E2 Bakes turned six years old yesterday. While some things have stayed consistent over the last 634 posts—namely that I keep on posting—one of bigger changes in the last year is that I have finally started to appreciate the art of the cupcake.
Oh, I had cupcake recipes before this year—of course I did—but not many. Making cupcakes takes more time than making layer cakes (the dividing of batter alone…) and, contrary to popular belief, they’re not as simple as divvying up a layer cake recipe into a lot of little bits. Really great cupcakes are a bit more nuanced than that. But nuance doesn’t equal difficulty, and my best ever Chocolate Cupcakes are proof positive of that.
One surefire way to have great cupcakes every time? Don’t overfill the pans. Just don’t. Bigger is not better here—if you want bigger cake, make a layer cake. Lest I need to say it again: cupcakes are their own thing. Once your batter is prepared, fill each well 1/2-2/3 full and absolutely no more. You’ll think “this isn’t enough batter,” but it absolutely is. You can thank me when you pull 20+ soft, tender, perfectly domed little cakes from the oven. None with flat, spread-out tops for me, thanks!
The batter is a simple whisking situation, but there is a secret to getting the most chocolate flavor out of your ingredients: blooming the cocoa powder! Blooming is simply combining cocoa with a warm liquid ingredient to bring out its natural depth. I have bloomed cocoa many times on this blog, including my first post ever, wherein I melted butter, cocoa and sugar together for perfect chewy Cocoa Brownies. I’ve also done it by adding hot coffee to layer cakes and warming the butter and cocoa in my chocolate cookies. Here, the cocoa is stirred into warmed (not hot!) oil before being combined with dry ingredients and buttermilk.
While the recipe will still produce cupcakes if you skip the blooming, they will be oddly unremarkable. Not bad—nothing with a giant plume of chocolate buttercream on top could ever be bad. They just won’t be great. And I don’t know about you, but after six years of baking on here, I think we all deserve great cupcakes.
makes 20-22 cupcakes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon espresso granules (optional)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Chocolate Buttercream (recipe below)
chocolate sprinkles (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Line 20-22 cups in muffin/cupcake pans with liners. Set aside.
Bloom the cocoa. Pour oil into a small microwave safe bowl. Microwave 20-25 seconds or until warm (but not hot). This step may also be done in a pot on the stove.
Add cocoa to oil and whisk with a fork to combine. Let sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, espresso granules, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and brown sugar. In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together vanilla and buttermilk.
Whisk half the bloomed cocoa into the dry ingredients, followed by half the buttermilk. Add the remaining bloomed cocoa followed by the remaining buttermilk.
Divide batter among the liners, ensuring that they are only 1/2-2/3 full. Tap full pans on the counter 5 times to release large air bubbles, then bake cupcakes 18-19 minutes, or until slightly domed. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
Let cupcakes cool in their pans for 5 minutes before removing to racks to cool completely.
Spread or pipe chocolate buttercream on cooled cupcakes. Finish with sprinkles. Serve.
Leftover cupcakes will keep covered at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for up to a week.
makes enough for 1 batch of cupcakes
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons heavy cream
In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy (about two minutes). Beat in confectioner's sugar, followed by cocoa powder and salt, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add in vanilla and heavy cream. Beat on high for 1-2 minutes, until very fluffy.
Load into a piping bag fitted with a tip (I used a star tip here), or spread with an offset icing knife.