What is the best chocolate cupcake recipe?

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Answered by: Jodi, An Expert in the Culinary Arts - General Category
Ah.  The age old question of what is the "best chocolate cupcake" recipe.  It's a question that is posed time and time again and unfortunately it has as many answers as it has inquirers.  "Best" is a subjective term that is heavily influenced by the taste buds of the lucky individual biting into that chocolate cupcake.  

So while one person’s best chocolate cupcake recipe may not qualify as the best in another’s mind, all is not lost.  The wonderful thing about baking (especially with the recent fervor over cupcake baking) is that there are endless techniques and ingredients that can be customized to create the "best" chocolate cupcake that you have ever tasted. I have compiled a number of considerations and suggestions to consider as you embark on this deliciously rewarding journey.

First, you should attempt to assign a nationality to your taste buds.  Are they American or European?  Americans tend to prefer their chocolate cake with a strong, rich chocolate flavor and a moist crumb.  Europeans prefer a more subtle, delicate chocolate flavor and a drier crumb.  If you lean towards American-style cake, you should choose a recipe that calls for unsweetened cocoa powder as opposed to Dutch-process cocoa, since the unsweetened cocoa powder has a more assertive flavor and color.  To amp up the chocolate flavor even more, you might also consider the addition of coffee to your best chocolate cupcake recipe.  Coffee, brewed or instant, added to a chocolate recipes in moderation, enhances the chocolate flavor without leaving any detectable coffee flavor.

If you prefer European-style chocolate cake you should opt for using Dutch-process cocoa, instead of unsweetened cocoa powder.  Dutch-process cocoa will impart a smoother, more balanced chocolate flavor as well as a lighter color overall. But keep in mind, Dutch-process cocoa, unlike unsweetened cocoa powder, is nonreactive and should always be used in conjunction with baking powder.

Now to the crumb or the texture of your cupcake.  If your taste buds are red, white and blue you should opt for a butter cake base for your best chocolate cupcake recipe. Butter cakes are cakes prepared with some type of fat, usually butter or oil and are the traditional American method for making cakes.  If your taste buds are both American and adventurous, you can get creative with the fats used for the batter.  Coconut oil will impart a slight coconut flavor to your chocolate cake and is being lauded as a very healthy fat.  Olive oil in place of butter or vegetable oil will add a unique richness to your cake and complement the chocolate flavor.  

If you aren’t fond of olive oil flavor, you could opt for a lighter cleaner type of olive oil.  If you’re like me and obsessed with Mediterranean flavor, try a bold, spicy Tuscan olive oil that can hold its own against the chocolate.  Those who are very adventurous or very vegan, might consider a blend of oil and avocado meat in place of butter and eggs.  Almond oil, mayonnaise, sour cream are other ideas but the list goes on and on.  

If the ultra-moist, rich, sweet cakes of America leave you feeling less than inspired then perhaps you should consider a sponge or foam cake base rather than a butter base.  Sponge and foam cakes are made without butter or oil, which could weigh down the airiness of the eggs that are used for leavening.

The next question to ask yourself is how you will be dressing the lovely little morsels that you've spent so much time perfecting.  Are you going to be frosting these cupcakes with delicious, but heavy, butter-cream frosting?  If so, consider making cupcakes with a flat top. Flat top cupcakes will hold frosting better than their dome shaped brethren.  To ensure that your cupcakes do not rise into mini volcanoes, play around with the consistency of your batter; it should be somewhere between paste and liquid.  When scooping the batter with a spoon, it should not hold shape like a chocolate meatball nor should it pour off the sides of the spoon.  

Try experimenting with your liquid levels to achieve the best result.  Remember to err on the side of not enough liquid since it's much easier to thin out a batter than it is to thicken it.  Once you've achieved the perfect consistency, reduce your oven temperature a bit.  Leavening agents react to heat and lower heat will produce a flatter cupcake. Try baking them at 325 degrees as opposed to the standard 350.

These are just a few of the considerations to be made when identifying your personal best chocolate cupcake recipe.  Have fun with the varieties of options and don’t be afraid to try new techniques and ingredients.  Sticking to your standard recipe might produce consistently acceptable results but if you were looking for acceptable, you wouldn’t have been searching for the BEST chocolate cupcake recipe.  I hope this information has inspired you to take some risks and reap the sweet rewards!

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