Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chocolate cupcakes

As with brownies, I discovered the beauty of cupcakes when I moved to the Netherlands five years ago. In Greece, they had not become quite popular yet so when I spotted a couple of cupcake shops in The Hague, I became excited and immediately smitten by their flavor, looks and extreme cuteness.

I'm not one to fawn over cutesy food and desserts, but cupcakes are just impossible to resist. Who was I to snub them? I was immediately hooked. They swiftly became my sweet treat of choice and I couldn't get enough of them. But I wanted more, I wanted to learn how to make cupcakes myself. I bought a couple of books and a cupcake pan, I visited some websites and I gave them a try.

Granted, those first two-three batches of cupcakes left a lot to be desired. My piping skills were not good enough to create those beautiful swirls everyone else seemed to have mastered and I could not for the life of me artfully place dollops of icing onto the small cakes. Nevertheless, I pressed on.

After a while, my cupcakes were presentable and before long, they were beautiful. Then, all of a sudden, I outgrew them. I was over them. It was right about the time I started writing this blog, three years ago. Sure, I still enjoyed making them however not so much for myself but mostly as gifts to friends and colleagues. People go crazy over cupcakes.

From time to time, I too get a craving for them and I have a couple of recipes that have stuck with me and that I've been faithful to for some years now. Why? Because they work every single time, because they're a huge success with anyone who has ever tried them and because they are so damn delicious.

I've been wanting to tell you about this recipe for years. It was going to be one of my first posts in this blog but alas, I totally neglected it. Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate-crème fraîche frosting. Heaven. That's all I want to say. That's all these are. Delicious in every sense of the word. The cake is moist with an intense cocoa flavor, fluffy, light and airy. And the frosting, well the frosting is the reason I'm posting these at all.

One of the things I dislike about cupcakes is the buttercream. When it's greasy and heavy and so incredibly sweet you feel your teeth are going to fall off or when you take one bite and you can feel your glucose levels rise. Yes, cupcakes are supposed to be sweet, but buttercream, even though I have found a couple of recipes for it that I like, is for the most part something I prefer not to frost my cupcakes with.

Instead, I love crème fraîche frostings. They're lighter, no less calories mind you but certainly more refined in taste and texture. The crème fraîche cuts through the richness of the butter and the sweetness of the sugar, balancing the flavors with its slightly tangy accent and the dark chocolate gives the cupcakes a more 'adult' feel and not that sickly sweet result. The frosting is incredibly smooth, glossy, sumptuous and intensely chocolaty.

If you ever try making a cupcake, this should be it.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate-Crème Fraîche Frosting
Adapted from Shuna Fish Lydon

I know you'll be tempted to make the frosting in a stand mixer or with a hand-held mixer but don't. The frosting comes together better and more quickly in the food processor which gives it that amazing texture, gloss and shine that makes this frosting unique.

If you don't like the bitterness of 70% chocolate, choose one with 55-60% cocoa solids.

Update: In case you can't find glucose syrup, you can substitute with light corn syrup (or golden syrup, but I wouldn't recommend it as it is thinner and sweeter). In Greece, you can find glucose syrup in large supermarkets.
If you can't possibly find crème fraîche, substitute with sour cream or Greek strained full-fat yoghurt. The result will be a little different, though, since crème fraîche is thicker, creamier and has a fuller flavor.

Yield: 12 cupcakes


for the cupcakes
25 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sieved
120 ml boiling water
60 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100 g caster sugar
1 large egg
1½ tsp vanilla extract
100 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

for the frosting
85 g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
120 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp glucose syrup
140 g icing sugar, sieved
140 g crème fraîche, at room temperature
2 tsp hot water
¼ tsp salt

White chocolate, shaved, or sugar flowers, for garnishing

Special equipment: fine sieve, hand whisk, stand or hand-held mixer, a 12-cup cupcake pan, paper liners, food processor, piping bag and nozzle of your preference (optional)


for the cupcakes
In a small bowl, add the sieved cocoa powder and the boiling water. Whisk until well blended and smooth. Allow the mixture to cool.

Prepare your cupcake pan by lining it with the paper liners.
Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius / 375 Fahrenheit.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and sugar and beat, using the paddle attachment (or with your hand-held mixer), on medium-high speed until you have a creamy and light mixture. Add the egg and beat on medium-high speed until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla and then sieve the flour, the baking powder and the salt directly into the bowl. Beat on medium speed until just incorporated. Be careful not to overbeat the mixture at this stage. Add the cocoa-water mixture and beat on low speed until smooth. It will only take a few seconds.

Empty the batter into the lined cupcake pan, filling each cup halfway through.
Bake the cupcakes on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Check them after 15 minutes because all ovens are different and it's best to be on the safe and make sure that they don't over-bake.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Once the cupcakes have slightly cooled, remove them carefully from the pan and onto the wire rack.

The cupcakes need to be completely cool before you frost them, otherwise the frosting will melt.

You can cut the pointy tops of the cupcakes off if you want a flat cupcake but I rarely do that.

for the frosting
Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring often and making sure the chocolate doesn't burn. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water. Once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan, whisk to blend and add the vanilla extract and the glucose syrup. Whisk to incorporate and then add the sieved icing sugar a little at a time, whisking to incorporate it. The mixture will look weird, thick and grainy but it's okay.

Empty the mixture into a food processor with the blade attachment and with the processor running, gradually add through the top of the lid the crème fraîche and the hot water. Process until the frosting is shiny and smooth. Add the salt and process for a couple of seconds.

You can frost the cupcakes now but it is best to do it after you have put the frosting in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to firm up. You can also keep it in the refrigerator for a day before piping it onto the cupcakes.

Empty the frosting in a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the frosting (not the bowl), pressing gently to cover it tightly. This will prevent any moisture coming into it.
When you're ready to use it, take it out of the fridge and beat it in the food processor, or in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, to soften it a bit*. Do not overbeat it or it will split. Pipe it onto the cupcakes using a piping bag and the type of nozzle you prefer, or frost the cupcakes using a spatula.
The frosting will soften after a while but it should not be runny.
Decorate the cupcakes with shaved white chocolate or sugar flowers.

You can keep the cupcakes for a couple of days at room temperature, lightly covered, or if you make them during the summer, keep them in a paper box in the fridge for a couple of days.

*If you keep the frosting in the fridge for many hours, it will become hard, so before beating it in the food processor, allow it to come to room temperature.


  1. Creme fraiche frosting??!! Say whaaa? These sound amazing. I am bookmarking your recipe for that special cupcake occasion. Cupcakes will never die!

  2. Funny thing, I'm not really a fan of the cupcake. But yours look so moist and delicious they might change my mind.

  3. Anna — never! :)

    Denise — I'm sure if you try them you'll love them. They're not your mainstream cupcake.

  4. Cupcakes are such fun, and these look particularly amazing! I am also thrilled to have a new chocolate icing recipe to try, as I completely agree with you about buttercream frosting. Thanks, Magda! ~ David

  5. I was thinking of making cupcakes recently for my little 8 year old niece and these are perfect! I think yours are ready to be sold, a little cottage industry on the side, what do you say?

  6. love the idea of creme fraiche frosting--I've made chocolate icings/frostings with sour cream and cream cheese, so I can imagine how good this is. tangy, and lighter! like Denise, I have been underwhelmed by cupcakes (so many are too top heavy with buttercream icing, with too dry a cake underneath)
    but I am sure yours depart from the mainstream.

  7. Madga, I'm ready to take a bite out of the page. That's brilliant of you to add the tang of a creme fraiche frosting to a rich chocolately cupcake. And I have to say I am one of those people who never get sick of cupcakes. You could make me one anytime;)

  8. David — I'm glad you like them!

    Joumana — these would be perfect for your niece! Hmmm, yes!

    Nancy — yes, they're nothing like the ones with buttercream. They are worth a try!

    Erin — I'd love to :)

  9. Thanks for this recipe it looks delicious. I am going to make them for Mothers Day.

    1. Hi there! I hope you enjoy them, they are indeed delicious!