Really Good Chocolate Cupcakes

I am pretty much a baking traditionalist. I like classic flavor combinations, and I like classic desserts. And what’s more, I was raised in the Midwest and so my definition of what constitutes “classic” is largely determined by my Midwestern sensibilities. I’m wary of baking fads (I’m giving you the side-eye, cake pops), and I don’t like dessert hybrids. I love cheesecake, and I love a good red velvet cake, but red velvet cheesecake seems like the kind of thing that would make me wish I was eating my standard cheesecake recipe. I don’t like overly complicated recipes that call for ingredients I wouldn’t normally keep on hand. And I just can’t get behind recipes that involve baking mixes. I mean, if you’re already going beyond simply adding oil and eggs to the mix, then why not just make the whole thing from scratch?

I am guided by two primary goals as a baker: 1) to build up a library of recipes for really great, classic baked goods like chocolate chip cookies and bagels; and 2) to continually focus on improving my technique so that I can do things like make a really good loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread (my current project) or consistently whip up a really good all-butter pie crust. These goals mean that I am content to make the same things over and over and over again without feeling compelled to try something new or raise the bar. That’s kind of boring. These goals also make me a mite snobbish (see comment above about baking mixes). So it goes. The point is that when I acknowledge and stay true to these goals rather than worrying that I should try making marshmallows like all the other cool kids, I enjoy my time in the kitchen more and am generally more pleased with the results of my work.

Of course, all this is a long-winded way of saying: Baker, know thyself. Think about what you like to make and why, and let that guide your baking projects. And also, maybe try weaning yourself off of baking mixes if you haven’t already. Or at least don’t do that weird thing where people mix them with things like black beans or Diet Coke. Because, ew. There’s just no reason for that.

Chocolate Cupcakes


This chocolate (cup)cake recipe is one of my go-to recipes, and it gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it. When I eat these cupcakes, I think of the scene in Matilda where the evil headmistress punishes a kid by making him eat a gigantic, insanely rich chocolate cake. I am almost certain this was the recipe used to make that cake. These cupcakes have a wonderfully tender, sticky crumb and the chocolate ganache frosting spread on top makes them out of this world. My theory is that what makes this cake really excellent is the coffee incorporated into the batter. Much like the chocolate stout cake I’ve made before, I think the presence of a bitter agent in the batter helps bring out some of the deeper notes in the chocolate flavor, which balances the sweetness of the cake nicely.

I decorated these particular cupcakes to look vaguely record-ish because they were for a birthday party where our friend was showing off his new turntable and tube amp, letting people share their favorite records all night. Since the chocolate ganache frosting is naturally a dark brown, it was relatively easy to turn it black with some black food dye. Using my signature low-tech decorating techniques, I spread the frosting on, ran the tines of a fork around the cupcake to create the record grooves and then slapped one of those candy melt wafers flat-side up for a record label. I piped a dab of the ganache in the middle of the candy melt and Bam!: vaguely record-ish cupcakes.

Double Chocolate Cupcakes (Adapted from Gourmet, March 1999)

Notes: My major adaptation to this recipe is, obviously, to use it to make cupcakes. If you want to make a layer cake, double the frosting recipe and refer to the original recipe (linked above) for baking times. I’ve tried filling these cupcakes in the past, but wouldn’t recommend it since the cake isn’t firm enough to stand up well to the filling process. I would also highly recommend making these a day in advance since the texture and flavor of chocolate cake significantly improves with an overnight rest.

For the cake:

  • 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla

For Ganache Frosting (simply spread onto the top of the cupcakes, this will make enough to frost the entire batch. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes to pipe on a generous little mound of frosting, you’ll want to double the recipe)

  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I’d recommend using something a little on the nicer side)
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

Make the cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a muffin tin with baking cups.
  2. Finely chop the chocolate and then combine in a bowl with the coffee. Let the mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In another large bowl, beat the eggs until they are slightly thickened and lemon-colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer, and a bit longer with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla and melted chocolate/coffee mixture to the eggs, beating until combined after every addition.
  5. Add the sugar mixture and beat on medium until just combined.
  6. Fill the baking cups 2/3 full with batter and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Make the frosting:

  1. Finely chop the chocolate.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted.
  4. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the frosting, whisking until smooth.
  5. Transfer the frosting to a bowl and allow it to cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. You can speed the process up by putting the bowl in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, although you’ll want to check on it every once in awhile, stirring to make sure its cooling evenly and making sure that it doesn’t become too firm.

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