One might be  surprised to know (especially if said individual was acquainted with my viewing obsession with Cupcake Wars) that I’ve never been a big fan of cupcakes, or cake at all for that matter. Sure, I suppose I ate it at many childhood birthday parties without complaint, but as I got older, I realized it just wasn’t my thing. The combination of often dry and crumbly cake topped with overly sweet frosting has never been as alluring as the pies and “cookie cakes” that I tend to prefer for my birthdays as an adult.

To be clear, I’m not just pointing the finger at others here; I made my own attempt at crafting cupcakes for Eowyn’s first birthday party last year, and they, too, were disappointing. The cakes barely rose, the frosting was stiff and hard to pipe, and while everyone said they tasted great, I just couldn’t muster much enthusiasm about how they turned out.

But today, my friends, is a new day. Despite my trepidation, I recently made a batch of decadent chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting, and boy, am I glad I didn’t let my prior failures stop me from getting back on the horse and trying again. The cakes came out moist and light with a rich chocolate flavor, and the simple buttercream was to die for. Indulgent without being heavy, they have just the right amount of sweetness.

Simple Chocolate Cupcakes 02

Simple Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes: 12 cupcakes

Simple Chocolate Cupcakes


  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • Chocolate Buttercream Frosting


  1. Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together into a large mixing bowl. Add in the sugar and salt, then use a whisk to fully incorporate the ingredients.
  3. Next, pour the coffee, canola oil, vanilla, and vinegar into a separate bowl, and stir to combine.
  4. Slowly pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, stirring constantly just until no dry spots remain. The batter will be lumpy, which is completely normal. At this stage, it is important not to overmix the batter as that could result in a cake that is tough and dense.
  5. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them until they are about ¾ full. Bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes; then transfer the cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once the cupcakes have cooled, frost them as you desire with the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting and add sprinkles or other decorations if you wish.

Adapted from and Simply Recipes.

Simple Chocolate Cupcake 03

Tips and Tidbits

  • It might seem unnecessary, but sifting the dry ingredients is totally worth the extra effort. Cocoa is particularly prone to clumping, so this step helps keep bitter, dry bits out of the final product. It also puts some air into the dry ingredients, giving the cupcakes a lighter texture.
  • I talked about the dangers of overmixing batter in a previous post, but I find the chemistry at work in this recipe to be intriguing, so please humor me as I indulge in a nerdy science moment. This particular cupcake preparation is unusual in that it does not call for eggs; instead, it relies solely on baking soda and vinegar for the leavening (science class volcano, anyone?). Once these two ingredients come in contact with one another, a chemical reaction takes place and air bubbles form (this is what gives the cupcakes lift and ensures they don’t come out as dense as bricks). Overmixing, then, is problematic because it takes these bubbles and destroys them, making them ineffective. The moral of the story? When it comes to stirring, less is more.
  • Since this preparation calls for coffee, there may be some of you that wonder if these cupcakes would be a good option for non-coffee lovers. A fair question indeed, and while there are those that would assert that the coffee flavor is undetectable, I would say that it is present yet subtle. What’s the point in adding it if it hardly makes its presence known? Coffee not only adds richness and depth of flavor, but it also complements the cocoa, helping the chocolate notes to be more pronounced. One nice thing about coffee is that it can be brewed to the desired strength. If you want a stronger or milder coffee flavor, brew accordingly. Milk or plain water can be used as a substitute in the event that you want to avoid adding coffee altogether.