Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

Sometimes it’s just nice to take a break from what’s trendy and “in” and go back to the basics. You know what I mean? Something that’s reliable. Something that no matter what, is going to make everyone happy. Something like the simple perfection of a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting and maybe even a few little sprinkles on top.

Think back to your childhood—this was kind of your favorite treat, right? I know it was for our kids, especially my middle guy. And I think our daughter had her first taste of chocolate way before she was “legally” allowed to (she was probably about 10 months then) because one of them had left a partially eaten cupcake on the coffee table in the den and she crawled over and managed to navigate quite a bit of it to her little mouth before anyone realized what the little beast was doing!! But can you blame her really?


My only gripe with cupcakes has been that I almost never find one in a bakery that comes anywhere near to the taste of the ones you can make at home. So whenever the cupcake urge strikes, I’ve got to go the homemade route. Fortunately, they come together pretty easily.

What I especially love about this particular recipe is that the cake part really tastes chocolate-y—it’s more bittersweet than sugary and the crumb is nice and light due to the addition of buttermilk. I know it may be annoying to buy a whole container of buttermilk for just one recipe but I always find that when I have a carton of it in the house, it gives me the incentive to cook more food that use buttermilk in some way. Of course you can always make your own too by adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of whole milk and letting it sit for about 5 minutes, until it’s thickened slightly.


In any case that chocolate base is a perfect balance to swirls of sweet, vanilla buttercream icing. YUM!

I piped this on in spirals for fun and added a few confetti sprinkles but these cupcakes would be just as delish if you frosted them with a knife—don’t let piping anxiety hold you back from whipping these up! Look, not all of mine turned out perfectly but no one ever seems to care!


Every bite is that perfect blend of chocolate and vanilla. It’s a classic combo for a reason!


They’re perfect for birthdays, after-school fun, backyard bbq’s (if it ever gets warm enough to attempt one of those again) or for no particular reason other than the fact that you need a good cupcake now!!


Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

Makes 12 cupcakes

Prep Time for cupcakes: 10-12 minutes; Bake Time: 18-20 minutes; Prep Time for frosting: 10 minutes; Assembly Time: 15 minutes


For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (you could just use regular old salt too and go a little under)

  • 2/3 cup cold buttermilk, well-shaken

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature but not mushy

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 1/3 cup lightly packed light brown sugar

  • 2 large eggs

For the frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp—again, not too soft

  • Pinch of fine sea salt

  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (don’t skip the sifting or you’ll have lumpy frosting)

  • 5 teaspoons whole milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Sprinkles for decoration (optional)

The Recipe

1. To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

2. Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk in the measuring cup.

3. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter and both sugars together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for a few minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed so that everything gets mixed evenly. Add the eggs one at a time and lower the speed to medium-low, beating well between each addition, 1-2 minutes and scraping down the side with the spatula. Gradually add half the flour mixture on low speed. Then add all of the buttermilk mixture and incorporate, scraping with the spatula and finally add the remaining flour mixture. Beat only until the ingredients are just blended in. You don’t want to over mix.

4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups and smooth the tops. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the tops are sort of springy and domed. Let sit in the pan on a wire rack for a few minutes. Then remove the cupcakes from the tin and allow to cool completely on the rack before frosting. You could definitely make these a day ahead and keep them covered at room temperature before frosting.

5. To make the frosting: Use an electric mixer to beat the butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy, for 2-3 minutes. On low speed, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until all of is mixed in. The turn the speed up to medium and add in the milk and vanilla and beat for another 1-2 minutes, until well mixed but not much more than that or you’ll incorporate a lot of air into the frosting and it will be less creamy.

6. Fill a pastry bag with the frosting or simply use a knife and frost the cupcakes however you like. Add sprinkles on top for more decoration if you like and serve. Store one day covered at room temperature—any longer, store in the fridge and bring to room temperature before serving because the frosting will harden. The cake part is amazing cold!


Note: Recipe adapted from the The Sprinkles Baking Book by Candace Nelson. I stayed pretty true to the recipe but added sprinkles, of course! Ironically, I’ve tried the cupcakes at the bakery itself and they were just sort of ok, but when I made them myself at home from the cookbook—wow!

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