These simple brown sugar cupcakes are moist, flavorful, and comforting. Topped with fluffy brown sugar buttercream frosting, this recipe is definitely a crowd pleaser and bakery worthy!
Brown sugar cupcakes are like your classic vanilla cupcakes but with a delicious, deep caramel flavor from the brown sugar. Made with brown sugar, buttermilk, and a little cinnamon, they have a cozy, gourmet yet simple flavor everyone will love. They have a swirl of delicious brown sugar frosting on top, which silky smooth since the brown sugar is blitzed in the food processor.
Each cupcake is super moist because of the brown sugar and buttermilk. The best part though, is that you can whip up a batch in one bowl in under an hour with minimal equipment! These will be your new go-to dessert for holidays, birthday parties, and other gatherings.
Here are some notes about the ingredients used. For quantities and the full instructions, see the recipe card below.
- Brown sugar- Brown sugar is granulated sugar that has been mixed with molasses. Light or dark brown sugar work, adding sweetness and depth of flavor. Make sure it is fresh and moist, not dry or hard.
- Flour- All purpose flour is the main ingredient giving structure to the cupcakes. It makes them soft yet hearty.
- Baking powder- Helps the cupcakes rise and become fluffy by adding air bubbles to the batter. Make sure your baking powder is fresh, and don't substitute baking soda because it's way stronger!
- Cinnamon- A little ground cinnamon adds a warm flavor.
- Salt- A little salt activate the leavening agent (baking powder) while balancing the sweet flavors. Use finely ground salt- if yours isn't fine, add an additional ¼ teaspoon.
- Oil- Use a mild or flavorless oil like canola, avocado, grapeseed, or vegetable oil. Using oil instead of butter makes the cupcakes stay moist for a long time and slows down gluten development. This results in a fluffier cupcake!
- Egg- A large egg binds the ingredients together and adds richness. Pull it out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before baking to get to room temperature. Room temperature eggs and dairy ingredients mix in much more smoothly
- Buttermilk- This adds moisture and fat to the cupcakes while the acidity helps create a tender, soft crumb. Make sure this is at room temperature too.
Substitutions & Variations
- To make these cupcakes gluten free, substitute Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten Free Baking Flour.
- Plain kefir can be used instead of buttermilk. You can make homemade buttermilk by combining 1 cup milk and 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes to curdle.
- Make the brown sugar buttercream with solidified brown butter for an extra nutty flavor.
- Use a different frosting like lavender buttercream, cream cheese frosting, Swiss meringue buttercream, or the cinnamon cream cheese frosting from my apple cider cupcake recipe.
Helpful Equipment & Tools
You will need a 12-tin cupcake pan filled with cupcake liners. A stand mixer or electric hand mixer is needed to make the buttercream. To frost the cupcakes, you'll need a piping bag fitted with the piping tip of your choice.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make the brown sugar cupcakes! Before you begin, preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C. Prepare a cupcake tin with liners and set aside.
STEP 1: In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, all purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to combine.
STEP 2: Add the oil, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk to the dry ingredients. Mix with a rubber spatula until well combined. You'll want to make sure the egg is mixed in well, but be careful to not overwork the batter.
STEP 3: Pour the cupcake batter into the liners, filling them ⅔ full so they don't overflow in the oven. Use a cookie or ice cream scoop to make sure the batter is evenly distributed.
STEP 4: Bake the cupcakes for 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Let them cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
How to Make Brown Sugar Frosting
The brown sugar buttercream is super simple to make and only takes about 5 minutes. For the full recipe and tips and tricks, head to my brown sugar frosting recipe.
STEP 1: Cream the butter and brown sugar. Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment or electric hand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar on high for 8-10 minutes. Then, mix in the vanilla and salt on low.
STEP 2: Add powdered sugar and milk. Beat in 1 cup powdered sugar on low for 3 minutes and then beat in another cup for 3 more minutes. Mix in the milk until the desired consistency is reached.
STEP 3: Frost the cupcakes. Make sure the cupcakes are completely cooled before frosting. You can use a piping bag with a large tip or snip a corner off a plastic storage bag to use as a piping bag. Alternatively, you can spread the buttercream with an offset spatula or spoon. Garnish with sprinkles or extra brown sugar and enjoy.
Expert Baking Tips
- Use room temperature ingredients. Cold ingredients don't get mixed in evenly and can mess up the batter.
- Measure flour correctly. The best way to measure flour is to weigh it in grams with a kitchen scale. If you don't have one, gently spoon flour into the measuring cup (don't pack it in!) and swipe the excess back into the bag with a butter knife.
- Don't overmix. When combining the dry and wet ingredients, mix until everything is just combined and there are no dry streaks. Overmixing will result in a tough, gummy cupcake.
- Let the cupcakes cool. Make sure the cupcakes are completely cool before frosting. Transfer them from the muffin pan to a wire rack after 5 minutes- no longer! Leaving them in the tin longer can cause condensation to form inside the wrappers, making the cupcakes soggy.
Storage & Freezing
Brown sugar cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Store them in the refrigerator for an additional 3 days after that.
Make sure the cupcakes don't have frosting on them before freezing since they'll get soggy when thawed. Freeze them on a baking sheet for 2 hours or until frozen solid. After that, transfer them to a freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
When you’re ready to enjoy, remove the cupcakes from the freezer and let them thaw at room temperature for two hours or in the refrigerator overnight. Frost before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Thoroughly beating the butter and brown sugar should make the buttercream less grainy. If you want silky smooth frosting, blitz the brown sugar in a food processor before adding to the butter.
Yes! You can use 1 cup of soy or almond milk combined with 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to make dairy free buttermilk. Vegan buttery sticks can be used in the frosting.
If you don't want to use liners, make sure to spray the cupcake tin well with cooking spray.
More Cupcakes to Try
Brown Sugar Cupcakes
Brown Sugar Cupcakes
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C and line a cupcake pan with 12 liners.
- In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk until the ingredients are evenly distributed.¾ cup brown sugar, 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour, 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon salt
- Add the oil, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk. Stir with a rubber spatula until just combined with no dry streaks.¼ cup vegetable oil, 1 large egg, 2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 cup buttermilk
- Fill each cupcake liner ⅔ of the way full. Do not overfill!
- Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cupcakes from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes, and transfer them to a wire cooling rack. Make sure the cupcakes are completely cool before frosting.
- With a mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar on high for 8-10 minutes. Mix in the vanilla and salt on low.½ cup unsalted butter, ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon salt
- Beat in 1 cup powdered sugar on low for 3 minutes and then beat in the remaining cup for 3 more minutes. Mix in milk until the desired consistency is reached.2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk