Classic Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
At the beginning of the year, I made it a goal to post some classic recipes on my site.
Sometimes you just want a classic yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting like you remember eating at birthday parties as a kid. These are those cupcakes.
Sure, you could use cake mix. Duncan Hines makes an almost unbeatable yellow (I ate plenty when I toured their test kitchen last month), but I just had to make these from scratch. And they really don’t take any more time to make than using a mix.
I used melted butter and so there’s nothing to cream, making it a fast, whisk-together cake batter, just like making muffins or quickbread. A bowl of wet ingredients, fold in the dry, pour into liners, and bake.
I used melted butter not only for ease, but for color, and most importantly for flavor.
Often I prefer oil in cakes, muffins, and quickbreads because it keeps them so soft, but only in recipes where there are other dominating flavors, like chocolate or pumpkin, which will mask the butter flavor anyway. But with yellow cupcakes, that buttery flavor is instrumental.
In addition to the butter, the other ‘fat source’ is 6-ounces of nonfat honey Greek yogurt. If you can’t find honey flavor, use vanilla.
Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream will work, but you’ll miss out on a bit of sweetness and sour cream adds tons more fat. I’m very pleased that I got the cupcakes to stay soft and moist without piling in mindless fat grams.
I tinkered around with various combinations of 1 egg, 2 eggs, 1 egg plus 1 yolk, and a popular Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe <– a cooking Bible, best $22 bucks you’ll ever spend on a cookbook – calls for 1 egg plus 2 yolks.
Although I try hard not to use partial eggs in recipes because it’s just annoying, I found that 1 egg plus 1 yolk gives the right amount of moisture and thickness to the batter. Yolks add moisture, whites dry things out, and having extra moisture insurance in cupcakes is nice since they’re prone to being dry.
The extra yolk also helps add a more golden hue.
Don’t overbake. In my oven, just over 18 minutes is ideal, and by 20 minutes, while they don’t appear to be too dark, they taste dry. You’ll have to find your own oven’s sweet spot.
I made a simple chocolate buttercream. One stick of butter, cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, dash of vanilla. That’s it. If you want to add a splash of cream or milk to thin it, feel free but I didn’t.
It’s dense, uber-thick and fudgy. It’s not too ‘dark’ of a chocolate flavor. We didn’t have 72% chocolate on birthday party cupcakes when I was growing up, and this frosting tastes like my childhood.
I garnished with Wilton Chocolate Jimmies. The sprinkles taste more like real chocolate, and not like HFCS made to taste like chocolate, compared to any other brand of chocolate sprinkles I’ve tried.
These from-scratch cupcakes are soft, moist, springy, light, and are what I’d want to see on a big spread at a birthday party, graduation party, or shower. Or on any old Wednesday afternoon.
The frosting is rich, creamy, and has a perfect chocolate intensity. Not too bold and dark, or too light and wimpy, and not cloyingly sweet.
It’s piled on sky high. The only way to enjoy a cupcake.
Classic Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
These from-scratch yellow cupcakes are like the kind you probably grew up eating at childhood birthday parties, or that are served at graduations and showers. They’re soft, moist, springy, and have a nice buttery richness. They’re as fast and easy to make as using a boxed mix, thanks in part to using melted butter rather than creaming it, a nice time-saver. The whisk-together batter comes together in minutse. The chocolate buttercream is simple, rich, fudgy, and complements the lighter, fluffy golden cupcakes beautifully.
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces (about 1/2 cup) Greek yogurt (I used nonfat honey Greek yogurt; vanilla or plain Greek yogurt, or sour cream may be substituted)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softenend
1/2 heaping cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted (I used Trader Joe’s)
2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted is ideal
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
splash cream or milk, only as needed for consistency
chocolate sprinkles, optional for garnishing
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line a Non-Stick 12-Cup Regular Muffin Pan with paper liners; set aside.
- Cucpakes – In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power.
- Allow the butter to cool momentarily (so you don’t scramble the eggs), and add the egg plus yolk, sugar, yogurt, vanilla, and whisk to combine.
- Stir in the flour, baking powder, optional salt, and mix until just combined and free from large lumps; don’t overmix or cupcakes will be tough.
- Using a medium 2-inch cookie scoop, place about 2 tablespoons of batter per cupcake into each of the 12 cavities so they’re solidly 3/4 full. There will likely be enough batter for a 13th cupcake, and either lick the bowl or discard it; or I placed a large paper liner inside a mini loaf pan, and fit the mini pan on the rack next to the main muffin pan.
- Bake for 18 to 19 minutes, or until tops are golden, set, slightly domed, and springy to the touch. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Allow cupcakes to cool in pan for 5 to 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. While they cool, make the frosting.
- Frosting – To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and beat on medium-high speed until pale, light and fluffy, about 5 minutes (or use a hand mixer and beat for at least 7 minutes). Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Add the cocoa (sift it, or you will have a hard time getting the lumps out of the frosting), 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Based on texture and taste preferences, optionally add 1/2 cup additional sugar (for 3 cups total), which I find necessary to achieve a thick consistency with my ingredients. If your frosting seems thick enough, refrain from the additional sugar and/or add a splash of cream to thin it.
- Transfer frosting to a piping bag and frost the cooled cupcakes. I used a Wilton 1M tip . Or simply spread frosting on with a knife.
- Optionally, garnish each cupcake with a pinch of sprinkles (do it over the sink because they fly around when they hit the frosting). Cupcakes will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 3 days. I personally am comfortable storing buttercream-frosted items at room temp, but if you prefer to store in the fridge, that’s fine, but note the fridge will dry them out more quickly.
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What’s your favorite kind of cupcake + frosting combination?