today’s taste: chocolate cupcakes with mocha frosting
Washington D.C. is a city that takes its cupcakes very seriously. If that sounds strange to you, you’ve probably never tried to visit Georgetown Cupcake, Baked & Wired (our favorite), or another popular DC cupcake bakery on a weekend afternoon. If you had, you would have seen long lines of hungry bakery-goers spill out the door and down the street, often waiting more than an hour to get their hands on a single cupcake. A few years back, Georgetown Cupcake even had to hire a team of off-duty cops to manage all the foot traffic on the corner by their shop. Yes, DC is that obsessed with cupcakes.
While we appreciate a good cupcake as much as the next Washingtonian, we’re not huge fans of waiting outside on the sidewalk in the hot sun to get one – so, unsurprisingly, we prefer to make our own. We knew we had succeeded with this recipe when a housemate took one bite, looked at us with wide eyes and told us that as long as we continued making these that she would never wait for Baked & Wired again.
What distinguishes an extraordinary, out-of-this-world cupcake (the kind that lines people up on a sunny sidewalk for hours) from your run-of-the-mill, boxed cupcake is a light and fluffy texture that doesn’t sacrifice any rich flavor – chocolate, in this case. The key here is finding the perfect balance: skimp on the chocolate, and you will have light and fluffy but tasteless cupcake. Pile in the chocolate and you will have a richer flavor but wind up with a very dense cupcake – basically a brownie with frosting (which, now that we think about it, sounds pretty delicious, but not what we are going for here). This recipe calls for a half cup of cocoa powder and two ounces of chocolate to make 16 cupcakes, which we found achieves this balance perfectly. It also includes a teaspoon of instant espresso powder, which adds depth and intensity the chocolate.
You will need room-temperature eggs and butter for this recipe, so try to remember to take them out of the fridge a couple hours before you start baking (you can even take the butter out the night before, if you’re a planner). This recipe also calls for sifting the dry ingredients together. We know that it is often tempting to skip this step (we are definitely guilty of this), but sifting is especially important for these cupcakes. Sifting helps eliminate and prevent lumps that could weigh down the batter and get in the way of a fluffy and perfect cupcake. You don’t need to have a sifter specially designed for baking to do this – we use a mesh strainer, but even a colander will do in a pinch.
While most desserts are best enjoyed fresh, chocolate cupcakes actually taste better the day after they are made (think of the chocolate as a spice – letting it sit overnight allows it to develop more flavor over time), so feel free to make these ahead and then frost the next day. We topped these cupcakes with a delicious (yet simple) mocha buttercream frosting, but we’ve also tried and loved them with cream cheese frosting. For the final touch, we added some chocolate shavings by softening our favorite Ghirardelli chocolate in the microwave for 10 seconds and shaving off pieces with a vegetable peeler – because, what else would you use a vegetable peeler for? Happy baking!
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 ounces dark chocolate (we have a soft spot for Ghirardelli)
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 1/2 cup room temperature water
- 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, dissolved in a splash of hot water
- 1 ounce dark chocolate for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- In a medium mixing bowl, mix butter and sugar until fully combined.
- Melt the chocolate over the stove in a double boiler and let cool for a minute or two.
- Mix the melted chocolate into the butter/sugar mixture.
- Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time and mix in.
- Add the oil, vanilla, and sour cream and mix in.
- Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder in a separate bowl.
- Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in three separate additions, mixing each time.
- Add water and mix in.
- Divide the batter evenly among 16 cupcake liners (they will be about 2/3 full).
- Place in the oven and bake for 18 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean).
- Remove cupcakes from the tin and transfer to a wire rack so they can cool completely before frosting.
- In a medium mixing bowl, mix together butter and powdered sugar until creamy.
- Add in the cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and coffee and beat until fluffy.
- Using a star-shaped decorating tip or spatula, frost the cupcakes.
- Soften chocolate in the microwave for 10 seconds and use a vegetable peeler to make shavings to garnish the frosted cupcakes (optional).