Baked Good / Cake / Dessert

Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Icing


Over the weekend I saw a recipe in the WSJ ( that piqued my interest for a couple of reasons:

1. It combines two of my favorite flavors: chocolate and coffee.

2.  It suggests (splurging) on nice cocoa powder (unsweetened Valrhona was on special at Whole Foods.)

3.  Vegetable shortening (read Crisco) plays a small roll.  I wanted to determine how important it is – whether or not it contributes significantly to the texture and body of the cake.

4.  I have a successful GF cake recipe that calls for using hot water, but this recipe puts a different twist on it. And I’ve never made a buttercream using cooked custard as a base.

It also gives me a way to demonstrate how one can begin to modify favorite family recipes to make them gluten free.  It’s science, but it’s not rocket science.  If this first version doesn’t succeed I have a few ideas about what to tweak. Remember, we’re talking about chocolate, butter, sugar, and eggs; even the failed attempts are fun!

This isn’t our healthiest offering, but wasn’t it Julia Child who said “everything in moderation”?  And after all, there is “Uncle Howard’s Vegan Chocolate Tart“, sexy, delicious, good for body and soul!  The results: excellent, one of the best cakes I’ve made. I’m taking Julia’s credo to the bank, looking forward to experimenting with our other cake recipes to determine what ingredients or techniques have made a difference.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Icing – Makes enough for 24 cupcakes or two 8″ or 9″ round cakes.

Cake ingredients:

1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened.

1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon (1.25 oz.) vegetable shortening

1 cup (8 oz.) granulated sugar

2 eggs

1/8 cup molasses

2 teaspoons GF vanilla extract

7/8 cup hot water

1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa (Valrhona)

1/2 cup sour cream

2 cups (12 oz.) GF flour mix (use ours or Trader Joe’s)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon xantham gum

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt


1.  Preheat the oven to 325 F, and prepare the cupcake papers by wiping with a thin coating of vegetable oil. If you’re making a cake, butter the bottom and sides of the pans and dust with GF flour.

2.  Measure the hot water and sour cream into a 2 cup glass measuring cup. Add the cocoa and whisk to blend. Set aside to cool.

3.  Combine the butter and shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes.

4.  Add the granulated sugar, molasses, and vanilla. Continue beating on medium speed for another 5 minutes.

5.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down as necessary.

6.  Add the flour and chocolate mixture alternately (3 times), beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

7.  Spoon the batter into prepared tins/pans.  If making cupcakes, fill about 2/3 full.

8.  Bake at 325 F for 20 – 25 minutes or until slightly cracked on top and slightly firm to the touch. Bake cakes 35 – 40 minutes.  Cool completely before turning out of the pans.

Espresso Buttercream ingredients:

1 cup (8 oz.) granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons (1.25 oz.) GF flour mix

1 cup whole milk

3 Tablespoons heavy cream

Generous pinch of salt

1 Cup (8 oz or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, but still slightly cool, and cut into smallish pieces.

1 Tablespoon espresso powder dissolved in 1 Tablespoon hot water.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

25 chocolate covered almonds


1. Combine the sugar, flour mix, whole milk, cream, and salt in a medium sized heavy sauce pan. Whisk to blend,, bring to a boil, and cook until the mixture thickens. This bit should take 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

2. Transfer the (custard) to a stand mixer. Beat on high speed until cool (7-9 minutes.) You’ll notice a distinct difference in the texture of the custard.

3. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the butter; mix throughly until well blended. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat for 2-3 minutes (it might take longer depending on the temperature of the butter) until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and coffee. Mix until combined, scraping down as necessary.

4.  If making cupcakes, use a large pastry tip and pastry bag to pipe on the icing.  If making a cake, cut off the little rounding at the top to make the layers level, spread a generous layer between the layers and a thin (“crumb”) coat over the entire cake. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes until the buttercream is firm, and frosting the cake with the remaining buttercream. Note: one of the last photographs shows trimming the top off a cake; don’t need to trim the cup cakes

5.  Decorate as you like with the chocolate covered almonds. Another option is to press sliced almonds into the sides of the cake.


2 thoughts on “Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Icing

    • These cupcakes are divine. I had one last night and I would never know it was gluten free. And the whipped light custardy buttercream. The perfect partner to chocolate. I recommend this recipe to all. Have high expectations, you will not be disappointed.

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