Baking with Lisa: Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

I ended up making cupcakes recently, so here’s some advice on that endeavor. I apologize for the terrible picture quality. I was alone in a kitchen, meaning what I’m sharing involves half blurry photos of cupcakes and half enthusiastic “selfies.”

I myself am not a huge cupcake fan but was making them for someone else. I bravely buried my true identity and threw myself into a new baking venture. Before everyone gets really offended, cupcakes are fine! I recognize what’s good about them! They’re not my fave though!

These took a bit longer than most baked goods I’ve made, since you have to wait for the cupcakes to cool before frosting them. Adding an extra step to a process always makes it a little bit more tedious, but it can ultimately be worth it.

Before we get started, what’s been going on with everyone? How were your spring breaks? Did anybody see “Spring Breakers”? I desperately want to with my whole heart and soul, please don’t spoil it.


Ingredients (as listed in “Joy of Baking”)

Chocolate Cupcakes:

  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (240 ml) boiling hot water
  • 1 1/3 cups (175 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Fudge Frosting:

  • 4 ounces (120 grams) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup (150 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (160 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

1. First, begin a rewatch of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. (If you’ve never seen it, just watch it for the first time). Maybe cry alone in your kitchen about how young everyone used to be.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. Boil the water, then add in the cocoa powder. Stir until the mixture is smooth. I always have some difficulty mixing powders in with boiling water, but just stir until you think it’s as good as it’s going to get. Set this aside.

4. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. I tried to mix this with two forks in a metal bowl but the sound of the metal scraping upon metal is horrific. I hope that helps.

5. Cream together the butter and sugar. I made these at home so I used my mother’s stand-mixer, which made it incredibly easy.  Without a stand mixer, you can use a hand mixer or just your hands. It should end up kind of fluffy, which is difficult to do by hand, but definitely achievable.

6. Add the eggs one at a time, continuously mixing. With eggs, I always like to crack them in a separate bowl first, just in case pieces of the shell end up falling in.

7. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, add in the vanilla extract.  Slowly pour in the flour mixture. If using as stand-mixer, keep the mixer running as you add the flour. If not, just pour a little bit before mixing until the dough is smooth.

8. Time to pour in the (cooled at this point) cocoa powder and water! Stir together until smooth. Stop when everything seems fully mixed in. Over-mixing can lead to a drier cake, so try to keep a close eye on it.


This should be a fairly wet, soupy consistency.

9. Take out your cupcake trays. I used cupcake liners for each one, but I think you can also butter the tray.

I used a “quarter cup-measuring cup” to scoop the dough into the trays. Fill them up about ½ or ¾ of the way since they will expand in the oven. If you’re like me, you will also get cupcake batter all over the damn place. Clean up the cupcake tray before you put it in the oven or else it will burn onto it.

10. Now place them in the oven for about 15 minutes. Poke a cupcake through the center with a fork or a toothpick. If it comes out clean, or mostly clean, the cupcakes are done. I found these cupcakes to be pretty variable, so keep an eye on them. Do not over-bake them! Nothing is worse than overdone cupcakes! Nothing!

11. Clean up your work station and let the cupcakes cool fully.

12. Contemplate your out of control crush on Buffy in seasons 1 and 2. She’s so cute? But also very strong? She has a great face? Are Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prince Junior still married?

13. Now to make the frosting. The issue with Buttercream frosting is that it is very difficult to make by hand. I used a hand mixer, which worked pretty well, although a stand mixer is easier. It is doable manually, but a lot of work.

Cream the butter alone. It should end up light and appear fluffy. Then add the vanilla, followed by the powdered sugar gradually as you continue to mix. You will get powdered sugar everywhere. Even if you’re wearing an apron, it will end up above and below the apron.

14. Add the milk, mixing until it looks like frosting. You know what frosting is supposed to look and taste like, so just try to make it resemble that! You can play around with amounts of ingredients until it’s perfect. You can also add food coloring if you’d like.

15. Assuming the cupcakes are cooled, frost them!

There are a lot of ways to frost a cupcake, none of which I am very good at. I ended up just using a knife and spinning the cupcake around in my hand as I held the knife.


16. YOU MADE CUPCAKES!!!! It’s spring and you made cupcakes and I’m proud of you.

Next time: Kosher for Passover!



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