Buttermilk Chocolate Cupcakes


By Sarah Lagrotteria

This New Year’s Eve I want to share with you one of my favorite recipes from times gone past: my mom’s chocolate cake with buttermilk frosting.  Actually, it’s my mom’s friend Fern’s recipe and I’m sure Fern (don’t you love her name?) got it from a friend who probably got it from a classic cookbook, but to me it’s my mom’s cake and simply the best, most versatile chocolate cake recipe. My mom used it to make our birthday cakes and I used it just a few weeks ago to make Lydia’s birthday cupcakes.  It’s also the last recipe featured in this cookbook under the name “Recipe 66.”

You can use the recipe below to make one 9-inch round cake, a square 8×8, a rectangular 8×13 (for a very thin but rich cake) or to fill 2 cupcake or mini-cupcake tins.  It is equally delicious gluten-free, which is how I make it for Lydia’s FIANCEE (!!), dear Drew.

What you’re looking at are the cupcakes from Lydia’s birthday which I gilded and silvered because it was fun and unlike how I normally handle foodstuffs.  I usually like my food to look like food, not mini spaceships.  Lydia’s birthday had a chic Mad Men theme and so I decided to turn these cupcakes into homemade Hostess Cupcakes, complete with a mascarpone cream stuffed center.  I got the idea from Sarah Magid’s charming Organic and Chic.  Her baked goodies are beautiful and whimsical and fun and her voice is thoughtful and loving and kind.  And she likes to use paints, such as these.  So I went for it and the cakes sparkled and shone and tasted extra special.

Had I remembered to take a shot before I began painting, you’d see the a shiny, crackly buttermilk frosting that is, quite simply, the bomb, and a definite upgrade from the original Hostess Cupcake glaze.

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Buttermilk Frosting from Sarah’s Mom’s friend Fern*


2 sticks unsalted butter

1/2 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (I like Droste or Green & Black)

1 cup water

2 cups AP flour (or gluten-free equivalent)

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup buttermilk

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (for the gluten-free version, I use 2 teaspoon vanilla extract and a tablespoon of espresso to cover the chickpea flavor of the gluten-free flour.  You can add espresso to the traditional recipe as well)


1/2 stick unsalted butter

1/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (I like Droste or Green & Black)

3 tablespoons buttermilk

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

you can also add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or other nuts to the frosting if desired.

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter and flour the cake pan of your choice or line your cupcake tins.

2. Make the cake.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the cocoa powder and water.  Bring to a boil them remove from the heat.  Let cool.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.   Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.  Blend well using a hand held mixer or a strong hand and whisk.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture, stirring until just combined. The batter will be thinner than regular cake batters, but this only means you are on your way to making a great cake.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 20-25 minutes for large cakes, about 12-15 for cupcakes and 8-10 for minis.  Let cool completely  before frosting.

4.  Make the frosting.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the cocoa powder and buttermilk.  Bring to a boil then remove from the heat and let cool.  Pour into a large mixing bowl.

5.  Using a handheld mixer, beat the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and walnuts into the cocoa mixer.  Mix until thoroughly combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Pour or spread over cooled cake.  The frosting will set into a shiny glaze that crackles like thin ice when you cut into it.  Beautiful.

6. The secret step.  Wrap the cooled and frosted cake loosely in cling wrap and refrigerate it, even if only for an hour or so before serving.   Whereas refrigerating tends to dry out baked goods, it dampens this cake so that it’s amazingly dark, dense and moist, just how I envisioned mud pies when I was little.

Enjoy and best wishes for a happy, healthy 2010.


* Fern gave Angus and I a beautiful pewter cake server as a wedding present-little does she know how perfectly appropriate a gift it was.

4 Comments on Buttermilk Chocolate Cupcakes

  1. Lydia Ellison
    January 2, 2010 at 11:41 am (13 years ago)

    This is absolutely the best chocolate cake recipe I have ever had (even gluten free!)
    Sarah really has a gift with cake baking/decorating. Thank you Sarah for the amazing birthday cupcakes!

  2. Cheryl
    January 7, 2010 at 1:58 pm (13 years ago)

    I’m going to eat these until I keel over. Thank you!

2Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Buttermilk Chocolate Cupcakes

  1. […] be quite familiar to you A & O faithful.  But since I use it at least once a month and because my last photo was heinous and failed to showcase the pools of fudgy frosting I adore, I’m sharing this with […]

  2. […] We’ve talked about this book before and we’re talking about it again now because it has the sweetest recipes to consider when baking for loved ones this month.  From jewel-tone layer cakes to shiny “goldies”(a.k.a gourmet gold metallic twinkies!), we’re talking sweets that are organic and whimsical and recipes that work. […]

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