Schoolyard Cupcakes

(Psssst…I’ve added a little Favorite’s section over to the right in the first sidebar with some of the recipes that have tickled my fancy lately and seem worthy of Spring fare…)

I’ve decided I don’t make cupcakes nearly enough. My children wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

A few months back an extremely benevolent and lovely reader, Melody S., sent me a few cookbooks she was about to toss. I decided I would be generous and take them off her hands for her. I’m nice like that.

The first recipe I tried from either cookbook was this cupcake. I daresay, this recipe alone, has prompted me to reaffirm my allegiance to cupcakes. These are easily the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever made. Unlike some cakey goods where the texture is wimpy and fragile or dry and crumbly, these cupcakes are intensely moist and fudgey without losing their cake-like consistency. Chilled, these cupcakes are absolutely divine and still retained the softness and delicacy of a great cupcake. Not given to great amounts of self-control on a good day, I had to employ a serious dose of self-talk to get me out of eating six of these. I’m not kidding. They are positively evil and addicting.

A great cupcake needs a stellar frosting, since that is the taste bud’s first sensation of gloriousness when biting into a confection like this. The frosting for these cuppycakes is magnificent. Heavenly, even. An untraditional frosting when compared to everyday buttercream, in this recipe, heavy cream is combined with cocoa powder and sugar and heated until warm. Chilled completely, the mixture is whipped into soft peaks and the result is a silky, creamy, chocolatey frosting as light as air and as delicious as about anything else on this good, green earth.

Thanks, Melody, for renewing my love for the almighty cupcake! (And for adding at least three inches to my already abundant thighs. Actually, upon further thought, that’s my fault not yours. I take it back.).

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Schoolyard Cupcakes

One Year Ago: Garlic Chicken Pasta with Spinach
Two Years Ago: Solid Peanut Butter Cups

Schoolyard Cupcakes

Schoolyard Cupcakes

Note: after several comments on the frosting recipe alerted me to the fact that it wasn’t whipping up for many of you, I tested it. And sadly, I had the same result, even though it had whipped up perfectly the first two or three times I made it a few months ago. I plan on continuing to test it to see what’s going wrong – my guess is it has something to do with overheating the cocoa/cream mixture in the first step but I’m not entirely sure. So until I can troubleshoot it more, I want to add a caveat on to this recipe and in the comments that this frosting is temperamental (but absolutely divine if it whips up to stiff peaks)!


  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 squares (3 ounces) semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Frosting:
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 18 muffin tin cups with paper liners.
  2. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside.
  3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate on 50% power for 1-2 minutes. Stir and continue melting on 50% power for 30 second intervals until the chocolate is melted. Set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Blend in the vanilla. Add the eggs and beat until the batter is creamy. Blend in the chocolate. Add one-third of the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Add 1/2 of the sour cream and mix. Add another third of the dry ingredients and mix together. Add the other half of the sour cream and mix. Finally add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until well combined.
  5. Fill each muffin cup about 1/2 full. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs (not wet batter). The key to not drying out these cupcakes is to make sure and not overbake them! Remove the cupcakes to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  6. To make the frosting, combine the cream, cocoa, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Gently heat and stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the cocoa has blended into the mixture. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled.
  7. With an electric mixer, whip the frosting until it is smooth and forms medium peaks and has a spreading consistency. It will be quite firm. Frost and garnish the cupcakes as desired. I use a large piping tip (Wilton 1M tip to be exact) to make the decorative swirly frosting.

Recipe Source: adapted from The Chocolate Book by Sara Perry

68 Responses to Schoolyard Cupcakes

  1. Kanani says:

    I’m not sure if I did something wrong, but mine were a much paler brown color. They were very moist, but there also really wasn’t much chocolate flavor. Definitely not fudgey.

  2. izumi says:

    Hi Mel, since very difficult to get sour cream in my country, can I substitute sour cream with buttermilk or yogurt? thanks in advance 🙂

  3. Bev says:

    I make butter all the time and the cream needs to be 60 degrees to make butter. I think it needs to be much colder to make whipped cream so maybe it is separating into butter and buttermilk if it isn’t chilled enough or it is beaten too much.

  4. mo says:

    Made these today for after Easter Dinner.
    I ran short of sour cream, and had to stretch it using milk soured with lemon- and they still turned out beautifully!

    And I had absolutely no problem with the frosting. A Big Win!!

  5. Taura says:

    Hi there-
    I just found you and all of your recipes… I’m excited to try them.
    I have a question about your school yard cupcakes. You give a frosting recipe along with the cupcake recipe… I was wondering if your “magical frosting” that you said is the best ever (so I can’t wait to try it) would be good for frosting cupcakes? Or would your cupcake frosting be best? I want the cupcakes to taste amazing, but I will also be using the frosting to decorate them with a howling wolf so I need to be able to work with it too.
    Thoughts or comments please.
    Thank you so much!!!

  6. Katie says:

    These are cupcake perfection 🙂 Thank you for a great recipe.

  7. Gail Evans says:

    Hi Mel,
    Years ago my Mother in law gave me a frosting recipe with these ingredients, only you don’t heat it at all. You just put the cold cream in a chilled bowl, mix the dry ingredients in another bowl, then whisk them into the cream and beat until stiff peaks form. The sugar dissolves while you are beating the cream. I have made it many times and it has never failed, so that might be a good alternative if people are having problems with the heated version. Since I haven’t tried the heated method I can’t give an exact comparison in texture, but you can try this and see if you like it as well.

  8. Vicki Dillon says:

    Everything must be chilled….bowl, beaters, cocoa powder..sugar, & W. Cream. I don’t melt sugar & cocoa powder…..start whipping the cream & slowly add the rest…it should all meld together & you’ll have a wonderful icing. Just a thought

  9. Ann says:

    Love the site and use it often (sometimes to riff off of).
    Sounds like the frosting is a variation of ganache and then whipped. Maybe if you tried making a ganche and whipping it, it might not be as tricky.
    I’ve made ganache a number of times (frosting and filling) while working at a bakery.
    It was simple heat/almost simmer heavy cream, remove from heat/turn off, add chocholate (we used chips, maybe hersey’s) to melt, mix, cool. To turn it into “frosting” just whip it up. Just have the ganache at room temp as it firms up as its cooled.

    Now to make the cupcakes after a grocery run. cheers.~Ann

  10. DEE says:

    These cupcakes were yummy…and unbelievably quick to whip together!
    I didn’t attempt the frosting since I had several batches of frosting left over in my fridge from my various baking escapades…but I will surely try it next time.

  11. Tiffany says:

    Hi Mel-
    The frosting recipe is very similar to my caramel frosting. Try this experiment and I think you will be delighted with the results. Reserve, 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cream for later. Bring the remaining Cream, Sugar, salt, and Cocoa to a slight boil. Pour the concoction into a bowl and add 1/2 cup of butter. DO NOT STIR! Cool for 30 minutes in a water bath. Then cool for 1.5 hours in the refrigerator. The key is to let the mixture cool down completely. Once cool, whip the mixture using the reserved cream and a little confectioner’s sugar until the desired texture is reached. Hope this helps.

  12. Deborah says:

    Hey! I just wanted to drop a note and let you know I tried the frosting again, it turned out BEAUTIFUL!!!! I agree that it is really dependent on the temps – from the cooking temp, to the room temp temp, to the chilled temp. It is a patience thing that is for sure, but definitely worth the wait! Thanks again.

  13. Deborah says:

    So I just found this recipe and had to make it! The cupcakes turned out divine, but alas, I too struggled with the frosting. I watched the temp really close and didn’t let it get too hot…just barely warm enough to dissolve the sugar. I chilled it till good and cold. It started whipping up but just before it started to get to soft peak, it went kaput and separated.

    With the exception of the heating and cooling phase, it sounds a lot like a chocolate whipped cream. I am wondering if it might be possible to use some powdered sugar (doesn’t get as watery as granulated) instead and just whip it without the heating?

    • Mel says:

      Deborah – you could definitely whip up cream with powdered sugar and cocoa powder to get a chocolate frosting, although it won’t be as rich as the heated version. The times this frosting has worked out for me – the frosting results in a decadent, almost mousse-like consistency that can’t be achieved without heating. Unfortunately, it seems it is a finicky process!

  14. jayloh says:

    Just wanted to let you know I’m one of the “lucky” ones.
    I made this recipe (cupcakes AND frosting) for a baby shower and they turned out beautifully.

    I had to comment when you described, exactly, what we did with the leftover frosting. Ate that thick, chocolatey goodness by the spoonful.

    For real.

    Thanks for a great recipe. I’m not sure what made it work, but I followed the instructions and had no problems. 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Jayloh – phew! I’m so happy this cupcake and frosting recipe worked out well and especially glad to know I wasn’t the only one eating it with a spoon.

  15. Mel says:

    Hey everyone (who is wondering about the finicky frosting) – I made these cupcakes and frosting again to test out the frosting issues some have reported. The first two or three times I’ve made these, over the last few months, I haven’t had any issues with the frosting, so I was confident I could take step-by-step pictures of the process and report back to you that if you follow my instructions implicitly, your frosting will whip up perfectly.

    Uh, pride goeth before the fall, perhaps? Because my frosting was a disaster! It was runny and wouldn’t whip up for the life of me. I couldn’t even salvage it as a thick frosting and had to dip the tops of the cupcakes in the runny frosting as more of a silky ganache topping instead of beautifully piped frosting (still delicious but not quite as glamorous-looking).

    Anyhow, my guess is that the issue with the frosting not whipping up has something to do with overheating the initial cocoa/cream mixture. I did notice this time around that my mixture was more hot than before, but I didn’t think it would make a difference. I’ll continue to troubleshoot the recipe but until then, just know I am sorry for such a finicky recipe! And sorry to all those who have tried it and it hasn’t worked out. If you are one of the lucky ones, you better be eating it by the spoonful for all of us that haven’t had good luck, because let me assure you that the finished, perfect product is divine.

  16. Reyna says:

    These are FOR SURE the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten. My sister made them for me while she was visiting and we all swooned. They didn’t last for more than a few hours. But I remember she had major issues with the frosting. And so when I made them for my son’s 1st birthday last night I made sure to follow the directions very carefully for the frosting. I had the same issues. It never whipped up. I sort of saved the day by adding instant chocolate mousse mix to it and refrigerating it, but it seems a little overboard to top the world’s best cupcakes with chocolate mousse doesn’t it?! Even without frosting though these cupcakes are miraculous. And I don’t even like cupcakes (weird, I know.) So if you happen to make these again will you trouble shoot the frosting recipe for us?

  17. Jamie says:

    I just made the cupcakes – turned out perfect; however, I’m having trouble with my frosting too…it completely separated and won’t stiffen up 🙁 I followed the directions exactly – I see others have had trouble too…any suggestions?

  18. Andrea says:

    Hey Mel- I have the same problem as Meredith. I was making these cupcakes for a friends birthday and everything turned out except for the frosting. I chilled it for a good hour and then whipped it for 20 minutes with no results. Everything still tasted great but the presentation was nothing like yours 🙁 Thanks though for all your yummy recipes!

    • Mel says:

      Andrea – I’m sorry about the frosting not setting up! I’m not sure why that would be happening. I’ll make it soon to test it out – I’ve made it at least four or five times with no problem but evidently there’s something that is causing problems. I’ll let you know what I find out!

  19. Meredith says:

    I’ve made these twice, and the cupcake recipe itself is fantastic. For the life of me though, I can’t get the frosting to turn out right. The first time I thought perhaps I had overheated the mixture and didn’t let it cool long enough. The second time I was very, very careful and at first the frosting was sort of firm, but after a couple of hours it went flat and runny. I kept the cupcakes in the fridge before serving. IDK. Even though my cupcakes didn’t look like your picture, they at least tasted great and got two thumbs up from my kids.

    • Mel says:

      Meredith – that’s too bad about the frosting! Honestly, I have no idea why that might be happening. But you’ve put me on a mission to make the frosting this week and try to troubleshoot any problems. I’ll let you know what I find out!

  20. Katie says:

    My sister is having a cupcake buffet (which I think is a fantastic idea) for her housewarming/birthday party this weekend. She asked me to bring a variety of cupcakes (these will be PERFECT) and she’s making the filling and frosting. I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction! Your recipes are perfect for a variety of occassions. Thanks!

  21. Heather says:

    Is it really only 3 ounces of chocolate total? Somehow I thought they would be a lot darker and more chocolaty. Even with the chocolate frosting it seems like I’m missing something.

    • Mel says:

      Heather – the cupcake recipe isn’t overly chocolatey – I think that’s why they are named Schoolyard Cupcakes because they are light and not over-the-top decadent for kids…but it is the frosting that takes them to a whole new chocolate level.

  22. Megan S says:

    I made these for a graduation party. They were delicious, I made 3 batches!

  23. Stephanie says:

    I tried these cupcakes and wondered if there was a mistake in the amount of chocolate, I checked the recipe and I wrote it down right but they don’t seem chocolaty enough.

    • Mel says:

      Stephanie – nope, you are right. The cupcakes themselves aren’t death-by-chocolate by any means but it is the frosting that makes them decadent.

  24. Sara says:

    Thanks for your response Mel…I’m pretty sure I must have heated the mixture too long. It never simmered but it was definitely pretty hot. That explanation makes the most sense to me. I ended up trying a Food Network chocolate frosting that was good, but I’ll attempt this one again another time. Thx!!

  25. Sara says:

    Ok Mel, I need you in my kitchen right now! Something has gone wrong with my frosting…the cream perhaps has separated from the rest during the mixing process?? I’m not sure but I cannot get the frosting to thicken no matter how long I mix it. I have whipped heavy cream many times and it has never looked like this. Any suggestions??
    ps….love your site!!

    • Mel says:

      Sara – I’m so sorry about the frosting. I’m not sure what happened – was your cream mixture well chilled? Another factor might have been if the cream/cocoa mixture over heated. It should be gently warmed but not simmering or hot when it blends at the beginning of the process. I hope you were able to salvage some part of it!

  26. Brittany says:

    I these a couple of days ago and just wanted to thank you for the best chocolate cupcake recipe I have ever made-they were heavenly!!! I make so many of the recipes on your website and we love them all!!! Thank you!!

  27. Melanie says:

    Oh Mel–these look amazing!!!! Wow! Yum!

  28. Katy says:

    I’m looking for a delicious chocolate cupcake to fill. These sound cakey yet sturdy enough for a filling? And that frosting sounds heavenly!!!

  29. These look great!! I can’t wait to try the frosting! MMMM
    Check out our Early Customer Deals

  30. Kaitlyn says:

    They turned out perfect! They are super yummy with the filling in them. Thanks for the recipe!

  31. Barbara says:

    I don’t know why cupcakes get such a bad name! I know people who wouldn’t make them for anything. I love ’em! Make them all the time.
    This is a super recipe, Mel! I can’t wait to try the frosting…does it stay stable?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Barbara – yes, the frosting is pretty stable. It is definitely lighter than a heavy buttercream but refrigerating it helps.

  32. Kim in MD says:

    Oh my goodness…this looks amazing! I wish I had time to make these for my party tomorrow! Mel- I really wanted to make the citrus water punch for my party, but I have had no luck finding the citrus acid at any of my local pharmacies. I hope to mail order some soon…I can’t to try that punch! 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

  33. grace says:

    well, i’m already drawn in because these beauties have a fun name. add to that the chocolate-on-chocolate combination, and resistance becomes futile. the frosting is so unique and interesting–definitely worth a try (obviously)!

  34. Kaitlyn says:

    My cupcakes are in the freezer. I will let you know how they turn out!

  35. Memoria says:

    These cupcakes look great! I’ve never seen a frosting recipe like that! I have to try it out.

  36. Gorgeous pictures, Melanie! I love these cupcakes!

  37. Therese says:

    Melanie–what a fantastic picture! I’m dying to make these. Though I’d probably eat them all myself.

  38. Melanie – I love you!! You make me laugh! These “evil” cupcakes look marvelous! And your picture is fantastic too! You sold me on these for sure. 🙂

  39. Cammee says:

    Well I’m not as nice as you and completely blame you for my abundant thighs! I just got home from vacation and have a few recipes to catch up on!

  40. Jody says:

    Wow, I’m honored you stopped by! Michelle told me about your blog a year ago, and it’s been my favorite ever since! I envy your main dish catagory. I need to focus my attention on the main course and not dessert! Thanks for sharing your culinary talent with all of us, I think it’s time for a “Eatin’ Swell with Mel” cookbook! 🙂

    By the way, about the Spinach dip–I added 1/2 cup chopped onions, sauteed in a little butter–which made it even better! Hope you like it…

    p.s. Love your new site!

  41. Kim in MD says:

    OMG!!! I am hosting a party on Saturday for 25 people and I have everythng to make these. I will let you know how these turn out, Melanie! 🙂

  42. Leigh Anne says:

    You know I can’t resist a pretty cupcake – yum!!

  43. Megan says:

    Thanks for the return of the favorites on the side…..I really like to know what your favorites are!

  44. Meghan says:

    I just read what you already posted to someone else. Sorry, and thanks!

  45. Meghan says:

    These sound so good! I was reading the instructions and I didn’t notice where it says to add the melted chocolate, I am probably just blind but I keep reading it and still cant see it. Please help.

  46. Thanks so much for the pictures! I am so glad you added that feature I love seeing the things right there. You are amazing!!!!!

  47. Kira says:

    Your pictures are fabulous! Everything I make of yours probably taste SIMILAR, but never looks as good as yours does. How do you do it? Practice, practice, practice is what I will have to do.

  48. Jonna W. says:

    You knew I’d be back! The cupcakes are loverly. If I hadn’t just made a Raspberry Swirl Dessert, which is also evil and addicting . . . I’d dive head first into making these. Thanks for inspring all of us!

  49. Sally Smith says:

    Does the frosting holdup outside of the fridge? Does it last for more than one day? Looks so fabulous.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Sally – the frosting definitely lasts more than one day. You could easily make the frosting a day in advance and frost the cupcakes the next day (although the frosting may need to sit at room temperature for 20 or so minutes to soften up a bit). Once the cupcakes are frosted, I would suggest refrigerating them if they won’t be eaten within a few hours, but they would be fine sitting out for an hour or two.

  50. Kaitlyn says:

    These look delicious! I was just wondering when you add in the melted chocolate. Also, how do you think these would work if I made the cupcakes and froze them, then frosted them this weekend after thawing? Thank you!

    • Mel says:

      Kaitlyn – uh, yeah, the chocolate is pretty important! Sorry I left it out of the directions. You add it in after the eggs. I edited the recipe (and the printables). Thanks for calling it to my attention. I think these would work great to make ahead, freeze and then pull them out later to frost. Let me know if you try them!

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