One thing I have learned so far from my time blogging is that people love their cupcakes.  Each time I post a cupcake recipe, readers send comments and emails expressing their excitement to try the newest variety, and send happy follow up comments after they do.  Desserts are always popular but there is just something about these little individual cakes with pretty frosting that people go nuts for.  A few months ago, I mentioned in passing on my Facebook page that I was considering a series of posts all about cupcakes and the idea was very well received.  My plan is to cover all of the basics: staple recipes for both cakes, frostings, and fillings, techniques, supplies, and the much requested “how to frost a cupcake”.  Many of the recipes in this series will be things I have posted before in other contexts, but I am hoping that this will make them much easier to find.  You won’t have to sift through a recipe with filling and frosting disguised as something fancy when all you’re looking for is a basic chocolate cupcake.

I thought it only proper to begin this series with one of the cupcakes I make most often and love dearly, chocolate cupcakes.  I have made many different chocolate cupcake recipes and after all my testing I’ve concluded that this is my go-to version.  It is moist, soft but sturdy enough to hold up to filling, deeply chocolatey, and bakes up with a beautiful domed shape.  As with so many baking recipes I love, sour cream is part of what makes these cupcakes wonderful.  However, I have also successfully used low-fat Greek yogurt and part skim ricotta cheese as substitutes and they have turned out just fine.  Dutch-process cocoa is sold in some grocery stores but is not always easy to find.  I think it’s worth buying online and keeping on hand.  I consider it a baking staple and you can do all sorts of delicious things with it.  The quantities in the recipe may seem a bit odd but I have altered the original recipe to yield 24 cupcakes because it is usually the quantity I want in a cupcake recipe.

I hope you are excited about the Cupcake Basics series.  Please let me know if you have suggestions of topics you would like me to cover.

  • Yield about 24 cupcakes


½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon 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


  • 01

    Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth.  In another medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk to blend.

  • 02

    Combine the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the butter is completely melted.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is cool, about 4-5 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 smooth.  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.

  • 03

    Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Let cool in the pan about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.