Chocolatey and thick (but never too dense), these dark mini cupcakes are made with premium dark chocolate, topped with a fully homemade caramel candy frosting, then sprinkled with sea salt
Cakes and cupcakes, more-so than any other baked good, tend to cause me a significant amount of anxiety when I am in recipe-development mode.
When I set my sights on baking a cake, I will spend hours researching and reading about the chemistry, methodology and seeming-alchemy of baking; baking powder vs. soda, the best options for a moist crumb (you’ll find I rarely if ever use butter in my cakes and that’s not without good reason), the difference an extra egg white makes to a batter, etc. I will mentally consume recipe after recipe, trying to understand what makes one turn out brilliantly and another brickish, until I feel ready to begin constructing my own recipe.
Each time I make a cake, I feel that I’m contributing a new recipe to the already overwhelmed annals of the search engines, so it is incredibly important to me that I feel I have done everything in my power to make my creation the best. Besides, there are a lot of cake and cupcake recipes out there, and if I’m not offering something truly delectable that can’t be found anywhere else, well, why even bother?
Therefore, each ingredient (and the amount of each that is used) is selected with an extreme amount of care and my technique is executed with nervous anguish.
For the longest (pre-blog) time I actually avoided cakes made from scratch, believing they were inherently too dense and dry and chalky, and I adamantly preferred the lighter, fluffier results that came from a box (to this day my dad still asks for a box-cake for his birthday, and canned icing, much to my mom’s horror).
Now that I do dabble (or more than that, really) in cake-baking, I have terribly high standards. Anything even slightly too dense or remotely dry will simply not do.
Usually (but not always) the result of my experimentation is edible, but it is rare (and NEVER on the first try) that a cake or cupcake recipe comes out satisfactorily. The last time I tried to make chocolate cake it was only made palatable by the generous accompaniment of a thick slab of cheesecake, and only not thrown away because I loathe to waste ingredients. It certainly did not make it onto the blog.
My first painstakingly-blueprinted rendition of these cupcakes came out beautifully in a few senses. They were not at all dense or dry, they were light, fluffy and entirely edible. But despite that, I had it in my mind that they would have a much stronger, distinct dark chocolate flavor, an almost melt-in-your-mouth texture from a saturation of dark chocolate in the batter; thick but not dense, an imagined perfect complement to the frosting I had already decided on: a crowning salted caramel (because what else pairs so perfectly with dark chocolate?).
A few more tweaks to the batter, a generous addition of premium dark chocolate (I love Ghirardelli 72% dark chocolate and used that here) and I finally had beautifully chocolaty cupcakes that matched the ideal nestled in my brain.
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Though my icings and frostings always come much easier to me than cakes, it’s important that I don’t understate how incredible this frosting is. While the cupcakes are not dense and heavy, this icing is (in an entirely acceptable, cupcake-flattering way). The base for this icing originates on the stove top with brown sugar, heavy cream, and butter for a true, homespun caramel-candy flavor.
It is incredibly important that this caramel base be allowed to cool entirely before the sugar is mixed in, otherwise you’re likely to end up with a runny mess on your hands. Therefore you may even want to start the icing before the cupcakes, allowing the caramel base to cool while your mini cakes are in the oven.
Another note, too often people give me far, far too much credit for the way in which icing is piped onto my cupcakes and I want to stress that it is incredibly easy to pipe icing beautifully onto a cupcake–so long as you have the right tip. I use either a large Wilton or Ateco tips, and I frosted all 48 of my successful mini cupcakes in under 5 minutes while chatting with my mom across my kitchen island.
It was (please don’t hate me) a piece of cake.
Dark Chocolate Mini Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting
- 1 cup +3 Tbsp milk divided
- 3.5 oz quality dark chocolate chopped into small pieces (I always use a bar of Ghirardelli 72% dark chocolate)
- ½ cup dark cocoa powder
- ½ cup canola oil
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 egg preferably room temperature
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup All-purpose flour
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 8 Tbsp salted butter 1 stick
- ½ cup + 2 Tbsp heavy cream
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- Sea salt for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 350F and prepare two mini-cupcake trays by lining with cupcake liners.
- In small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup milk and dark chocolate, stirring until chocolate is completely melted.
- Increase heat to medium-high, stir constantly until mixture begins to bubble and stir in cocoa powder. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
- In KitchenAid, combine canola oil and sugars, beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, scrape sides of bowl, and stir again on medium-high speed for another 30 seconds -- until ingredients are well-combined (mixture will be very thick and grainy).
- Add egg and vanilla, beat well.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- With mixer on low-medium speed, gradually stir in flour mixture to oil/sugar mixture, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
- Pour the cocoa/dark chocolate liquid into the mixer and beat on medium speed until combined.
- Scrape down sides of bowl and add 3 Tbsp milk, stir on medium speed again so all ingredients are combined.
- Pour batter into cupcake liners, filling cupcake liners ⅔ of the way full.
- Bake on 350F for 15 minutes (toothpick inserted into middle of cupcake should come out clean).
- Allow to cool completely before frosting.
- Combine brown sugar, butter, and ½ cup heavy cream in medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir until butter is melted and all ingredients are combined.
- Increase heat to high and bring liquid to a boil, stirring constantly.
- Continue to boil (while still stirring continuously) for two minutes, remove from heat, stirring occasionally so that the mixture does not burn.
- Allow candy to cool completely before proceeding.
- Once caramel base has cooled, stir in vanilla.
- Transfer to KitchenAid (or use electric hand mixer) and gradually stir in powdered sugar, about ½ cup at a time, with mixer on low-medium speed.
- Pause periodically to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula.
- Continue until all sugar has been added, then add 2 Tbsp heavy cream and beat on medium-high until cream has been incorporated.
- Pipe onto completely cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with sea salt.