the ultimate cupcake

by Patricia on March 24, 2009 · 19 comments

The Ultimate? I know, that’s pretty bold of me to say.  Right?  I’m not usually so bold.  In fact, as a rule I under-sell things… you know, the whole set expectations low and deliver above and beyond.  But you know what?  This cupcake can stand up to the scrutiny.  The flavors are all understated but combine to make your mouth say “wow”.  You should try these.  They are super easy and completely delicious.  Seriously, you should make these tonight.

The ultimate cupcake.

Yellow cake with chocolate chunks and vanilla bean frosting.  I’m new to the vanilla bean, but I am totally a convert.  The scent.  The flavor.  Oh my.  We owe a lot to the Aztecs (chocolate and vanilla!).  By the way, Dorie Greenspan wrote a nice article on vanilla beans recently where she gives a little bit of background on the beans and shares how to get the most out of your vanilla beans (very important since they are not cheap).

It was one of those nights.  The kind where I wanted to bake something but didn’t quite know what to make.  I wanted something easy.  I wanted something good.  (I always want something easy and good).  And I’ve been wanting to pipe frosting for weeks now (does anyone else get these urges?  I mean, really sometimes you just have to play with piping tips).   Then I saw it: the box of yellow cake mix that I had bought around my birthday.  Yellow cake and chocolate frosting is my birthday cake of choice.  But this year a friend of mine baked me a cake so the box sat on my counter.  And I am so glad that it did!

The cupcakes kind of came together organically.  I started out with the mix and wanted a better texture than the typical cake mix so using the strawberry cupcake recipe as a guide, I upped the eggs and oil.  But that seemed kind of plain so I reached for the yet unopened “Pound Plus” of Belgian 72% dark chocolate I had picked up at Trader Joe’s.  I chopped up the chocolate kind of coarsely and stirred it into the cake batter.  This gave the resulting cake a kick of chocolate without making it too sweet.  The buttercream was perhaps the biggest coup.  The vanilla bean gave the buttercream such a natural vanilla flavor.  Sweet but not sugary.

The ultimate cupcake.

Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes Recipe

1 box yellow cake mix

4 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)

1/2 cup water

8 ounces of good dark chocolate, chopped (My definition of good is just that it tastes good to you)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.  Give the liners a quick spritz of Baking nonstick spray (optional).

2. In the bowl of  stand mixer, combine the cake mix, oil and water.  Add eggs one at a time.  Mix well (about 2-3 minutes).

3. Stir in chocolate.  (It’s ok, you can sneak a little nibble.  no one will notice if that one piece of chocolate doesn’t make it into the bowl… )

4. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups (do you use a disher?  It really makes this step much easierI use something like the Norpro 2-Tablespoon Stainless Steel Scoop).

5. Bake for about 15-20 minutes (I think I baked mine for 18).  Let them cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 – 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 vanilla bean

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk

1. Beat the butter until it gets light and fluffy.  Gradually add powdered sugar.  Add the milk and beat for 2-3 minutes.

2. Split the vanilla bean half in lengthwise and scrape out all of the seeds.  (Set aside what’s left of the pod to use to make vanilla sugar).  Add the seeds and extract to the bowl.  Beat on high until combined and fluffy.

3. Using a piping bag or just a butter knife, frost your cupcakes.


1 Denise August 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm

This past weekend I made 200 of these cupcakes for a wedding they were awesome!! I got so many compliments. Thanks for posting the recipe!

2 Patricia August 20, 2012 at 9:17 am

I’m so happy to hear that! And good on you for undertaking 200 cupcakes! How was that experience for you? (was it your first time making so many?)

3 carolinaheartstrings February 25, 2011 at 10:48 am

Those cupcakes look amazing. I must get some vanilla bean and try this in my recipes.

4 Tara January 21, 2011 at 6:11 am

Hi Patricia! I’m a new follower of your blog (loving it, by the way), and I stumbled across this post through a link from your latest “explosion-of-cupcake-nervousness” post. :) I actually had quick question — I’m not lucky enough to be in possession of a stand mixer (yet). Do you think this recipe would work with a hand mixer?

5 Kellysaurus Rex August 14, 2010 at 10:22 am

Hi! I made these cupcakes and blogged about them here:

Thanks for the great recipe!

6 Jenn February 25, 2010 at 7:36 am

I made these cupcakes last night and brought them to work today. BIG HIT! Thank you!!

7 Terra February 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I think if I make these cupcakes, my boyfriend might actually propose to me. He loves vanilla bean and I’ve been looking for a cupcake recipe that will please him. I’m SURE I’ll love them, regardless. :D

8 Melissa April 14, 2009 at 1:26 am

I made these cupcakes today. Delicious…….the name fits! I took some to my dear friend and her brood, she said that the icing tasted exactly like Bryers Vanilla Bean ice cream. I’m going to try your marshmallow filled cupcakes next.

9 Patricia April 14, 2009 at 6:02 am

Hi Melissa, I’m glad they came out. I love this frosting. It really does taste like vanilla bean ice cream :)

10 GailSUe March 25, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Please tell me if I can get the Vanilla Bean in a standard grocery store, need to go to a specialty grocery store like Trade Joe’s or Whole Foods or elsewhere. I do not have any experience with it but these look SO yummy (& easy) I cannot resist the urge to make them. Thanks for the new spin on an old classic

11 Patricia March 26, 2009 at 6:51 am

@GailSUe – I think you can find vanilla beans in some grocery stores but definitely Whole Foods. I thought Trader Joe’s would have them but did not see them there when I was looking for them. Also, if you shop at Costco, they have some as well (you get 2 test tubes of beans for a reasonable price). Hope this helps. Whole Foods definitely has them though. Good luck and let me know how your cupcakes come out :)

12 Patricia March 25, 2009 at 8:08 am

Hi Sophie, these cupcakes were really good without the frosting as well. I like cupcakes with or without frosting and always taste (at least) 1 without frosting in the name of “quality control”.

Thanks jlo! Glad you enjoyed it :)

Amanda – thank you. The vanilla bean frosting is my new favorite I think. It was that good. It might even replace the store bought chocolate frosting for my birthday cake next year (of course that would probably mean I’d be making my own cake). But then again, yellow cake from a mix and chocolate frosting out of the little tub is such a childhood classic, it will always be a favorite.

13 Amanda March 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

Wow those really look good! Way to go on the vanilla bean frosting, mmmmm! I am all for using mixes now and again, especially when they are on sale. Oh, and I’m with you on yellow cake and chocolate frosting! :)

14 jlo March 24, 2009 at 9:59 am

I have to admit that I had the pleasure to have one of these, and they were amazing! Perfect cupcake, just the right amount of chocolate chips, and the home made frosting was amazing without that overwhelming sugar taste of store bought ones.

Brilliant work :)

15 Sophie March 24, 2009 at 9:00 am

Those look great!! I prefer my cupcakes without frosting! In Belgium, we are not used to top them with pure sweetness!! I like them without!! Thanks for this!!

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