About a week ago, I told my Instagram audience I was planning one last dessert recipe for Valentine’s Day. I had them vote between chocolate cupcakes and a chocolate bundt cake. And even though I was secretly rooting for the bundt cake, obviously it did not win. But the people have spoken, so here they are: the absolute best chocolate cupcakes with caramel cream frosting. And I’m telling y’all, once I tasted these beauties, I didn’t even miss the bundt cake.
Bundt cake, who?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I did not know how to pipe cupcakes before I developed this recipe. And guess what?
I still don’t!
Yes, it’s true, and a little embarrassing. When the cupcakes won the vote, I knew, despite my non-existent piping skills, I had to try my best to decorate them as decently as possible. I don’t think I did too bad.
How about you?
Now, let’s talk these cupcakes. If I could describe them in just two words, they would be moist and intense. Yes, I know that is a weirdly suggestive pair of words, but I can’t think of anything else, honestly. These have the perfect taste and texture! And the caramel cream cheese frosting, made with dulce de leche, is quite literally the icing on the cake(s).
If you shy away from intense, decadent desserts, then this recipe may not be for you. That’s totally okay! Let me redirect you instead to these cornbread muffins or this chickpea curry dish. Buuut, if you like your sweets rich and over-the-top good, these cupcakes are going to be your new best friend. It’s non negotiable!
Ingredients for chocolate cupcakes with caramel cream frosting
These cupcakes are simple to make and come with a pretty basic ingredient list. You’ll need:
- Baking chocolate – It’s best to use a bar with 60-70% cacao. This adds extra chocolate flavor to the cupcakes. I always recommend Ghirardelli or Bakers brand for any of your chocolate dessert needs!
- Unsalted butter – We’ll use unsalted butter to melt the chocolate. This way, we can control the amount of salt in our baked goods.
- All purpose flour – Basic AP flour works best for a chocolate cake.
- Natural unsweetened cocoa powder – Like the baking chocolate, this adds flavor. Be sure to use natural cocoa powder, not Dutch process.
- Instant coffee powder – Just a little to enhance the flavor.
- Baking soda – Since we’re using a few acidic ingredients like buttermilk and sour cream, we use baking soda as our leavening agent.
- Salt – Just a pinch to balance sweetness.
- Granulated sugar – Plain white granulated sugar for sweetness and structure.
- Eggs – Just one large egg is needed for structure.
- Sour cream – To keep our little cakes moist and soft.
- Vanilla extract – Another flavor enhancer.
- Buttermilk – Also for moisture, as well as tang. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand you can make your own by mixing 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar with 1/4 cup plain whole milk.
- Vegetable oil – Oil makes cakes moister than butter.
- Boiling hot water – Poured into the batter at the very end to dissolve the cocoa powder (AKA “blooming” the chocolate) to remove any lumps and enhance flavor.
How to make chocolate cupcakes from scratch
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place cupcake liners in baking tin. You’ll need two 12-cup tins, as this recipe makes about 15 cupcakes.
- Chop baking chocolate into fine pieces, then place into a large mixing bowl. Heat unsalted butter on the stovetop until hot and melted, then pour the hot butter over the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for about a minute, then stir slowly to melt the chocolate. Let mixture cool.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and coffee powder. In another bowl, add the sour cream, vegetable oil, buttermilk, and egg, then mix well to combine.
- Pour the liquid ingredients into the cooled melted chocolate mixture. Whisk until smooth and combined. Then, add about 1/3 cup of the dry ingredients at a time, folding gently until just combined. At this point, the batter will be very, very thick (see picture below). Finally, pour in the boiling hot water and stir very carefully with a spatula. The batter will become much thinner and will smell intensely chocolate-y.
- Fill the cupcake liners HALF-WAY with batter, then bake for about 15-20 minutes. There are two ways to see if the cupcakes are finished. You can test with a toothpick inserted in the center; if it comes out clean or with a few small dry crumbs, they are ready. You can also do the “bounce-back” test by gently pressing your index finger in the center, then removing it. The top should spring back.
- Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer each to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
How to make caramel cream cheese frosting
The frosting for these little cakes is simply cream cheese frosting dressed up with the caramel taste of dulce de leche. You can use either homemade or store bought dulce de leche; if using store-bought, I strongly recommend this brand.
I personally find American buttercream too sweet, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I find its Italian and Swiss counter-parts too intimidating (and time-consuming). This caramel cream cheese frosting is the perfect balance of sweet and light; it enhances the cupcakes perfectly. Here’s how you make it:
- Cream softened, room temperature unsalted butter and softened, room temperature cream cheese (the block kind, not the spreadable kind) together with a mixer on medium-low speed, until it’s light and fluffy.
- Add dulce de leche and salt, then beat until combined. Finally, add confectioners sugar. We only use a small amount and we save it until the end, to control the sweetness of the frosting. Beat on low speed until combined, then it’s done!
You’ll notice that I emphasized using room temperature ingredients. That’s because you need to use them for a smooth and easy-to-work-with frosting. Let the butter and cream cheese sit out of the fridge for about an hour. You’ll know the butter is ready when you press it gently with your finger and it leaves a slight indent. It should also be flexible and bend easily without breaking.
There are few common issues that bakers often run into when making cupcakes. Let’s talk about some and, most importantly, learn how to avoid them.
Why are my cupcakes dry?
Over-baking is often the culprit of dry cupcakes, so be attentive and watch your time carefully. Every oven is a little different; some are hotter and some are colder. Check the cupcakes at least 5 minutes before the time stated in the recipe. Mine finished at the 15 minute mark, so I recommend checking at 10 minutes just to be safe.
Your cupcakes may also be dry if you accidentally use too much flour. I talk more about that below.
My cupcakes are sticky on top. What did I do?
According to Craftsy, if you place your cupcakes in a container before they are completely cooled, this causes condensation which can make the tops sticky. This can also be caused by baking in a humid environment. But, honestly, don’t sweat it. A slightly sticky top doesn’t mean they’re ruined!
Why are my cupcakes dense?
You can chalk this one up to over-mixing. When folding in those dry ingredients, do so until they are just combined. There’s no need to mix like you’re trying to do an arm workout in your kitchen!
How do I cool cupcakes quickly?
It’s super necessary to let cupcakes get all the way cool before decorating them, otherwise the frosting will melt right off! But waiting is no fun, and sometimes we’re in a rush. Luckily, I learned this trick from Sally over at Sally’s Baking Addiction (we’re always learning new things from her, aren’t we?) The quickest way to cool cupcakes is to let them cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then pop them in the freezer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. After this, they’re ready to frost!
Other tips for making chocolate cupcakes with caramel cream frosting
- Avoid cheap cupcake liners, as they tend to stick.
- Fill the liners half-way, not 3/4 or all the way. This prevents them from over-flowing.
- Use room temperature buttermilk, eggs, and sour cream.
- Follow the recipe precisely. I haven’t tested this with any substitutions, so there’s no guarantee that substitute ingredients will give you the same result.
- Use fresh flour, baking soda, and cocoa powder. If they’ve been sitting in your pantry for more than six months, they’re likely expired.
- A kitchen scale is the most accurate way to measure dry ingredients like flour. I got mine from Amazon for less than $20. If you don’t have a scale, use the spoon-and-level technique to measure flour and cocoa powder. Never dip your measuring cup directly into those ingredients!
Well, that’s all for today!
These cupcakes are so decadent and absolutely perfect for Valentine’s Day. But life is too short to save the good things for just one occasion, so feel free to whip this up whenever the need for cupcakes strikes. Which, if you’re me, is kind of like all the time.
Follow this recipe closely, and you’ve got yourself an easy-to-make, knock-out treat!
Moist Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cupcakes
- 2 ounces (half a bar) 60-70% cacao bittersweet chocolate
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 and 1/4 cups (150 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (21 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
- 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee powder
- 1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) baking soda
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons sour cream room temperature
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup buttermilk room temperature
- 1/2 cup boiling hot water
For the caramel frosting
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 4 ounces (half an 8oz package) block cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 1/3 cup dulce de leche
- pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two baking tins with enough liners for 15 cupcakes. Chop chocolate into fine pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. On the stovetop, heat butter until hot and completely melted. Pour hot melted butter over the chopped chocolate. Let sit for a minute before stirring slowly to combine. Let mixture cool.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cocoa powder, instant coffee powder, baking soda, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine egg, vanilla, sour cream, vegetable oil, and buttermilk; mix together until smooth.
- Pour the liquid mixture into the cooled melted chocolate. Whisk together until completely combined and smooth. Add about 1/3 cup of the dry ingredients to this mixture at a time, folding gently with a spatula until just combined. Do not over-mix. The batter will be very thick. Finally, pour in the boiling hot water, and mix gently with a spatula until combined with the batter. The mixture should be much thinner now.
- Fill the cupcake liners half way with the batter (about 2 tablespoons of batter). Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops of the cupcakes spring back when touched gently. Let the cupcakes sit in the pan for no more than a few minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the caramel cream cheese frosting: beat softened butter and cream cheese together on medium-low speed until light and fluffy. Add dulce de leche and salt, then beat until mixed in with the butter and cream cheese. Finally, add confectioners sugar, and beat on low speed until completely combined. Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, decorate with frosting however you wish.
- Nutrition facts are only an estimate.
- Let butter and cream cheese sit out of the fridge for about an hour before starting the frosting.
- To speed up the cooling process, leave cupcakes in pan for 10 minutes, then freeze uncovered for 20 minutes.
- My favorite brands for chocolate desserts are Ghirardelli and Bakers.