Top down view of a batch of vanilla cupcakes sitting close together

What is German Buttercream (custard buttercream)

German buttercream, also known as custard buttercream, is a fluffy, smooth frosting made by beating together butter and creme patissiere (vanilla pastry cream) and it’s utterly delicious.

Unlike standard buttercream or American buttercream, it is truly creamy, light and unbelievably smooth. It’s very similar to my favourite buttercream style Ermine, since you start by making a pudding base and then incorporate that into whipped butter. 

Using a stable pudding base as opposed to powdered sugar to help the buttercream hold it’s shape, results in a silky smooth buttercream which tastes amazing and is NOT sickeningly sweet. 

How to make the buttercream

You can see my full post with tips and tricks for German buttercream here, but it’s very easy to make. 

  1. You’ll start by making the pudding / pastry cream base and allowing that to cool to room temperature before you use it.
  2. Beat softened butter until it’s very light and fluffy – you want to incorporate air to make the buttercream light.
  3. Add room temperature pastry cream to the butter a spoonful at a time, giving each just a few seconds to incorporate before adding the next.
  4. Now beat it for another few minutes until it’s light, fluffy and silky smooth.

The original custard buttercream recipe

Why did I change the recipe? The original recipe was a buttercream made with custard powder. Unfortunately, not everyone can get custard powder and while you can make it, the flavour of the German Buttercream in the recipe card wins hands down. Don’t worry though, if you loved the original version, it’s still here. You’ll find it directly below the recipe card. 

A collage of images showing the steps to filling a cupcake with pastry cream

 

The cupcake filling

Adding a filling to a cupcake is like a lovely little surprise in something that you were already excited to eat. I do it a lot from cupcakes filled with jam to caramel, it just takes them to a whole new level and  is a very simple process.

These ones are filled with pastry cream but there’s no extra effort, since you’re already making that for the buttercream.

To fill cupcakes

  1. Cut a 3/4 inch hole in the top. I use a small tool called a cupcake corer but you can certainly just use a sharp knife. Be careful not to cut through the bottom of the cake though. 
  2. Place your filling into a piping bag or just a sturdy plastic bag with the corner cut off and pipe in roughly a teaspoon of filling
  3. Optional: Cover the filling with a small slice of the cupcake that you cut out at the start. I like to get as much cake into the cupcake as possible.  (see above)

 

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Top down view of a batch of vanilla cupcakes sitting close together

Vanilla Cupcakes with Custard Buttercream (German Buttercream)

5 from 8 votes
These are absolutely Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes topped with a creamy, custard buttercream. Using my easy cupcake recipe, you'll love these soft and fluffy cakes.

Ingredients

FOR THE VANILLA CUPCAKES

  • 130 g plain (all-purp) flour (1 cup / 4.6oz)
  • 35 g corn flour (cornstarch) notes (1/4 cup / 1.2oz)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 115 g unsalted butter softened (1/2 cup / 1 stick)
  • 150 g white granulated sugar (3/4 cup)
  • 2 large eggs, room temp
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ cup whole milk room temp (125ml)

FOR THE CUSTARD BUTTERCREAM

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk (375ml)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 150 g caster (superfine) sugar (divided in half) (3/4 cup / 5.3oz) (notes)
  • 35 g cornflour (cornstarch) (1/4 cup / 1.2oz)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 226 g unsalted butter, room temperature (1 cup / 2 sticks)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Equipment

Instructions
 

FOR THE VANILLA CUPCAKES

  • Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / 160C fan forced. Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers.
  • Start by placing the flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk well to distribute everything evenly.
  • Using a handheld beater or stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until lightened and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Don't skimp on this step and make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl regularly.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined (scrape down the bowl as needed). Add the vanilla and beat through.
  • Alternate 1/3 of the flour followed by half the milk, stirring in with a spatula and then repeat until everything is added. Don't overmix at this point.
  • Fill the cupcake cases to two-thirds full and bake for 20-22 minutes, turning the tray at the halfway mark, until a toothpick comes out with just a crumb or two attached.

FOR THE FILLING AND CUSTARD BUTTERCREAM

  • Pour 1 1/4 cups of milk into a heavy based saucepan, and add roughly half cup of sugar and the vanilla. Heat on low heat until steaming, stirring regularly. Remove from heat.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup milk, egg yolks and cornflour until smooth and fully combined.
  • While whisking, very slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture in a slow but steady stream. Don’t pour it too quickly or the heat will scramble the eggs.
  • Once everything is combined, return the mix to the saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring with a whisk constantly, until it gets very thick and no longer settles into itself when you move it around. This will happen quite quickly after about 5 minutes so it’s important to keep gently whisking increasing intensity as it gets very thick. Continue cooking while whisking for another minute. You will end up with lumpy custard if you don’t.
  • Swap to a silicone spatula and pass the custard through a strainer into a clean bowl, then press plastic wrap to the surface and allow to cool to room temperature.
  • Use an electric butter, or a stand mixer with paddle attachment to whip the butter and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar for about 5 minutes or until it looks very light and airy.
  • Reserve 1/4 cup of the pastry cream for filling the cupcakes, then add the rest, 1 spoonful at a time, beating for a few seconds to incorporate, before adding the next. Beat well for another minute or so.
  • Finally mix through the salt.
  • Use a silicone spatula and just spend a minute stirring and pressing the buttercream against the side of the bowl just to remove any big air bubbles that might make piping difficult.

TO ASSEMBLE

  • Cut a 3/4 inch hole in the top of each cupcake with a cupcake corer or sharp knife. Fill with 1 teaspoon of the reserved pastry cream in each, then replace a thin slice of cake on top.
  • Place the buttercream into a piping bag with open star piping tip and pipe swirls of buttercream on top.

Notes

  1. Cake flour is a combination of all-purpose and cornstarch. I use cornflour (cornstarch) often in my bakes so that I don't need to keep cake flour on hand. Feel free to replace both the plain flour and cornflour with cake flour in this recipe.
  2. These cupcakes freeze well, so go ahead and place the ones you don’t need in the freezer for another time. Make sure to wrap them well to keep the air (and hence frost) out. Wrap in one big bundle with a small piece of baking paper on top of each one, in aluminium foil. Then wrap the whole lot well in plastic wrap or in a well sealed, air free, snap-lock bag.
  3. For best results, you should always weigh ingredients like flour and sugar. Kitchen scales are relatively cheap but if you can’t weigh the ingredients, use the spoon and level method (don’t scoop).
  4. Sugar: you can swap the caster sugar in the buttercream for granulated white sugar but don't use powdered or icing sugar.
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Have you tried this recipe?Rate or comment below and let us know how it was!

Custard Powder Custard Buttercream recipe

  • 1/4 cup custard powder (buy online or make your own)
  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • 1 cup caster (superfine) sugar (not powdered or icing sugar)
  • 226g (1 cup / 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream
  1. In a small saucepan, stir together the custard powder and a little milk until you have a paste. Add the rest of the milk and whisk well until smooth. Add ½ of the sugar and mix well.
  2. Heat over low heat while stirring constantly to prevent lumps, for around 7 minutes until you have a very thick custard (it should drop off the spoon in dollops). Transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap pressed right onto the surface to stop a skin forming and place in the fridge until cool.
  3. Once the custard is cool, place the butter and the remaining ½ cup of sugar in a bowl and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary until very light and creamy. 
  4. Add the salt and the cold custard (which should be like a big blob of firm custard) one spoon at a time, one after the other, beating well the whole time. Add half the milk or cream and beat until the buttercream is smooth and there are no more sugar grains (around 5 minutes). Beat in a little more milk or cream as needed to loosen the mix up a little so that you can pipe it.

A batch of vanilla cupcakes on a marble surface. One is sitting on a white & blue tea towel.