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These cupcakes are seriously the BEST Chocolate Cupcakes you’ll ever try!
These Chocolate Cupcakes were such 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.
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 it collapses under the weight of frosting, and not so tender that it crumbles while eating.
Plus, they have tooooons of chocolate flavor. There are three kinds of chocolate in here in total!
This recipe underwent extensive testing to perfect. Below is a complete explanation of every major element in case you want to learn more about the science and process behind all of it.
I also wrote an entire post about How to Make Perfect Cupcakes HERE if you want to learn more!
How to Make the BEST Chocolate Cupcakes
The 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 5 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 find it at many gourmet food stores, like Whole Foods, Sur la Table, and Williams-Sonoma, and also online via Amazon.
- One of the most 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 content 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.
- You can learn more about the differences between cocoa powders here.
What is the Secret to Super 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 an open, slightly spongy crumb, which is perfect for chocolate cupcakes. For more details on how these two fats affect tenderness, flavor, and texture, check out my Butter vs. Oil in Baking article.
- 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! Learn more about the role sugar plays in baking here.
- 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. Check out my How to Measure Flour article for a step-by-step on how to accurately measure your dry ingredients.
Hot Water and Espresso Powder in Chocolate Cupcakes
- If you bake chocolate cakes or cupcakes a lot, you’ve probably seen quite a few recipes that utilize hot water or even hot coffee.
- This 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. Instant coffee and water will also work. Or you can omit it altogether if you’d prefer.
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 chocolate cupcakes were flavorful, moist, and slightly chewy. Perfect!
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.
This is where I encountered the most frustration! 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? 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 the 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.
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 all-purpose flour is more readily available, I stuck with that to make things easiest for you.
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 in chocolate cupcakes.
The Chocolate Buttercream 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.
- This 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!
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 the chocolate frosting on these cupcakes. Any large open star tip will work!
- Piping bags: I love these ones.
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!).
How to Store Chocolate Cupcakes
Cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.
Can You Freeze Chocolate 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 them 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.
More Chocolate Cupcakes Recipes:
- Mint Chocolate Cupcakes
- Chocolate Blackout Cupcakes
- Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes
- Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes
More Frosting Recipes:
- Cream Cheese Frosting
- The Best American Buttercream
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Peanut Butter Frosting
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 (or plain full fat yogurt), at room temperature
- 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
Make the cupcakes:
- In a medium heatproof bowl, combine 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.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, salt, and baking soda.
- Whisk sour cream, oil, eggs, egg yolk, vinegar, and vanilla into the cooled chocolate mixture until smooth, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as you mix. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth, being careful not to overmix.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This recipe was originally published in 2016 and updated to make the cupcakes more moist and tender, with an easier frosting. New photos by Ashley McLaughlin.
February 2021 Baking Challenge
This recipe was the February 2021 pick for our monthly baking challenge! Every month you can join the challenge by baking the recipe and snapping a photo for a chance to win prizes! Learn more about my monthly baking challenges here. Check out everyone’s cupcakes: