The Most Versatile Chocolate Cupcake Recipe Ever

September 10, 2018

A version of my favorite one-bowl chocolate cake becomes my favorite easy chocolate cupcakes. These are so good just as they are, you might be tempted to eat too many of them—even without frosting.

But wait, there’s more! You can mess with this recipe endlessly and create dozens of new chocolate cupcakes—by adding nut flour or a whole-grain flour, changing up the liquid, swapping sugars, or even adding beets (!). The basic recipe is followed by a brief guide to making those changes. Two things are important before you start:

  • First, use a good quality natural cocoa powder—not Dutch-processed (aka alkalized) cocoa. You want cocoa powder with 22-24% (rather than 10-12%) fat. To find the right stuff (since fat percentage is not usually listed on retail packages), check the nutritional statement on the back of the label where it tells you how many grams of fat per serving. Look for cocoa with 2 grams instead of 1 1/2 grams of fat per 1 tablespoon serving. Natural cocoas that I like are Guittard High Fat Natural 22-24%, which is available in 2-pound packs online, and Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder, which is available in supermarkets.
  • Second, if you don’t use a scale (and I wish you would!), use the measuring tip below.

Measuring Tip: If you measure by volume (using cups) instead of weight, do so as follows for the lightest and tenderest cupcakes: Loosen the flour in the canister (or the cocoa in the can) with a couple swipes of a spoon and then spoon it lightly into the measuring cup (without shaking or tapping the cup) until it’s heaped above the rim, and then sweep the measure level. Dipping the cup into the flour or cocoa container will result in a heavier measure, thus a heavier and drier cake. As always, weighing is simpler and produces better results.

Alice's Variations

Here are some of the ways that you can play with the flavor and texture of these cupcakes:

  • For mellower chocolate flavor: Substitute 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (207 grams) firmly packed brown sugar (or grated piloncillo or jaggery) for the granulated sugar and/or substitute 1/2 cup hot milk for the water, or replace half of the water for buttermilk.
  • For additional flavor: Substitute hot coffee, stout, or coconut milk for the water.
  • For extra tender cupcakes with almond (or any nut flavor): Reduce the flour to 2/3 cup (85 grams) and add 2/3 cup (75 grams) almond meal or flour (or other nut meal or flour) with the flour. If using almond flour, add 1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract with the vanilla.
  • For a super moist and natural red velvet cake (without food coloring!): Add 3/4 to 1 cup finely shredded peeled raw beets to the batter at the end.
  • For a touch of molasses flavor: Reduce the sugar by 2 tablespoons (25 grams) and add 1/4 cup (85 grams) molasses (not blackstrap) with the egg.
  • For extra moist, soft cupcakes: Substitute 2 tablespoons neutral-flavored vegetable oil (I like expeller-pressed sunflower oil) for 2 tablespoons of the butter.
  • For extra bittersweet cupcakes: Increase the cocoa by 1 or 2 tablespoons (6 to 12 grams) and substitute 2 tablespoons neutral-flavored vegetable oil for 2 tablespoons of butter in order to compensate for the drying effect of the extra cocoa powder.

You could also switch these up by adding ground spices or freshly grated citrus zest. You could substitute spirits for half of the water or wine for all of the water. You could replace a quarter of the flour with a whole-grain flour like teff, oat, buckwheat, wholewheat, or spelt.

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My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).

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