With the assist from creamy peanut butter frosting and golden caramel corn, these Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes are to die for. These deeply chocolate cupcakes are light, moist, and pair perfectly with nearly any buttercream but peanut butter is by far our favorite.
Chocolate and peanut butter always win for “Best Couple,” so a sky-high swirl of peanut butter frosting seemed like the answer. Crown them like the Kings and Queens that they are with a handful of crunchy caramel corn.
What is Devil’s Food Cake?
Devil’s Food Cake is the antagonist of Angel Food Cake - light and fluffy, but deeply chocolate and rich in flavor. It originally got its name for having a red-hued crumb due to the alkalizing effect that the baking soda has on natural (not Dutch process) cocoa powder (think, red velvet cake), but sometimes from beets.
There are two main differences between Devil’s Food Cake and regular Chocolate Cake: the ingredients and consequently the flavor/texture profiles. Devil’s Food is made with butter instead of oil. The chocolate is also heightened by the addition of coffee (either as straight coffee instead of milk/water in regular chocolate cake or as instant espresso powder).
Although this recipe calls for butter, we aren’t depending on the creaming method for fluffiness. Instead, Devil’s Food gets its light and airy texture from a boost of baking soda. We loose some of the moisture that oil in a regular chocolate cake has to offer, but we happily trade it in for enhanced, chocolatey flavor from the butter, cocoa, and coffee.
Key Ingredients for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes:
Butter - Where oil acts as a safety-net for most chocolate cakes (ie - the easiest path to moist-ville), butter is the fat of choice for Devil’s Food Cupcakes. Because we aren’t relying on the creaming method to aerate the batter like with vanilla butter cakes, just pop cold butter in the microwave for half a minute until it is soft and starting to melt before mixing with the sugars.
Cocoa Powder - Unsweetened cocoa powder has a more intense chocolate flavor than chocolate baking bars. Plus, it is super convenient to use. This recipes call for both - dark chocolate and cocoa, for the ultimate chocolate cupcake. While natural cocoa powder used to give Devil’s Food its reddish hue (as mentioned above), I prefer the richness of Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Here, the acidity has already been neutralized.
Baking Soda - For ultimate fluff factor, we are relying on the chemical levening process that occurs when baking soda is mixed with something acidic. Now, that usually means natural cocoa powder, but since I opted for Dutch, we need something else to react with the baking soda. Brown sugar, a dose of coffee, and some sour cream all do the trick.
Coffee - After all is mixed and baked together, these chocolate cupcakes won’t taste like coffee. Coffee, however, has the magical ability to make chocolate taste more chocolatey. You can add coffee two ways - to bloom the cocoa powder instead of hot water or by adding instant espresso powder (or both). If you have extra coffee from the mornings’ brew, then use it. If not, instant is just as awesome.
Creamy Peanut Butter - Skip the natural, organic stuff. We want creamy Jif or Skippy here. Peanut butters that separate and have oil on top are much more difficult to mix into the buttercream.
How to make moist chocolate cupcakes:
Bloom the cocoa powder - Instead of sifting cocoa powder with the rest of the dry ingredients, allow it to bloom. Dissolve the cocoa powder in hot coffee or water to intensify the flavor before adding it to the cake batter.
Melt the chocolate - Skip the extra dishes and melt dark chocolate with the cocoa powder. Instead of melting it over a double-boiler, toss chopped chocolate in the same bowl as the cocoa powder and stir in the hot coffee/water to melt. Allow this chocolate mixture to sit while you start the rest of the batter.
Prepare the butter - It’s no secret that I sometimes develop recipes around not having to wait for butter to come to room temperature. Because we don’t need butter to be that perfect texture and temperature that creams and aerates with sugar, you are fine with taking the butter straight from the refrigerator and popping it in the microwave until soft and just starting to melt (20 to 30 seconds should do the trick).
On Dairy - I prefer the tenderness and richness that sour cream provides, but this is almost equally achieved with buttermilk. You can even try plain Greek yogurt, if that is all you have on hand. I’ve also tried coconut milk before and had fabulous results.
Fluffy Peanut Butter Frosting
This peanut butter frosting uses an American buttercream base. A splash of vanilla and pinch of salt give it extra flavor and depth. Salt always going well with chocolate and peanuts, and this frosting is no exception.
As far peanut butter goes, try to use the creamy (not natural) kind. Avoid the nut butters that need to be stirred together, as it is almost impossible for all of the oil to be absorbed and not become separated when you add it to the buttercream. Skip straight over to the Skippy or Jif!
For the best texture and piping consistency, whip on high with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy then let the mixer run on low for a couple minutes. This knocks out all the little air bubbles that keep buttercream from piping smoothly.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes
Recipe from Icing on the Cake
For the cupcakes:
4 ounces dark chocolate (about 70%), chopped
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼ cup boing water or very hot coffee
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant espresso (optional)
1 cup unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
½ cup sour cream or buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners and set aside.
Place the chopped dark chocolate and cocoa powder in a heat-safe bowl or measuring cup. Pour in the hot water or coffee and stir to combine. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and instant espresso (if using), and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl and hand mixer), mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until combined, about 2 minutes. Add in the vanilla then the eggs, mixing in between each one until combined.
With the mixer on low speed, add in half of the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated (a few steaks of flour should remain). Add in the sour cream or buttermilk and mix to combine. Add in the remaining flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Add in the chocolate mixture and mix until combined.
Using a mechanical ice cream scoop or disher, fill the cupcake liners between ⅔ and ¾ of the way full. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean or with a few crumbs. Completely cool the cupcakes on a wire rack before frosting.
Peanut Butter Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup creamy peanut butter
4 to 4 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt, or to taste
Caramel popcorn, for assembling
Using a stand (or hand) mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy, 1minute. Add the peanut butter and mix until smooth.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add all but 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk, vanilla, and salt - scraping the bowl occasionally. Mix until blended.
Beat at medium-high speed 3 to 5 minutes, until buttercream is light and fluffy. If needed, add the additional sugar or milk until desired consistency is achieved. The buttercream should spread smoothly but be thick enough that it holds shape when piped.
Pipe the peanut butter frosting on the cooled cupcakes and top with caramel popcorn. Serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in a cake box or loosely covered in plastic at room temperature over night or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Recipe from Icing on the Cake. Do not publish without written permission from author or publisher.