Cupcakes are one of those things that could be amazingly satisfying or sadly disappointing- fortunately for us, these easy vanilla cupcakes fall into the former category. Made with olive oil, these little bites of sweetness have just the right amount of vanilla to support your frosting of choice.

empty, used cupcake baking pan

If you've wandered around my blog before, you'll know that I have a bit of a "thing" for cake... Now, don't misconstrue that for a love of all types of cake, but this dessert definitely takes prominence on my list of favourite things to make. From fancy, special occasion cakes to every-day loafs, cake is one of those things that I have a hard time refusing (both to make and eat!). For the sake of not inciting a war, I won't risk naming which cakes I don't like. I know it can be a touchy subject.

My earliest memory of wanting to make a cake on my own takes place when I was about eleven or twelve years old. I had already developed a keen interest in the kitchen and cooking, being born a foodie, but no one in my immediate family was much into baking. We were visiting a close family friend (an Aunty, not related by blood but an Aunty nonetheless) who lived down the street one afternoon and were presented with a strawberries and whipped cream pound cake. This cake was made by my Aunty's daughter in her Home Ec. class in high school.

The pound cake was a light golden yellow with browned edges and was filled with slices of strawberries and a layer of sweetened whipped cream. I was amazed. They taught you how to make stuff like this in high school?! No. Way. I was stunned. I remember coming home from that visit and poring over my sister's copy of the Anne of Green Gable's cookbook that she had received as a gift from a friend. I knew I had seen a pound cake recipe in there and I was going to find it. I don't think my first few cake baking experiences experiments were super successful but I was determined to learn how to bake a cake.

You know that old proverb about teaching someone to fish? Well, I figured I could wait for someone to give me cake every so often, or I could learn to make it myself and have cake whenever I wanted it!

Fast forward many years and many failed baking attempts later to present day and we have these easy vanilla cupcakes with olive oil...

vanilla cupcakes in cupcake baking sheet

I've just come to the end of a family visit and it has been a whirlwind of activities and lots of meals together. One of these meals was a barbeque at my aunt's house. Since no meal is complete without dessert, I offered to bring something sweet to the party. Since I knew that there would be mountains of food, I decided to make these easy vanilla cupcakes in a bite-sized format.

Using my new mini muffin tin, I made 48 (!!!) mini cupcakes with my batch of batter. I guess making that many mini cupcakes kind of cancels out the whole "mini" idea. Oh well. The more the merrier, right?

They came out golden and so gosh darn cute I almost didn't want to frost them! Almost. Let's be real here, cupcakes are just an excuse for people to eat frosting. No one's saying you can't eat frosting out of a bowl by the spoonful in public, but it's not exactly something that's socially acceptable. Cupcakes essentially let you do just that, without any social awkwardness or judgement. You know it. I know it.

Let's just talk about these cupcakes for a second here though. I've been trying to make a vanilla cupcake that is moist (and nut-free... my spelt and almond cakes are delicious but not everyone can have nuts) without having to use a ton of butter. This has been such a long road that I'd almost given up and resigned myself to only making chocolate cupcakes for the rest of my baking life. Now, some of you may read that and think, hey! What's the problem with that? And yes, I know. Chocolate cupcakes are awesome. But you can't have chocolate all the time. Once in a while, you just need some vanilla. Yup. There. I said it. And besides, you'd be hard pressed to find a more supportive and complementary canvas for a standout frosting than a delicious and moist vanilla cake.

These easy vanilla cupcakes with olive oil have a tender crumb and just the right amount of sweetness and vanilla. A note about sweetness: I prefer my cakes (and desserts in general) to err on the side of less sweet. Often times cake recipes with "less fat" rely on having more sugar in it to compensate for the loss of moisture resulting from the lower fat content (think angel food cake), but you end up eating more sugar. You have to pick your battles I guess. In this recipe, the olive oil and milk help keep the cupcakes moist while the eggs (use free-range, happy eggs if you can) give the cupcakes their golden colour, height, and richness without making them heavy. The addition of lemon zest adds a brightness to the cake without being overbearing and helps to keep them light. That way you can eat more of them, right? That's the spirit!

three eggs in bowl

And one of the best things about this easy vanilla cupcake recipe is that all you need is a couple of bowls and a whisk! I love my stand mixer with an undying passion, but sometimes it's really nice to make a cake that doesn't require heavy machinery. That's the beauty of baking with olive oil instead of butter.

whisk, eggs in a bowl, and a measuring cup with oil

There's something magical about watching these small puddles of batter expand and puff into the cute little darlings they're destined to be.

cupcake batter poured into cupcake baking sheet

I actually baked my mini easy vanilla cupcakes in this tin without liners, just to see how my new pan would do with the job. This new pan sure stood up to the test! I lightly greased each well with olive oil before filling the pan. The baked cupcakes released from the pan without any problem. All I needed to do was take a small silicone (I didn't want to scratch my new pan right off the bat) spatula to lift one side before I gently lifted them out of the pan and placed them on a cooling rack. I would recommend using another spatula to move the hot (!!!) cakes to the cooling rack. I didn't this time and regret that choice. I don't have asbestos hands like my grandmother did. Still amazes me.

vanilla cupcakes on baking rack

I'm still working on figuring out how to deal with hot spot(s) in my oven so that my things bake a little more evenly. You can probably see that some of my little buddies are leaning a bit to one side. I like to tell myself that it makes them look whimsical and charming...

You can pair these yummy little easy vanilla cupcakes with any frosting of your choice, or leave them naked and enjoy them as a tea cake with a bit of jam or some preserves. You could also add a bit of lavender or finely chopped rosemary to give them an earthy fragrance and a different twist.

They're also a great make ahead cake since they freeze really well.

Easy Vanilla Cupcakes With Olive Oil

serves many

1 cup olive oil

3 large, free-range, happy eggs

1 and 1/4 cup milk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

2 cups all purpose flour, spooned and levelled

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

finely grated zest of one small, organic lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees before you even gather your ingredients. Allowing ample time for your oven to sit at your desired temperature is actually really helpful. It ensures that your oven is evenly heated before you put your cake in. It's common practice for me to turn my oven on to preheat about 20-25 minutes before I'm ready to put anything in the oven.

Prepare a mini muffin pan. You can either line with cupcake liners or grease (and flour if your tin is older or doesn't have any easy-release or non-stick capabilities) each well.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Whisk well. If you wanted to add any herbs like rosemary or lavender, now would be the time. Mixing the zest (or herbs) with the dry ingredients helps to suspend them in the batter as the cakes bake. Otherwise they would all sink to the bottom of the cake.

Pour the oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla mixture into the flour mixture. Whisk gently until there are no clumps and lumps left.

Fill your prepared pan with the batter. I filled each well almost to the brim so I would get the little crispy edge around the little cupcake top. If you want a flatter or lower cupcake, fill your wells 2/3 of the way full.

Bake the mini cupcakes for 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven. I rotated my pan partway through because of those darn hot spots.

You'll know they're cooked when the cupcakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the largest one comes out clean.

You could also bake these in a larger muffin tin. You'll have to adjust the baking time though. They also freeze like a dream!

I frosted these babies with a trio of frostings: vanilla lemon, chocolate, and matcha. The post for that is coming soon!

vanilla cupcakes on rack, next to cups of icing

If you give these easy vanilla cupcakes with olive oil a try, leave a comment below or share with us on Instagram by tagging @pepperwsalt in your photos.

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