These moist, dark chocolate cupcakes are incredibly soft and rich without being overly sweet. Chocolate meringue buttercream frosting keeps them from feeling heavy, making these a wonderful romantic dessert option for Valentine’s Day, or for any special occasion!
While I love experimenting with creative desserts, chocolate cake is a classic recipe that I never grow tired of baking. My chocolate espresso layer cake continues to be a favorite. The great thing about cupcakes is that they come together faster than layer cakes, and are an especially good option for novice bakers (or those who are new to meringue buttercreams).
Whether you seeking a chocolate cupcake recipe for a party, or a small chocolate dessert to end a romantic meal, these are a wonderful option. Even Jeff loved them, and he’s usually very uninterested in sweets. They’re not cloying or heavy. Dark, bittersweet chocolate provides that perfect counterbalance to the sugar, while the meringue adds so much lightness to the frosting. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Chocolate Cupcake Tips
- Don’t skip the baking spray or the cupcakes will stick to the liners. However, you want to use as little spray as possible so the liners don’t separate from the cupcakes. I spray directly from above in one or two short bursts, keeping my arm raised at a good distance.
- I use Valhrona cocoa powder and their various chocolate in all my cakes. Not sponsored; I just strongly recommend them for best flavor results.
- Do not fill the liners more than halfway full or they will overflow. If this happens, the cupcakes might stick together at the tops or sink in the middle.
- If baking in batches, leave the batter on the counter, but keep it away from the oven to prevent the butter from warming above room temperature.
- The cupcakes and buttercream can be prepared up to 48 hours in advance. Store the cupcakes at room temperature.
Meringue Buttercream Tips
- If preparing in advance, chill the buttercream in an airtight container, then bring it to room temperature before using. Briefly whisk by hand or in the stand mixer to make sure it’s soft before frosting.
- Corn syrup helps prevent the sugar syrup from crystallizing, but it’s optional. Leaving a lid on the saucepan until there’s steam typically gets the job done.
- I melt small quantities of chocolate in the microwave. Coarsely chop the chocolate, then place in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 20 second increments, stirring every time, until smooth and shiny. Cool to room temperature, stirring periodically.
- To frost the cupcakes, I used a Wilton disposable 16-inch piping bag and a 1M piping tip.
- I use AmeriColor gel food coloring.
- Are you new to meringue buttercream? Read my buttercream basics tutorial for tips and troubleshooting.
- 7 ounces all-purpose flour (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 ounces Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted (2/3 cup)
- 3/4 cup half-and-half (or 50% whole milk + 50% heavy cream)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 9 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 15 1/2 ounces granulated sugar (approximately 2 cups)
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 13 ounces granulated sugar (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water
- Optional: 1 teaspoon corn syrup (see notes)
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 pound unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (see notes)
- Optional: a few drops of brown food coloring
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place oven shelves in the middle lower and upper racks. Line 3 standard cupcake pans with liners and spray very lightly with baking spray. I recommend spraying from above with your arm at a distance. (Note: You can bake these in batches if you don’t have enough cupcake pans)
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine the half-and-half and vanilla extract.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy (to avoid splatters, start with a lower speed and work up to high). Scrape down the side of the bowl, then add the eggs on low speed, one at a time, scraping down the sides all the way to the bottom of the bowl after the 2nd and 4th egg, until they’re completely incorporated.
- On medium-low speed, alternate between adding the dry and wet ingredients over the course of 30-60 seconds, starting and ending with the dry ingredients, until everything is just combined. Give the bowl one more scrape, all the way to the bottom, to make sure there are no patches of flour or butter. If the batter looks slightly broken, turn the mixer back on high speed for around 10-15 seconds, which will bring it back together.
- Evenly distribute the batter between the cupcake liners. They should each be no more than halfway full.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean with a toothpick. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan.
Place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium-sized saucepan (do not stir). Cover and turn the heat to high. Once the liquid begins to simmer and steam develops, remove the cover (this helps prevent crystallization). Using a digital thermometer, cook the sugar to the soft boil stage, 235-240 degrees F.
- While the sugar is cooking, whisk the eggs on high in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until a soft peak has formed.
- Turn the mixer speed down to medium-low and very slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites (this will “cook” the egg whites, making them safe to consume. Don’t pour the hot syrup directly into the meringue or you’ll have scrambled egg whites.
- Once the syrup is completely incorporated, turn the speed to high and allow the meringue to continue to form a stiff peak while cooling down. Mix on high until the meringue has reached room temperature, approximately 15 minutes.
Once the meringue is at room temperature, slowly begin incorporating the soft butter on medium speed. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, turn the mixer speed up to high and slowly add the vanilla, chocolate, and food coloring, if using.
To frost the cupcakes: Fill a piping bag halfway with buttercream, (I used a Wilton 1M tip), twist to close, and pipe decoratively. Serve cupcakes at room temperature. These are best served within 72 hours.
If baking the cupcakes in batches, keep the batter at room temperature but away from the oven to prevent it from getting too warm.
Corn syrup is optional in meringue buttercream. It helps prevent the sugar syrup from crystallizing.
I typically melt small quantities of chocolate in the microwave. Coarsely chop the chocolate and place in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 20 second increments, stirring each time, until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Cool to room temperature, stirring periodically.
You can prepare the cupcakes and/or the buttercream up to 48 hours in advance. Store the cupcakes at room temperature (you can loosely cover them with a clean dish towel, but they’ll stay moist on their own). Store the buttercream in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before using. Briefly whisk or place back in the stand mixer with the whisk attachment to make sure it’s nice and fluffy before frosting.
New to meringue buttercream? Check out my buttercream basics article.
Please Note: this post may contain affiliate links.
About the Author
Jennifer graduated from the Culinary Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, and has worked professionally as a line cook, pastry chef, and cooking instructor. Her cookbook, The Gourmet Kitchen, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster.