chocolate cupcakes and vanilla frosting


My all-time favorite dessert is chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. I know, how blasé. I love the tender, rich cake and the contrasting fresh taste of vanilla in the icing. And of course, everything tastes better in mini, hence the cupcakes.

And this cake recipe, it’s It. It’s the last chocolate cake recipe I’ll ever need. Well, right, I’m interested in this one as well. Out of thousands of recipes on epicurious, it’s the most popular, so I’d be silly not to check it out. But until then, when I want something that I’ve already checked out, that I already know is chocolate cake perfection, I’ll turn to this recipe.


I’m having more difficulty finding an icing that I love. I’ve used the simple powdered sugar-butter-vanilla-milk frosting for most of my life, and I like it, I do. But I think I want something more from a frosting. Something fluffier and tasting a little less of powdered sugar. I’ve tried a few swiss meringue buttercream recipes and haven’t had much luck. It’s very possible that I’m doing something wrong, but the mouthfeel of the swiss meringue buttercreams that I’ve tried is all off – too much like butter, not enough like icing.

I found the recipe I used this time from the famous Magnolia Bakery, and the method wasn’t something that I had experience with. It’s unusual (to me at least) in that flour and milk are first stirred over medium heat until the mixture thickens, and then once this cools, it’s mixed into a whipped butter-sugar mixture. It was…weird. Not very flavorful, although I did like the texture. I’m also put off by this step: “Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes (no less and no longer – set a timer!).” I was only making about one fifth of the recipe, and without any information on what was actually supposed to happen at 15 minutes, I didn’t know when I was supposed to use the frosting. Also, the dictatorial “no less and no longer” seems silly – won’t the temperature of the refrigerator, as well as the temperature that the frosting was made at, affect the rate of cooling in the fridge?

It looks like I’m still on the search for my ideal vanilla frosting. But at least I have one excellent chocolate cake to use as a base, and another chocolate cake just waiting to be tested. If you have a favorite vanilla icing, please let me know!

Update: A week later, I tested four more vanilla icings. To see my evaluation and the recipes, click here.


Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 10 to 12

To make cupcakes instead of a layer cake, divide batter between 24 muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. I only bake one pan at a time. (Because I only have one pan. Also, I only made half the recipe.)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), very soft, plus extra for greasing pans
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8¾ ounces), plus extra for dusting pans
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa (¾ ounce)
½ cup hot water
1¾ cups sugar (12¼ ounces)
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch-round by 2-inch-high cake pans with softened butter; dust pans with flour and knock out excess. Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in medium heatproof bowl; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water and stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup sugar to chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk eggs and yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 1¼ cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition. Add about one-third of flour mixture followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture (batter may appear separated). Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; smooth batter to edges of pan with spatula.

3. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. Cool cakes to room temperature before frosting, 45 to 60 minutes.

4. TO MAKE FROSTING: Melt chocolate in heatproof bowl set over saucepan containing 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, heat butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Increase heat to medium; add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and stir with heatproof rubber spatula until sugar is dissolved, 4 to 5 minutes. Add melted chocolate, butter mixture, and cream to clean bowl of standing mixer and stir to thoroughly combine.

5. Place mixer bowl over ice bath and stir mixture constantly with rubber spatula until frosting is thick and just beginning to harden against sides of bowl, 1 to 2 minutes (frosting should be 70 degrees). Place bowl on standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir with rubber spatula until completely smooth.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting (from epicurious, where it was reprinted with permission from More From Magnolia: Recipes From The World-Famous Bakery and Magnolia’s Home Kitchen, by Allysa Torey)

Makes enough for one 3-layer 9-inch cake

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium-size saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk until smooth. Place over medium heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble, 10-15 minutes. Cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, on the medium high speed of an electric mixer, beat the butter for 3 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously for 3 minutes until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat well.

Add the cooled milk mixture, and continue to beat on the medium high speed for 5 minutes, until very smooth and noticeably whiter in color. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes (no less and no longer – set a timer!). Use immediately.



  1. Those look so delicious and so pretty too!

  2. OMG!!!! Those look like they are to die for! So pretty! And I love your blog…I can’t wait to see what you make next!

  3. OH these chocolat cupcakes of yours defintely a knocked out! I love them, so adorable! so gorgeous!

  4. Your pictures are gorgeous!

    I’ve made this cake before. It was a little complicated for me. Did you think that?

    As for thr frosting, I’m dealing with the same problem you’re having. A ‘”raw” frosting is just too strong tasting. Too sweet.
    I kind of like the frostings where you cook the flour and milk together, then cool it. I only have a good chocolate recipe, though.

  5. I need a good vanilla frosting, too. I’m not a huge buttercream fan, and many are just way too sweet. Let us know if you find a good one!

    These cupcakes sure do look good!!

  6. Chocolate cake and vanilla icing are also my absolute FAVORITE!
    Currently my favorite icing recipe is a swiss meringue buttercream, similar to the italian meringue buttercream recipe you tested (the epicurious one with the cooked sugar syrup). The benefit of the swiss meringue is that you don’t have to mess with cooking sugar, instead cook the whites and sugar in a double boiler so that the eggs are cooked, then whip and add butter.
    I worked at Magnolia and also find the cooked icing (used for the red velvet cake) weird (lovely texture but no flavor).
    Love your site!

  7. I made this cake and think it’s the best chocoalte cake in terms of texture. The chocolate flavour is not as pronounced as their sour cream bundt. I’m worried that adding more chocolate or cocoa might mess up the texture.

  8. I tried these cupcakes– My family loved them!! We’ll definitely be making them again.

    My only “worry” is that mine sank in the middle…any suggestions?


  9. Kim – Hm…well, I really don’t know, but I can throw a few ideas at you.

    If you used the exact same ingredients (Dutch-processed cocoa as opposed to regular, baking soda that isn’t expired, etc.) all I can think is that your oven temperature may be off. Do you have an oven thermometer? I have two, and I find that my oven is 25 degrees colder than it’s supposed to be.

    That, or maybe they were a little underbaked, so the center wasn’t totally set when you took them out of the oven?

  10. The chocolate cake sounds gooodddd…. My “go to recipe” is the Hersheys one …the “black magic” one? Have you tried it? If you have is this recipe better than that one? lol

  11. bridget says:

    Zahra – I haven’t made Hershey’s Black Magic cake, but I have made their Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake, which looks really similar to the Black Magic recipe. I definitely prefer this recipe.

  12. i love the cupcakes.

  13. PLYSMB says:

    This icing is the best. It is THE Red Velvet Cake frosting that I grew up. While I understand that you may be put off by all the details in the directions, they are there for a reason and they are the reason why the recipe is so successful . . . waxed paper to deter a film from settling on the top of the cooling mixture just as you would put plastic wrap on the top of a cooling lemon curd to avoid the film formation. The number of minutes for beating each step are the secret to making sure you beat the frosting enough . . . so it gets whiter, etc. I grew up without these hints, just the ingredients list and a basic ‘how to make’ and was frustrated when it would turn out at times, and other times would have lumps. Now I know why and I know how to guarantee success every time. Thank you for posting this recipe for the Frosting.

  14. Shawna says:

    Can you make this in a 9×13 pan?

  15. Shawna – Yes, the recipe will work in a 9-by-13-inch pan. It might take a few minutes longer to cook though, so keep an eye on it.


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