Chocolate Cupcake Comparison

After having such great success with my Vanilla Cupcake Comparison, I decided that it was time to move on to another favorite- chocolate cupcakes! I found 7 recipes that seemed test worthy. These recipes are by no means “the best” out there, I am sure that there are other great recipes as well. And if you have one I would love for you to share it with me : D But for now these were all that I could test and compare together to find you some dependable recipes- ENJOY!

This time I was looking to recommend recipes a little differently though. Instead of just focusing on how similar to a box mix the cupcake is, I wanted a lot of importance to be placed on flavor.  The texture is of course still very important, but when you make a chocolate cupcake you usually want it to be chocolate in not just color but flavor. A good chocolate cupcake should have the perfect balance between the depth of flavor and sweetness. I never realized how hard this was to find until running this test. It really does vary greatly. Other factors that I considered were the recipes ease of execution and the dome. So here we go!

Here are the various cross sections of each cupcake, as well as the top view (note the difference between the butter and oil cupcakes) so that you can compare them for yourself-

 

chocolate cupcake

Cooks Illustrated Chocolate Layer Cake

I always have high hopes for Cooks Illustrated. They’ve just set the bar so high for themselves that I always expect something phenomenal out of their recipes. Choosing this recipe was a no brainer for me. And I have had success with layer cakes as cupcakes in the past so I thought it was fair game. Now, I know that sometime Cooks Illustrated has some tedious steps to their recipes and this one was no exception. This was not a simple recipe to prepare. It used a very odd technique that I can’t even begin to briefly describe to you. Just know that it was kind of a pain to make the batter and a novice baker would not be happy with this recipe. The batter was a nice medium consistency- not too soupy, but not super thick. Their dome was absolutely perfect. They didn’t spread or rise too much in the center. They had a nice lift without an excessive dome- great for piping on frosting.  This recipe turned out cupcakes they were incredibly dark in color and taste. They employed the use of unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder which explains a lot. The fact that the flavor was so strong was great, however it wasn’t balanced well with sweetness. There was very little sweetness to them at all. If you enjoy a dark chocolate cupcake then you will love this recipe. I prefer that myself since frosting adds such intense sweetness to cakes, but this recipe was a little much even for me. The texture was a nice compromise between fluffy box cake and muffin. Ultimately I found these cupcakes to be more work than they are worth though.

chocolate cupcake

BAKED Bakery Classic Chocolate Layer Cake

I absolutely LOVE the Baked Bakery Boys! I think they are genius’. Their flavor combinations are out of this world and their recipes always turn out delicious. I really thought that their chocolate layer cake would make a good contender for this comparison. I did NOT have good results though. This could be due to the fact that this recipe does not halve well or that it just doesn’t make good cupcakes. For now I am going to have to disregard this recipe as a contender because of the terrible results. But! I have high hopes for using this recipe as it was originally intended for in the future : D

chocolate cupcake

Ina Garten Chocolate Cupcakes

Her recipe was one of my favorites for my Vanilla Cupcake Comparison so I had to give her chocolate cupcake a run for this comparison. It was a five star rated recipe over at Food Network. I found the recipe to be very easy to execute, definitely one of the easier of the bunch. It uses sour cream which creates a nice texture that is especially moist, but also one more akin to a muffin. The texture was a tad thick. You could definitely taste the chocolate with this cupcake, with a delicate touch of sweetness. Probably on the lesser side of the sweet scale, still kind of dark. It domed nicely, but similar to that of a muffin- kind of crackled. That shouldn’t be an issue since the cupcake will most likely be frosted but it is worth noting. So although this recipe was easy and tasted good, it wasn’t impressive.

chocolate cupcake

Cooks Illustrated Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake

Originally this cupcake was formulated to have a dollop of ganache dropped into the batter and then baked, but since that wouldn’t lend to a fair comparison I had to skip that step and judge it solely as a basic chocolate cupcake. This recipe was a little bit more complicated than a creaming method or a “liquid to dry” method. It has you dissolve and melt chopped bittersweet chocolate with the cocoa. Once cooled, you mix in the wet ingredients than add the dry. So it isn’t too terribly difficult. But! Then when you add the odd ingredients that the recipe calls for like bread flour and vinegar, it can no longer be considered a simple recipe. Still not difficult, but for those that are unfamiliar with baking it may not be ideal. I actually found this recipe to be very smart with the way they used the ingredients to produce a specific texture and taste. I LOVED this cupcake. I couldn’t get over how perfect the texture ended up. It gets an A+++ for texture. Now the flavor is a little bit iffy, totally depending on how you like your chocolate cupcakes. This recipe uses a lot of coffee, which leads to a very strong mocha flavor. I don’t see why you couldn’t replace part or all of the coffee with some very hot water. I think 1/2 cup water and 1/4 cup coffee would be perfect. Just enough to enhance the chocolate flavor without it being too overwhelming. Also, to get a sweeter cupcake with a less dark chocolate taste you could very easily swap out the bittersweet chocolate for semisweet. A very subtle change that would help. The dome on this cupcake… just beautiful. Really quite perfect.

chocolate cupcake

Hershey’s

I’ve heard a lot of good things about this recipe. Unfortunately I was not pleased with the results I had. This could very well be a factor of error on my part (I did halve the recipe after all). Or maybe this recipe wasn’t meant to be used for cupcakes. Either way my cupcakes turned out sweet with very little chocolate flavor. The recipe used no butter, just oil and the texture ended up being super fluffy but alarmingly delicate. I enjoy a nice light cake, but when it comes to cupcakes there is such a thing as too light, especially when paired with a heavy helping of frosting. I mean, it would work, I just don’t think that it makes for a very balanced cupcake (considering a heavy buttercream and delicate cake). Has anybody else had similar results to mine with this recipe?  Plus they were completely flat, no dome what-so-ever.

*Update: I accidentally made this cupcake again at the suggestion of a followers’ comment. They told me that I should include Glorious Treats Perfectly Chocolate Cupcake Recipe in my review as it was their absolute favorite. I decided to do so. Well, it wasn’t until these were in the oven and I finally sat down to read her post, that I realized it was the exact Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe. I was a little upset about this… but it serves me right for not reading her post before hand (as a blogger, I should know better). Oh well, it at least gave me a second chance to review this cupcake recipe, which is supposed to be pretty good. The results? Again, my cupcakes spread along the edges of the pan (my total pet peeve with cupcakes!), so if you do use this recipe it is really important to only fill them halfway instead of the usual 2/3 to 3/4. I pretty much have the same conclusion- this recipe is not meant for cupcakes- the texture is far too delicate and they don’t dome well.*

chocolate cupcake

Sweet, Savory Life

For a simple chocolate cupcake using all cocoa powder and a creaming method, I was pretty impressed with this recipe. It was simple to throw together and provided great results. The dome was beautiful. The flavor balanced well with the depth of chocolate and the sweetness. I really was very happy with this cupcake. It was a nice intermediate with texture. Substantial enough for heavily piped frosting, but light enough to be acceptable as a cupcake. I did notice it was a tad dry the next day… but then again I divided this recipe in 4 soooo that could have played a part. But for a recipe that was divided in 4, I thought these came out well.

chocolate cupcake

Ina Gartens’ Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

Can you tell I have a thing for Ina Garten? haha. Well this is actually my favorite chocolate layer cake recipe. Aside from it being prone to sinking in the center, it is always SO delicious and moist! The cupcakes were no exception. They did sink slightly in the center though… but if you are going to frost them or just don’t care too much then it’s really not a big deal. Either way, the cupcake was so yummy! Moist and fluffy. A little bit too delicate to be eaten as a cupcake rather than with a fork as a layer cake, but it still works. The flavor was a fantastic balance between chocolate and sweetness. And again, there was quite a bit of coffee used so you can easily sub out some of that for hot water if that might bother you. I really do LOVE this cake : D It won’t make the most attractive cupcakes, but it tastes incredible!

Results

Well this is going to be hard to chose from… personally I really loved the Cooks Illustrated Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake. And if you don’t mind a recipe that is a little bit more complicated with a darker flavor then I can’t tell you enough how highly I recommend this cupcake. The texture- oh my goodness- was perfect! The best balance of fluffiness, moisture, and stability for a cupcake. Now if you are looking for something simple with great flavor, but you don’t care how it looks, go with Ina Gartens’ Beatty’s Chocolate Cake. It will most likely sink in the middle and have a funny shine to it from the use of all oil, but it will taste wonderful. What if you do care what it looks like, but still want something simple? Sweet, Savory Life Cupcake. Easy to throw together, you really can’t mess up this cupcake.

Recipe Links

Ina Garten Chocolate Cupcake

Hershey’s

Baked Bakery Chocolate Cake

Sweet Savory Life

Cooks Illustrated Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

Ina Gartens’ Beatty Chocolate Cake

Cooks Illustrated Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

If you enjoyed this comparison, check out my Red Velvet Cake Comparison or Vanilla Cupcake Comparison Post!

Laura is the publisher of Laura’s Sweet Spot- a blog making regular contributions about baking, cooking, and blogging tips!

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13 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Spencer

    Awesome selection of cupcakes! It has made me very hungry.

  • Marina Salvan

    Such an amazing job that you are doing, will have to try some out!

  • Amy

    When you make 7 batches of cupcakes, who eats them all?
    I’d be afraid to have that many in the house!

    • lmachell

      haha I know… I end up mostly throwing them all out because I DO end up eating cupcake after cupcake otherwise!

  • Bonnie

    I love your site everything is so good and details are wonderful !

  • Silver

    Hi, this is fantastic – thank you for doing this comparison so that we don’t have to! I often compare recipes just by the comments and wonder if I’m choosing the right one. Now I can’t wait to try making the Cooks Illustrated cupcakes this week :)

  • J

    I really love that you did a comparison of all these cupcakes. Cooks illustrated ultimate cupcake is my go to recipe! Always delish and not hard to make. You are mistaken though about carving out the top and adding the ganache,you actually add a dollop of ganache to batter and THEN bake. Really interesting. But you must try with ganache! Super yummy. Thanks

    • lmachell

      haha ya know what, I actually made them again this past weekend and noticed that too myself- I’ve never actually made them with the ganache. I will fix it immediately. Thanks!

  • Phoebe

    What an amazing post! Everything looks so delicious!

  • Jackie @ Marin mama cooks

    I stumbled on your blog from Averie’s Friday things. I’m not really a vanilla cupcake kind of gal, but I love chocolate cupcakes so I linked over to this post. We have the same taste when it comes to cupcakes and cake. I have Ina’s cake on my blog and that is the only cake I have on my blog. That is by far my favorite chocolate cake! Mine never seems to sink in the middle. My sister-in-law (who graduated from the CIA) taught me a trick. She said that most cakes sink when they are not cooked long enough. She taught me the finger trick. Gently press your finger into the center of the cake or cupcake and if it bounces back, then it’s done, if it sinks stays dented, then it’s not completely done. Anyway, since I have used that finger trick, I have not had a problem. I recently made her cake into cupcakes and I LOVE them almost as much as her cake. Their like mini cakes. I actually top both her cake and the cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. I think it works perfectly with the richness of her cake. I tried her chocolate frosting one time, but it had way to much of a coffee flavor in it for the kids, and me believe it or not, and I love coffee. We don’t taste the coffee in the cake though.
    I am a fan of cooks illustrated as well. I LOVE their chocolate chip cookie recipe and it’s my go-to recipe. I haven’t tried their ultimate chocolate cupcake yet. I have tried their dark chocolate cupcakes with their creamy chocolate frosting, and they’re so good. The creamy frosting is light and airy and helps to not make the chocolate cupcakes taste to rich.
    Anyway, great comparison! It’s always fun to see posts like this. xoxo, Jackie

    • lmachell

      That is a good little trick to test cupcakes- I can see how effective it would be. I should really start doing that myself. I have never tried Cooks Illustrated’s Dark Chocolate Cupcake with Creamy frosting- it sounds so good! I will have to try and find it online : )

13 comments… add one

  • Spencer

    Awesome selection of cupcakes! It has made me very hungry.

  • Marina Salvan

    Such an amazing job that you are doing, will have to try some out!

  • Amy

    When you make 7 batches of cupcakes, who eats them all?
    I’d be afraid to have that many in the house!

    • lmachell

      haha I know… I end up mostly throwing them all out because I DO end up eating cupcake after cupcake otherwise!

  • Bonnie

    I love your site everything is so good and details are wonderful !

  • Silver

    Hi, this is fantastic – thank you for doing this comparison so that we don’t have to! I often compare recipes just by the comments and wonder if I’m choosing the right one. Now I can’t wait to try making the Cooks Illustrated cupcakes this week :)

  • J

    I really love that you did a comparison of all these cupcakes. Cooks illustrated ultimate cupcake is my go to recipe! Always delish and not hard to make. You are mistaken though about carving out the top and adding the ganache,you actually add a dollop of ganache to batter and THEN bake. Really interesting. But you must try with ganache! Super yummy. Thanks

    • lmachell

      haha ya know what, I actually made them again this past weekend and noticed that too myself- I’ve never actually made them with the ganache. I will fix it immediately. Thanks!

  • Phoebe

    What an amazing post! Everything looks so delicious!

  • Jackie @ Marin mama cooks

    I stumbled on your blog from Averie’s Friday things. I’m not really a vanilla cupcake kind of gal, but I love chocolate cupcakes so I linked over to this post. We have the same taste when it comes to cupcakes and cake. I have Ina’s cake on my blog and that is the only cake I have on my blog. That is by far my favorite chocolate cake! Mine never seems to sink in the middle. My sister-in-law (who graduated from the CIA) taught me a trick. She said that most cakes sink when they are not cooked long enough. She taught me the finger trick. Gently press your finger into the center of the cake or cupcake and if it bounces back, then it’s done, if it sinks stays dented, then it’s not completely done. Anyway, since I have used that finger trick, I have not had a problem. I recently made her cake into cupcakes and I LOVE them almost as much as her cake. Their like mini cakes. I actually top both her cake and the cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. I think it works perfectly with the richness of her cake. I tried her chocolate frosting one time, but it had way to much of a coffee flavor in it for the kids, and me believe it or not, and I love coffee. We don’t taste the coffee in the cake though.
    I am a fan of cooks illustrated as well. I LOVE their chocolate chip cookie recipe and it’s my go-to recipe. I haven’t tried their ultimate chocolate cupcake yet. I have tried their dark chocolate cupcakes with their creamy chocolate frosting, and they’re so good. The creamy frosting is light and airy and helps to not make the chocolate cupcakes taste to rich.
    Anyway, great comparison! It’s always fun to see posts like this. xoxo, Jackie

    • lmachell

      That is a good little trick to test cupcakes- I can see how effective it would be. I should really start doing that myself. I have never tried Cooks Illustrated’s Dark Chocolate Cupcake with Creamy frosting- it sounds so good! I will have to try and find it online : )

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