Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chocolate Ganache Filled Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting

I made this recipe for the first time when my dad was in town in early August. That's when I fell in love. I made it for a friend's baby shower in August and then again for another baby shower just this week.  Hosting baby showers means that I get to pick out pretty little flowers to decorate with. Aren't these surprisingly pretty considering they are from the grocery store?

Ok, back to the real gem of this post: the cupcakes. I can't imagine another chocolate cupcake recipe tasting this chocolatey, dark, and rich. The cake itself is moist but stays together as you bite it; no one wants a cupcake that falls apart in your hand.

The frosting is a vanilla bean frosting that, if I'm completely honest with you, I could take or leave. In fact, next time, I'll probably opt to make the Billy Reece vanilla frosting recipe on Martha Stewart's site instead.  {Update: I have since made these cupcakes with a raspberry buttercream frosting topped with fresh raspberries, and they turned out great! The tartness cuts some of the richness of the inside. See image below, and I'll give the rough recipe to the frosting at a future point.)  The one pictured has a nice texture, but I can taste the butter more than I'd like. On the other hand, many people have asked me for this frosting recipe along with the cupcake recipe. Whatever you decide to do, opting for chocolate frosting would be entirely too rich. You need something to balance what's inside.

Oh, did I not mention the inside yet? There's a little surprise in there.

Yes, that is a dollop of ganache nestled nicely in the middle of that cupcake. No special equipment is needed, either. With the proper technique, it'll land perfectly in the center every time. The recipe will get into the details, but basically, you refrigerate the ganache to harden it up just the right amount. Drop some on top of the batter, and as they bake, it will fall into the center.

Then, when they come out, they look like this.

Recipe for the frosting to come... The runny ganache center is from a barely cooled cupcake.
It hardened as it fully cooled.
Let's stop messing around and get to the recipe! I promise, if you're going for sinfully moist and chocolatey cupcakes, this will be your go-to recipe.

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
From Cook's Illustrated

Yields 12-15 cupcakes

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (Ghirardelli 60% Cacao)
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (like Hershey's Special Dark)
3/4 cup hot, strong brewed coffee
3/4 cup (4 1/8 oz) bread flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
6 T Canola oil (1/4 cup + 2 T)
2 large eggs
2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (Ghirardelli 60% Cacao)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 T powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, whisk until smooth the chocolate, cocoa, and hot coffee together.  Refrigerate until it's cool, about 20-30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the ganache ingredients (chocolate, cream, and powdered sugar). Microwave for 20 seconds. Whisk. If the chocolate still needs to melt, microwave for another 10 seconds. Whisk until smooth. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes-- no more and no less! When you take it out, you're looking for a ganache that can be formed into a soft ball with a spoon. It's not fully solid (or it'll sink to the bottom of the cupcake) and it's not still runny, or it will just disperse within the cupcake. 

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

Retrieve the large bowl of chocolate/cocoa/coffee from the fridge. Add the eggs, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Whisk to incorporate. Add all of the flour mixture, and whisk until smooth. The batter will be slightly runny, similar to brownie batter.

Divide the batter among the cupcake liners, filling 3/4 full. I use the large OXO portion scoop; 1 1/2 scoops per cupcake does the trick.

Next, top each cupcake in the center with a rounded teaspoon of ganache. I use half a scoop with the small OXO portion scoop.

Place on the center rack in the oven, and bake for 15-19 minutes, until the cupcakes are firm to the touch on top. A traditional toothpick test won't work here due to the ganache center.  Remove from the oven and let them sit in the pan for 10 minutes. Then, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream
America's Test Kitchen

Yields 3 cups (enough for about 24 cupcakes)

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Caviar from 1 vanilla bean (or substitute in 1 T Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste)
2 1/2 cups (10 oz) powdered sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 T heavy cream

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium high speed until it's smooth. Add the caviar. Beat for about 20 seconds more until it's well incorporated. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar. Once the butter has coated the sugar, increase the speed to medium for about 30 seconds. Add the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Once combined (so that it doesn't fly out of the mixer), increase the speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

If you desire to pipe your icing on, I used a 1M star tip. Start with the tip in the center and pipe a spiral to the outside. Step back and admire what you just created!


  1. These look incredible! I'm saving this recipe for a special occasion! The ganache inside just puts these over the top, and the icing on top is so pretty with the flecks of vanilla, even if it wasn't exactly what you wanted. I can't wait till I have a reason to make these :D

  2. @Heidi- Yes, this is definitely one for special occasions! The times when you throw out everything you've been conservative about-- no subbing in whole wheat flour, reducing sugar and fats... if you're going to indulge, now is the time to do it! :)

  3. Looks delicious. Would love for you to share your pictures with us over at

  4. I love the dark chocolatey color and the surprise ganache in the center. I am sure evryone will be surprised once they take a bite of these yummy treats. I have to try this recipe very soooon! Thanks a lot!

  5. Why the use of bread flour?

  6. @anonymous the bread flour is used to give the cupcakes structure so that they don't crumble in your hand.

    Thanks to the rest of you! Hope you give them a try.

  7. The same thing happened to me, I made these cupcakes once when my dad came over, and then I found myself making them every couple months for different occasions, they are so good! I skipped the vanilla buttercream though and used mocha buttercream, the coffee and chocolate makes the most perfect combination.

  8. Do these taste at all like coffee? They look super delicious but I'm not much of a coffee person

  9. @anonymous, I don't taste the coffee in it at all. Others didn't know there was coffee in it until I mentioned it, and I used decaf to be sensitive to those who watch their caffeine intake. The coffee deepens the chocolate flavor. Other recipes for chocolate cakes call for milk, which actually counteracts with the chocolate and makes it mild. You could always use regular or weak coffee if you're concerned you'll be able to taste it.

  10. @Jana- that sounds like a great combo. Maybe I'll try that next time (because we all know there will be a next time).

  11. These look wonderful! I can always tell that a chocolate cake has a really deep chocolately flavor when it's as dark as yours. Love the idea of using bread flour too...will have to try that next time :)

  12. These cupcakes look amazing! I love how the ganache looks sort of like a heart in that one photo. Thanks for sharing the great recipe :)

  13. I must make these!!! i want to eat them right now!!!

  14. These cupcakes look amazing! I would love for you to add it to my Best of 2011 link party, as well as any other projects you are most proud of from this year. Visit
    ~Kara :)

  15. These look amazing!! I love anything close to a truffle! Can't wait to try these. :)

  16. Just made these and they are to die for!!! I did substitute hot chocolate for the coffee part though (not a coffee drinker). Thanks for the delicious recipe!

  17. I tried to make these and the ganache just would not set. After 3 hours in the fridge and one in the freezer and still a complete liquid I finally gave up and just baked the cupcakes without their filling. I did use semi-sweet instead of bittersweet as it's what I had in the cupboard but would that really make that much difference. I even tried a second batch about an hour and a half in using a larger proportion of chocolate to cream and it stayed just as runny. To be fair it was a fairly warm and humid day but not that bad. I wound up taking a small melon baller to the cooled cupcakes and just piping in the ganache (which set up better overnight at room temperature than it did in the fridge) and they were absolutely delicious (I used a basic buttercream frosting but did add some vanilla bean caviar as I have a huge jar of spent beans from homemade extract that I can't bear to throw out.), a very worthy birthday self treat if more frustrating to make than they appeared. Any idea what I did wrong?

    1. I'm really sorry to hear about your experience! I've made these on many days with consistent results, and I know someone else who has made these her go-to dessert without issues. I really am not sure what could have happened. The humidity shouldn't have affected it in such a drastic way. Did you use heavy cream (and not 1/2 & 1/2 or milk?)

  18. I have made these twice and they are delicious... but my ganache always sinks to the bottom AND disperses into the cupcake. You know its there but it is not a pretty center like yours... I wonder what I am doing wrong.

    1. I'm not an expert on baking, that's for sure, but I haven't had any issues with these cupcakes. Dispersing and sinking... hmm!

      All I can offer is to have you double-check the time that it's kept in the fridge. It's supposed to be just the right consistency slowly sink to the middle while cooking. Plop the spoonful on top just before sticking it in the oven and don't spoon more batter on top.

      Sorry they didn't turn out as they should have... glad they still taste great!

    2. Just wondering what your consistancy is. Peanut Butter like....sour cream like....hard butter.. I am determined to get this right lol

    3. Ok, ok... twist my arm! I'll make these again this Tuesday, pay close attention to consistency, and try to take a picture that shows it. :)

    4. Here are my additional comments:

      First, make sure you're starting with the right ingredients. I use heavy whipping cream (brand varies) and Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chocolate bars. The percentage of fat and cocoa butters may make a difference.

      Also, make sure you are using bread flour since that gives a stronger structure to the cake part, and be sure that your batter isn't still warm when it comes to assembling them. You could even put it in your freezer for a few minutes if you need to cool it down faster. It should be cool or close to cool. This time I tried to have my batter out of the fridge after the ganache had been in the fridge by 23 min. This gave me enough time to finish the recipe and fill the cups while the ganache continued to harden.

      The consistency of the ganache is like Nutella or pudding. Peanut butters vary so much by brand, so it's hard for me to say there. It's stiffer than Jiff's Creamy Natural PB and closer to Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Butter.

      I'll upload more photos soon!

  19. Was is supposed to be baking powder and not soda?

  20. Did you ever post your raspberry frosting? I couldn't seem to find a link. Thanks!

    1. Hi Becca-
      I never went back to duplicate my efforts, but here's the rough recipe:

      Puree in a food processor almost a full pint of raspberries until smooth and soupy. Strain them in a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds.

      Make your buttercream frosting as you normally would except instead of thinning it out with milk, thin the buttercream with raspberry puree. Do everything to taste and look-- no exact science there. I thought the puree would make the frosting running, but that was not my experience.

      I topped each cupcake with a couple of raspberries sitting on top of a pool of the puree, and I didn't keep them longer than that day (so I can't say how they'd keep).

      Let me know if you have questions or need more tips!

  21. I made something similar to these once with a homemade peanut butter cream cheese frosting. They were pretty rich, but the saltiness of the peanut butter balanced out the richness of the cupcakes quite nicely. They were a huge hit with everyone who had one!

  22. Hi Nicole! Just want to ask if i'm going to use instant coffee powder, how many teaspoon/tablespoon will be needed to make 3/4 cup of coffee in this recipe. Thank you!

    And also for the cupcake batter, did you use electric standing mixer (with paddle attachment) or electric hand mixer? Or did you mix it by hand with wired whisk?

    1. Hi Carla-
      Thanks for your comment and questions! I don't know what the container says for the instant coffee that you use, but I sometimes use the little single-serving packets that come in a box. I believe one packet is intended to make an 8oz serving, but I just heat up 3/4 cup of water and dissolve the whole packet; it ensures that it's strong and I don't have to fiddle with anything precise. So, if I were you, I'd look at your container, see what it recommends for a cup's worth of coffee, and use that amount with only 3/4cups of water. Or, use strongly brewed regular coffee.

      For the batter, all was done by hand with a whisk. I used an electric standing mixer for the frosting.

      The last time I made these (last week), the ganache took a little longer to set up to the right consistency. You're looking for it to be scoopable but soft. It should hold its shape when scooped but not be completely solid. Look at the photo above and err on the side of going firmer than that rather than softer.

      Last tip... the wet part of the batter should be cool (not warm). Make sure that's cool, then be sure your ganache is the right consistency, and THEN mix the flour mixture into the wet batter. The wet and dry can hang out separately as long as you want, but once the wet and dry meet, you'll want to bake as possible (a good general baking tip).


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