These chocolate cupcakes from scratch are soft and rich without being overly sweet. Chocolate meringue buttercream keeps them from feeling heavy. This is a wonderful dessert option for Valentine’s Day or for any special occasion!
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.
Prepare the buttercream:
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. Both can be stored at room temperature (cover the buttercream).Meringue buttercream is a fairly advanced frosting. For a more basic recipe, try my sour cream chocolate frosting.