chocolate cupcakes with vanilla bean frosting

I recently made these cupcakes, along with the champagne cupcakes, for my friend Cathy’s birthday/New Year’s Eve party (Happy Birthday Cath!).  She mentioned that chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting were her favorite, so hopefully these stood up to her expectations!  The addition of sour cream in the batter keeps the cake moist, but they are sturdy enough to hold any filling you can dream up.  This recipe is definitely my go-to whenever anyone asks for chocolate cupcakes.

Dutch-process cocoa powder can be difficult to find, but most grocery stores should at least carry Hershey’s Special Dark – a combination of Dutch-process and unsweetened – which is what I usually use.  Seems to work fine!  Of course, you can also order it online.  The difference between the two is that Dutch-process cocoa powder comes from beans that have been washed in a potassium solution, which neutralizes their acidity, while unsweetened or natural cocoa powder comes from beans that are simply roasted.  Dutch-process cocoa tends to yield baked goods that are richer or more “chocolate-y” in flavor, as well as darker in color.

The whipped vanilla frosting is the perfect pairing to these cupcakes (or really just about anything).  The small amount of heavy cream added to the typical butter-and-confectioner’s-sugar mixture really puts it over the edge.  The vanilla beans aren’t a necessary addition, but they make for a beautiful presentation and add extra flavor as well.  If you decide to buy vanilla beans, I would recommend ordering them online – the ones you find in grocery stores are ridiculously expensive.  There’s a link to the beans I order on Inside Solano’s Kitchen if you want to check them out.

The quantities in this recipe are a little odd, because the original recipe yielded more than 2 dozen cupcakes.  Just go with it.  Also, if you want to fill the cupcakes in addition to frosting them, you might want to make 1 1/2 times the frosting recipe.  I like a high frosting-to-cake ratio, so that’s the route I took. :)


For the cupcakes:

  • ½ cup plus 1 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ½ cup plus 1 tbsp. hot water
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup sour cream

For the frosting:

  • 3 sticks plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and stir until fully combined.  In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture until fully combined.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated (so flour, sour cream, flour, sour cream, flour).

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners, filling each about 2/3 full.  In my experience these cupcakes tend to rise a LOT, so err on the side of under-filling the liners.  Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Cream on medium-high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Add in the confectioner’s sugar and beat on low until combined.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod and add them in along with the salt, heavy cream and vanilla extract.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

To fill the cupcakes, you can do 1 of 2 things.  You can use a paring knife to cut a core out of the center of your cupcake, making sure to not get too close to the edges or the bottom.  Or, you can use a cupcake corer.  The cupcake corer makes things a little quicker and neater, but both work fine.  Once you’ve cored your cupcake, simply fill with frosting (I used a pastry bag to make things easier).  By the way- the only reason the filling in these looks decorative is because I was going to be using a star tip to frost the cupcakes, and I didn’t want to mess with changing out tips, so I just used that to fill them as well.  The filling doesn’t have to look pretty!  Once filled, frost your cupcakes as desired.

Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

Source: Cupcakes and frosting from Annie’s Eats; cupcakes originally adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

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