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 (!). —Alice Medrich
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a regular (not jumbo) 12-cupcake pan with paper liners. Use a hand-held electric mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment.
Mix the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt together thoroughly in a large bowl (or stand mixer bowl). Add the butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one minute. Add half of the water and beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the remaining water. Beat for 20-30 seconds until the batter is smooth. The batter will be thin enough to pour. Divide it evenly among the lined cups. Bake 18-22 minutes (rotating the pan from front to back half-way through the baking time), just until a toothpick inserted into a few of the cupcakes comes out clean. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes from the pan to the rack and let them cool completely before frosting or filling. Store and serve at room temperature.
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 (6-12 grams) and substitute 2 tablespoons neutral flavored vegetable oil for 2 tablespoons of butter in order to compensate for 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 or buckwheat or oat flour or whole wheat or spelt. What will you do to these cupcakes?
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 Craftsy.com, 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!).