The Best Chocolate Cupcakes

Recipe By Tessa Arias
  |  
February 1st, 2021
4.94 from 369 votes
4.94 from 369 votes

After tons of testing and tweaking, I've finally discovered the BEST Chocolate Cupcake recipe! Truly! Keep reading for lots of recipe tips, insights into the science of baking, and the full printable recipe.

Yield: 12 to 15 cupcakes

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: Chocolate overload in the best possible way!
Texture: The cupcakes are incredibly moist and tender without being too delicate or crumbly. And the frosting is just oh so light and creamy.
Ease: The cupcakes themselves are super simple and easy, but the frosting is more involved. It balances out in the end!
Appearance: Gorgeous.
Pros: The BEST, duh!!
Cons: None.
I make this again? Yessss, but maybe not for a while since my kitchen has experienced a cupcake explosion since trying to perfect this recipe, ha!

Oh, was this a frustrating recipe to perfect. If you follow me at all, then you know I love to utilize the science of baking to tweak and test recipes until I think they’re the ULTIMATE version of that recipe.

close up of chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles on a chocolate cupcake

I’ve done it with my Ultimate Brownies and Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies, so it was about time I embarked on another recipe.

What better to perfect than Chocolate Cupcakes?! It took about 5 straight batches over a couple days, after previous casual tests over the months, to finally nail the recipe.

I hope you love it as much as I do! It’s perfectly moist and tender. Not so moist that is collapses and not so tender that it crumbles. Plus tooooons of chocolate flavor. Like three kinds overall!

best homemade chocolate cupcakes on a plate cut in half

How to Make the BEST Chocolate Cupcakes

This recipe underwent extensive testing to perfect. Below is a complete explanation of every major element in case you wanted to learn more about the science and process behind all of it.

I’ve tried to answer any questions you might have below, but feel free to leave a comment with any other questions.

ALSO, I ended up writing an entire post about How to Make Perfect Cupcakes HERE you might enjoy. Otherwise, keep scrolling for the full printable recipe.

Tessa piping chocolate frosting onto homemade chocolate cupcakes

Best chocolate to use for chocolate cupcakes:

We can’t make stellar homemade chocolate cupcakes without first considering the chocolate! The cupcakes themselves use a whole 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate AND Dutch-process cocoa powder for as much chocolate flavor as possible. Make sure to use freshly chopped baking chocolate and not chocolate chips, which don’t melt down as smoothly.

Do I have to use Dutch Process Cocoa Powder?

I do recommend you stick with the Dutch-process cocoa as it actually works differently on a chemical level compared to regular natural cocoa. You can learn more about the differences between cocoa powders here.

You can find it at many gourmet food stores, like Whole Foods, Sur la Table, and Williams-Sonoma. One of the best surprising parts about Dutch Process Cocoa is that it almost always contains more cocoa butter (fat!) than your typical grocery store cocoa powder. This means more moisture, richness, and chocolate flavor! Learn more about cocoa powder + fat here.

If you must use regular unsweetened cocoa powder in this recipe then omit the vinegar. Your cupcakes may be a little more dry if using something like Hershey’s or Nestle.

The frosting uses melted chocolate for the most intense and pure chocolate flavor possible. I like to use semisweet, but feel free to use milk or bittersweet chocolate instead. It’s totally up to you!

melted chocolate for homemade chocolate cupcakes

melted chocolate for the best homemade chocolate cupcake recipe

How to make moist chocolate cupcakes:

This recipe calls for vegetable oil instead of melted butter. I went back and forth on this for a bit and wound up choosing the oil because it creates an ultra moist texture and open, slightly spongy crumb which is perfect for chocolate cupcakes.

Since oil is liquid at room temperature, it gives a better sensation of moistness than butter does.

Be sure to also use full fat ingredients and don’t reduce the sugar in this recipe. Sugar actually helps contribute to moistness if you can believe it!

Lastly, be sure not to accidentally over measure your flour and cocoa powder. Spoon both ingredients into their measuring cups then level off the excess with a knife. Or better yet, use a digital kitchen scale.

moist chocolate cupcake before being frosted

Hot Water and Espresso Powder

If you bake chocolate cake or cupcakes a lot, you’ve probably seen quite a few recipes that utilize hot water or even hot coffee. It helps to dissolve and ‘bloom’ the cocoa powder to bring out as much flavor with as few cocoa lumps as possible. In my Best Chocolate Cupcake recipe, I use a combination of hot water and instant espresso powder. The espresso simply enhances the chocolate flavor without actually being perceptible.

Do I have to use espresso powder?

Alternatively, you could use hot coffee for the same effect. Or you can omit it altogether if you’d prefer.

Sugar(s)

Most of my initial recipe tests used only granulated sugar for the cupcakes. Then, I thought I’d try to add in a bit of brown sugar. The resulting cupcakes were flavorful, moist, and slightly chewy. Perfect!

Eggs

The more whole eggs a cake recipe has, the richer it’ll be. I repeated one of my favorite baking tricks and added in an egg yolk. It works beautifully for brownies and cookies, so why not chocolate cupcakes? It adds more richness, chewiness, and structure so the cupcake can stand up to a generous or heavy frosting.

Is there an egg substitute for chocolate cupcakes?

I have yet to find an amazing egg substitute for this recipe. My friend Gemma from Bigger Bolder Baking has an excellent resource on egg substitutes.

Leavener

Oh man, this is where I encountered the most frustration. I went back and forth on this. When I used both baking soda and baking powder, the cupcakes rose to a beautiful height while baking but then fell and collapsed slightly as they cooled. Bummer. That was too much leavener.

I went back to only baking soda, which is more effective per teaspoon than baking powder, but had to add vinegar to the recipe. Why? Well because there wasn’t much acid for the baking soda to react with originally. Dutch-process cocoa powder has been neutralized of its acid, so it was only the sour cream and small amount of brown sugar. For tall and light cupcakes, we need enough leavening so baking soda + vinegar did the trick. This is why you omit the vinegar if you’re using natural cocoa powder.

Flour

I tried testing with bread flour after seeing a few ‘ultimate’ recipes elsewhere that used it, but found that all-purpose worked just as well. Since AP flour is more readily available, I stuck with that to make things easiest for you.

Sour Cream

I find that sour cream adds such a lovely richness and balance of flavor to cupcakes, so I just had to include it here. I think it definitely works best, but full fat plain yogurt also makes a fine alternative.

The Chocolate Frosting

When I originally published this recipe, it used the more difficult Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream as the frosting. Although delicious, it’s more advanced and requires more time and special equipment.

In the interest of making this recipe easier but equally as delicious, I swapped in an American-style chocolate buttercream that’s made extra special with two additions. The frosting contains cooled chocolate ganache for extra chocolate flavor and fudgy richness.

For an extra smooth and rich frosting, opt for organic powdered sugar and high fat cocoa powder. The full explanation for both is found here.

My favorite cupcake tools:

  • Cupcake liners: these ones are my favorite for cupcakes that don’t stick to the liner.
  • Piping tip: I used the Ateco #828 piping tip for swirling on the chocolate frosting on these cupcakes. Any large open star tip will work!
  • Piping bags: I love these ones.

Can you freeze cupcakes?

If storing for longer than a week, wrap unfrosted cupcakes individually in plastic wrap (this prevents freezer burn and taste transference). Place cupcakes inside a freezer bag on a shelf in your freezer where they won’t get smashed. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Unwrap the cupcakes and allow to defrost at room temperature for about 1 to 2 hours. More details on how to freeze and make desserts ahead of time in my *free* Make Ahead Baking Guide.

Can I make a layer cake with this recipe?

I have my Best Chocolate Cake recipe here that I highly recommend you check out! It’s very similar to this recipe. You can also check out my guide for How to Convert Cupcakes Into Cake (and vice versa!).

chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting on a white background

More Chocolate Cupcake Recipes:

4.94 from 369 votes

How to make
Best Chocolate Cupcakes

Yield: 12 to 15 cupcakes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
After tons of testing and tweaking, I've finally discovered the BEST Chocolate Cupcake recipe! Truly! Keep reading for lots of recipe tips, insights into the science of baking, and the full printable recipe.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 5 ounces (142 grams) bittersweet baking chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup (28 grams) Dutch-process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) sour cream, at room temperature (or plain full fat yogurt)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs plus one egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) finely chopped semisweet chocolate (don't use chocolate chips)
  • 3 sticks (340 grams) unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature
  • 2 cups (250 grams) powdered sugar, sifted (preferably organic*)
  • 1 cup (85 grams) Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions

Make the cupcakes:

  1. In a medium heatproof bowl add the chocolate, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Pour hot water over mixture. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk mixture gently until smooth then set aside to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, salt, and baking soda.
  4. Whisk sour cream, oil, eggs, egg yolk, vinegar, and vanilla into the cooled chocolate mixture until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth, being careful not to overmix.
  5. Using a spring-loaded scoop, divide the batter evenly among prepared muffin cups until 3/4 full. Bake until cupcakes are set and firm to the touch, about 17 to 18 minutes.

  6. Let cupcakes cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely, about 1 hour. Cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.

Make the frosting:

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand for a few minutes before stirring until smooth. Set aside and cool to approximately 75°F or until thickened but still pourable.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, powdered sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and salt. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase the speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes, or until very well blended, scraping down the bowl as needed.
  3. Reduce speed to medium-low and add the cooled chocolate cream mixture. Continue beating until the frosting has lightened in color and texture, about 2 minutes more, scraping down the bowl as needed.
  4. Frosting can be made 1 day ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Warm frosting in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds and stir until creamy again before frosting cupcakes.
  5. Frosting can also be transferred to a ziptop bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost in the fridge overnight then rewhip in the stand mixer until light and smooth.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

Cupcake yield will depend on the size of your muffin tin cavities. If they’re smaller, you may need two pans to make 15 total cupcakes. You can use 1/2 cup hot strongly brewed coffee in place of the espresso powder + hot water. If using natural cocoa powder, omit the vinegar. For the frosting, opt for organic powdered sugar made with tapioca starch, such as Wholesome, instead of cornstarch for a smoother silkier texture.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chocolate cupcakes

This recipe was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2021 to make the cupcakes more moist and tender with an easier frosting. New photos by Ashley McLaughlin.

February Baking Challenge

This recipe was the selection for the February 2021 monthly baking challenge! Every month you can join a challenge by baking the recipe and snapping a photo for a chance to win PRIZES. Click here for full details. Check out everyone’s cupcakes:

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

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Recipe Rating




  1. #
    Skyler — November 15, 2021 at 7:27 am

    Hi Emily, I’ve made your recipe multiple times and loved your icing, it was the best ever and now I see you’ve updated it and changed it. Please would you be so kind and send me the recipe.

    • #
      Emily — November 18, 2021 at 4:16 pm

      Hi Skyler! We actually recently removed a few older recipes from our site, so when looking for a chocolate cupcake, it may have automatically directed you to this recipe instead. Can you please let me know if the recipe you’re looking for had cream cheese frosting or chocolate buttercream? I’d be happy to send you a PDF of the archived recipe. Thanks!

  2. #
    Nancy Gappa — November 8, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Also If you use bread flour, how much of that do you use. I would like to use both to compare.

    • #
      Emily — November 9, 2021 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Nancy! Tessa used the same amount of bread flour when testing this recipe. She just found that all-purpose flour worked just as well and is more readily available for a lot of our readers. Hope that helps!

  3. #
    Nancy Gappa — November 8, 2021 at 11:06 am

    Can you add miniature dark chocolate chips to this recipe?

    • #
      Emily — November 9, 2021 at 11:48 am

      We haven’t tried that!

  4. #
    Terre Topp — October 30, 2021 at 9:02 pm

    I made the cupcake recipe & it turned out great – nice & moist & not crumbly. I just watched your video on natural vs Dutch chocolate & didn’t think I should put bkg soda in the recipe. I find inconsistency in recipes that do or don’t have bkg soda or powder. I plan to make your icing, but today I made a white chocolate butter cream for these cupcakes. Thanks for all your expertise in teaching us bakers.

    • #
      Emily — November 1, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      So glad you enjoyed this recipe, Terre! White chocolate buttercream would be heavenly on these cupcakes, yum! Hopefully I read your comment correctly, but I’d recommend checking out our tips in the pink box above the recipe regarding cocoa powder and what needs to be omitted if using natural rather than dutch process 🙂 Tessa not only explains why she prefers using dutch process cocoa, but also if you scroll down a bit, she explains the necessity of the baking soda under the Leavener header. I hope that helps!

  5. #
    Shilpa — October 30, 2021 at 4:53 am

    Hi!

    I just love your recipes. I follow your Instagram handle just to look at the pictures.
    I’m planning to try on of your recipes for the first time. I have a question. Can I manage with the hand held mixer or do I need a stand mixer for the batter and frosting? Also is the cupcake kid-friendly since it has coffee in it?

    Thank you so much.

    • #
      Emily — November 1, 2021 at 3:24 pm

      Hi Shilpa! So happy to having you following along, and I’m so excited for you to try these cupcakes! Be sure to tag Tessa using the #handletheheat so she can see your finished cupcakes 🙂 You’re welcome to use a hand held mixer with this recipe, no problem! And feel free to omit the espresso powder if you’d prefer. It simply enhances the chocolate flavor, though it does add a teensy bit of caffeine. Enjoy your cupcakes!

  6. #
    teresa — October 28, 2021 at 10:53 am

    I made these cupcakes for a baby shower and they were a hit! I followed the recipe exactly and loved the tips and insights. I m making them again for a birthday celebration! Thanks.

    • #
      Haley Wehner — October 29, 2021 at 1:56 pm

      So glad to hear this! And happy early birthday!

  7. #
    michelle — October 25, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Tessa, I’ve tried this once and they were the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever made. Thanks for the recipe! Will this work if baked in a standard loaf pan as well?

    • #
      Haley Wehner — October 26, 2021 at 12:12 pm

      Hi Michelle! We haven’t tried this recipe in a loaf pan before. Let us know how that turns out if you give it a try!

  8. #
    Holly — October 20, 2021 at 7:05 am

    These cupcakes are perfection! I made Tessa’s peanut butter frosting to go on top instead of chocolate and they were so good!

    • #
      Emily — October 20, 2021 at 11:55 am

      Delish! Peanut butter and chocolate are a match made in heaven 🙂 So glad you enjoyed this recipe!

  9. #
    Ericka — October 17, 2021 at 2:52 pm

    I had to come back and comment AGAIN because… I made these for the third time and they are just ridiculous. Just perfect. Absolutely gold standard in my (recipe) book. I will be making these for years to come!

    • #
      Emily — October 18, 2021 at 3:14 pm

      Amazing!! So happy to hear you love them so much, thanks for the rave review!

  10. #
    Sharon Storey — October 5, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    Can I freeze these to ship?

    • #
      Emily — October 6, 2021 at 9:05 am

      Hi Sharon! Please check out the pink tip box above the recipe for more details on how to freeze the cupcakes 🙂

  11. #
    Charlotte — September 23, 2021 at 8:11 am

    Wow! These actually are the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever made! So moist and so chocolatey they are so delicious

    • #
      Emily — September 23, 2021 at 2:40 pm

      Wonderful to hear! So happy you love this recipe!

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