Super Easy, Super Moist Chocolate Cupcakes

Have you ever encountered a chocolate cake recipe that used neither eggs nor butter, but relied on vinegar and baking soda for leavening? Apparently, the recipe has been around for ages. We first discovered a version of it in a magazine called Cuisine at Home, but you can find other versions at Epicurious and other places online.

The thing about this cake recipe is not only is it incredibly easy to make, with ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry, but it produces a surprisingly moist and delicious cake (and cupcakes). All without eggs or butter. (There’s butter in the frosting I’m using, but we’re talking about the cake.) I even tried adding an egg to the recipe and it wasn’t nearly as good as the batch without it.

Over the last week I’ve made several batches of cupcakes following this method, including a couple for my mom’s book club. (Waving hi to mom’s friends!) I used a frosting recipe from Hershey’s, and instead of loading the cupcakes with frosting, decided instead to just simply drizzle frosting in patterns on the top. But do what you will with the frosting. I think the cupcakes are perfectly delicious without any frosting at all.

Super Easy, Super Moist Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 12 cupcakes

The coffee (and the salt) help intensify the flavor of the chocolate. If you don't have or don't want to use coffee, just skip it and use water instead. If you do use coffee, just use what would be considered regular strength coffee (or slightly weak coffee) in America, not something super concentrated like espresso. If caffeine is an issue, use decaf. If you want to make a cake instead of cupcakes, double the recipe and use two 8-inch round cake pans and cook for 35-40 minutes.

Yum

Ingredients

Cupcakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup brewed coffee (or 1 cup of warm water mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons of espresso powder or instant coffee granules)
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 Tbsp (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp) olive oil

Frosting:

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method

Cupcakes:

1 Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Prepare a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

2 In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt until there are no visible clumps (cocoa tends to clump up).

3 In a separate bowl, mix together the coffee (or water plus coffee granules), vinegar, vanilla extract, and olive oil.

4 Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir only until they just come together. The mixture should be thin and rather lumpy.

5 Ladle the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about two-thirds of the way full. Place in oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a bamboo skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

6 Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and let cool on a rack. Once cool, you can eat plain, sprinkle with powdered sugar, or drizzle or coat with frosting.

Frosting:

While the cupcakes are cooking, make the frosting. Melt butter in a small saucepan and remove from heat. Stir in the cocoa until smooth. Sprinkle in about a third of the powdered sugar, stir, then sprinkle in about a half of the milk. Keep alternating with the powdered sugar and either milk or vanilla, stirring after each addition, until the frosting is the consistency you want, and smooth. If it's too runny, add more powdered sugar. If too stiff, add a little more milk or vanilla extract.

To pipe in a decorative pattern, scoop the frosting into the corner of a ziplock freezer bag. Use scissors to cut away 1/4-inch or so from the tip of the corner. Then just squeeze the frosting out of the bag onto the cupcakes in any design you like.

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Super Easy Super Moist Chocolate Cupcakes

Showing 4 of 105 Comments

  • barbara

    Elise I have made this before but never as cupcakes. What a great idea and I’m off to make some now. There is a link to NYT on my page which covers a little of the history of the cake. It was originally called Amazon Cake. http://www.winosandfoodies.com/2006/07/amazon_cake_tha.html

    Hi Barbara, love the NYT article on cocoa! Thanks for that. It appears that this cake has had several names. ~Elise

  • Anna

    I’ve made a similar cake (mixed right in the 9 x 13 inch pan with a dinner fork) from the classic Peg Bracken’s I Hate To Cook book ever since I was a school-kid in the 70s. I could never understand why people would bother with boxed mixes when it was so easy to make a delicious moist chocolate cake from scratch. It’s a family favorite and winner on all counts (not to mention very fast and cheap to make), except I don’t bake with wheat flour anymore so I haven’t made it for a few years ;-(.

    In later years I would slice the 9×13 inch cake down the middle with a long bread knife into two thin layers, gently remove the top layer, drizzle raspberry jam mixed with a little raspberry (or other flavor) liqueur of the bottom layer, gently replace the top layer, and cover the top or whole cake with whipped cream, garnished with fresh raspberries just before serving. I don’t think I ever made it into cupcakes, though.

  • kate C.

    This is one of my favorite chocolate cakes, though I’ve only made it with water, not coffee. I learned how from my Grandma. And when my mom was young and in 4-H in Illinois “4-H Funny Cake” as it was called, was one of the projects they had to do for the cooking project. Back then in 4-H (where she lived in IL anyway) everyone in their first year of taking the Food/cooking project would make this cake (I think this was the first year) the second-year kids would all make another type of dessert (snickerdoodle cookies?). I’m probably messing up the details a little!

    But the reason it was called 4-H funny cake was that you actually mixed the dry ingredients in the cake pan, then dug three wells in the dry stuff, one for the vinegar, one for the oil, the other for vanilla (maybe this was to make sure that the kids wouldn’t forget an important ingredient??). Then the water was poured over everything and it was mixed in the pan and baked! Easy and no extra dishes to wash!

    Very good cake! I used to make it with mint frosting with my grandma, but also sometimes peanut butter frosting, or most often, just with some powdered sugar sprinkled on top!

    Thanks for sharing this version – I’ll have to try with coffee. I bet that would be even better!

  • Jane2

    I’d forgotten all about this recipe! My mother called it “Wacky Cake” and said it was a recipe from the Depression.

    All the way back to then? Wow. It makes sense though, to be able to make a rich moist cake without expensive eggs or butter. ~Elise

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