When was the last time I shared a cupcake recipe? It’s been a while, I’ll admit. I mean, layer cakes are my thing, and it’s what I love to bake and decorate the most. But cupcakes are pretty special, too. They’re so little and cute and perfectly sized, with that generous swirl of frosting on top for a frosting-to-cake ratio that’s much more equal than what you generally get with a slice of cake. Not to mention, cupcakes are quick and fun to decorate, easy to serve, and who doesn’t love a cupcake? A rich, moist chocolate cupcake is always a crowd-pleaser, so it’s about time I share my recipe for perfect High Altitude Chocolate Cupcakes.
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Baking Cupcakes at High Altitude
One of the most frequently asked questions about cake recipes is, can this be made into cupcakes? The answer isn’t always straightforward, because some cake batters simply bake better in cake pans than they do in individual cupcakes. It might depend on how thick or thin the batter is, and I’ve had cake batter that bakes beautifully in cake pans, but is a disaster as cupcakes. And for high-altitude bakers, the answer can be even more uncertain. With a cupcake, you want a batter that rises into a gentle dome, not spilling over the edges into a muffin top, and definitely not collapsing with the dreaded sunken center.
So to answer this question about my favorite Chocolate Sour Cream Birthday Cake, I baked it into cupcakes. And just as I thought, the batter baked into the most beautiful, perfect chocolate cupcakes that were just as fantastic as the original cake.
One of the best things about these cupcakes is how moist they are, which means they can be made a day or two in advance, if needed, without fear of them drying out. Whole milk, sour cream and vegetable oil add moisture and richness, and the result is a beautiful cupcake with a tender crumb that stays soft for days.
A good chocolate cupcake depends on good cocoa powder, and I’ve been through several brands lately, but am currently using Rodelle Dutched Cocoa Powder. It’s not quite as dark as Hershey’s Special Dark (old formula, not the new formula, which is why I stopped using it), but the flavor is rich and deliciously chocolatey.
I like to use cake flour in white cakes, but all-purpose flour works great in chocolate cakes. It’s still a very light and fluffy cake with a beautiful crumb.
Granulated sugar sweetens and moistens the cake.
Baking Powder, Baking Soda, & Salt.
I use both baking powder and baking soda to leaven this cake. And of course, every cake needs salt to balance the sweetness and enhance the flavor of the chocolate. I use coarse Kosher salt in all my cooking and baking.
You’ll also note that I include a couple teaspoons of espresso powder in the ingredients for this recipe – it doesn’t make the chocolate cupcakes taste like coffee, but the espresso powder simply enhances the chocolate, making it richer and more flavorful.
Eggs give the cake its structure, and add richness.
Whole Milk + Sour Cream.
A combination of milk and sour cream gives this cake flavor and moisture. Sour cream is just fantastic in cakes.
Most cake recipes contain either butter or oil. Butter, of course, has a superior flavor, but oil is known for making an incredibly moist and light cake.
Just about every cake needs vanilla extract for flavor!
You can frost these high altitude chocolate cupcakes with absolutely any flavor of buttercream that you like! I’ve written a comprehensive guide on buttercream in my Perfect American Buttercream post, that has many tips and recipe variations. If you struggle with your buttercream, this post will help, I promise you!
I decided to go with chocolate buttercream today, though. It’s light and fluffy, not too sweet, and simply irresistible. This recipe makes a generous amount of buttercream for piping it onto the cupcakes as shown. But if you like less frosting on your chocolate cupcakes, you can certainly cut the recipe in half.
It’s not always easy to make cupcakes or cake from scratch that tastes as good as what you can get from a box mix, but trust me that these high altitude chocolate cupcakes are so much better than cake from a box. The batter is quick and easy to mix up with a bowl and whisk, and the recipe is pretty much impossible to mess up.
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Did you love today’s recipe? Please rate the recipe and let me know in the comments what you thought! Also, be sure to follow Curly Girl Kitchen on Instagram, and tag me when you try one of my recipes so I can see all your delicious creations!
Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream
- Stand Mixer
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 ¼ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt
- 2 tsp espresso powder, optional
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp meringue powder, optional
- ¼ tsp coarse Kosher salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2-4 tbsp milk or cream, if needed
- Preheat the oven to 350, and line your cupcake/muffin pans with 30 paper liners. (If you only have one pan, you can bake 12 cupcakes at a time, while letting the remainder of the batter rest in the bowl. Without stirring the batter up after resting, gently scoop the batter and re-fill the pan to bake the remaining cupcakes.)
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sour cream, oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until well combined, about 1 minute.
- Use an ice cream scoop to evenly portion the batter into the pan, filling the cups about 3/4 full. Bake the cupcakes on the center rack for about 19-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool several minutes in the pan, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until smooth.
- With the mixer on low, gradually add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, meringue powder, salt and vanilla. Increase speed to medium-high and whip for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy, adding the milk as needed for desired piping consistency.
- Pipe the buttercream onto the cooled cupcakes and garnish with sprinkles.
- These cupcakes can be baked 1 day in advance, and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and they will taste moist and fresh. Bring to room temperature before serving.
- The buttercream recipe yields a generous amount of frosting for piping onto the cupcakes. If you like to use less, you can certainly cut the recipe in half.