These simple, butterless chocolate cupcakes are made with coconut oil and topped with a rich chocolate frosting.
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Best chocolate cupcakes ever, meet the internet. Internet, meet the best chocolate cupcakes ever. (High praise for a butterless chocolate cupcake recipe? Yes. Well-deserved? Also yes).
We’re working with coconut oil instead of butter today for a light, moist, and airy chocolate cupcake. But I promise you won’t even miss the butter!
WAIT. YOU CAN USE COCONUT OIL IN CUPCAKES?
YES! I promise that the flavor is super mild – while you might taste a hint of coconut, it definitely doesn’t overpower the rich chocolate flavor.
We used coconut oil instead of butter to develop this recipe MOSTLY because we wanted a way to bake cupcakes when we were out of butter (sometimes you just need cupcakes and you need them RIGHT NOW, y’know?) but ALSO because it lends a delicate flavor that lets the chocolate shine through. It’s important that your coconut oil is in liquid form here, and we also use some hot water in the batter to help bloom the cocoa powder – make sure to read the recipe notes before you start baking for best results!
Also, fun fact: These cupcakes are made without butter AND without buttermilk – even the frosting!
Buttermilk is a delicious ingredient in many cake recipes, but it’s something I almost NEVER have on hand. So in this recipe, we make our own homemade buttermilk with some apple cider vinegar and milk (and you can even swap the milk for coconut milk if you want to keep these cupcakes dairy-free!)
CAN I FREEZE THESE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES?
One of the most common questions we get is “Can cupcakes be frozen?” and the answer is DEFINITELY! You can see a full breakdown (complete with a video!) of how we store and freeze cupcakes here, but here are a few highlights:
- Let your cupcakes cool COMPLETELY before you wrap and freeze them.
- Freeze cupcakes without frosting for best results.
- If you’re freezing for a long time, wrap the cupcakes tightly in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn. (If you’re freezing for just a few weeks, you can use a reusable option like a Stasher Bag instead of plastic! Unfortunately, we haven’t found a great way to preserve frozen cupcakes over long periods without this extra layer of protection – but we’re working on it as we continue to reduce our kitchen waste!)
- Bring previously frozen cupcakes back to room temperature on the counter, then frost and enjoy!
DON’T FORGET THE FROSTING!
We photographed these homemade cupcakes with the most amaaaaaazing coconut oil chocolate frosting (recipe below!) but they hold up with just about any frosting you like! The chocolate frosting here is made without butter (just like the cupcakes!) and it solidifies a bit as it sits, which gives it a rich, fudge-like texture – almost like an ultra-thick chocolate ganache.
I also love serving these cupcakes with a good chocolate or vanilla buttercream, cream cheese or peanut butter frosting, or a drizzle of chocolate ganache (and don’t forget to check out our Cupcakes 103 post for plenty of decorating ideas!)
How to make chocolate cupcakes from scratch: step by step video
These easy, butterless chocolate cupcakes are made with coconut oil and topped with a delicious chocolate frosting.
FOR THE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES:
- ⅔ cup liquid coconut oil (see recipe notes)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 ¼ cups flour (measured correctly by scooping and leveling)
- ¾ cup cocoa powder
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup hot water (between 175-200 degrees Fahrenheit – see recipe notes)
FOR THE CHOCOLATE FROSTING:
- 3 ½ cups powdered sugar
- ¾ cup cocoa powder
- ½ cup liquid coconut oil (see recipe notes)
- pinch of salt
- ⅓ cup hot water (between 175-200 degrees F; you may not need it all)
FOR THE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES:
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a standard muffin pan with cupcake liners.
- In a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk or paddle attachment), stir together liquid coconut oil, sugar, and eggs.
- Add salt, flour, and cocoa powder to egg mixture and stir to combine. The batter should be very thick and even slightly crumbly here.
- In a separate bowl or measuring cup, stir together milk, baking soda, and apple cider vinegar. The mixture will start to foam and increase in volume as the baking soda reacts with the vinegar, so plan to work quickly here!
- Add the milk mixture to the batter a bit at a time, stirring frequently to work out any lumps.
- Add vanilla extract to batter and stir to combine.
- Add hot water to batter a little at a time, stirring frequently between each addition to work out any lumps. If you’re mixing the batter by hand, I recommend switching to a whisk here to help work the lumps out more easily. If you’re using a stand mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl in between each hot water addition to make sure you work out all the lumps. Note: This batter is VERY thin – don’t worry if it looks a lot runnier than other cake recipes!
- Pour or scoop the cupcake batter into your liners, filling each liner about ⅔ of the way full.
- Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 14-18 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
- Remove cooked cupcakes to a wire rack and let them cool completely before frosting, usually at least 30 minutes.
FOR THE CHOCOLATE FROSTING:
- In a large bowl, mix liquid coconut oil, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar together with a pinch of salt. The coconut oil will clump up a bit and form a crumbly mixture – this is what we want!
- Add hot water to powdered sugar mixture a Tablespoon at a time, stirring well between each addition. The frosting will slowly start to come together, and will look almost like a thick pudding or fudge.
- When you’ve reached your desired frosting consistency, use the back of a spoon or a small knife to frost each cupcake. I like to place a dollop of frosting on the cupcake and then use the back of a spoon to swirl it in a circle (see photos in the post above!) This frosting will begin to seize up as the coconut oil cools, so plan to work quickly. If the frosting becomes too hard to spread easily, add an extra splash of hot water or zap it for five seconds in the microwave to bring it back to a spreadable consistency.
- Top cupcakes with sprinkles or serve as-is! Serve immediately or let the frosting cool on the counter for an hour or more – as it cools, the frosting becomes thicker and fudge-like.
- Store cupcakes in an airtight container on the counter for 3-4 days.
How to melt coconut oil into its liquid form: Coconut oil is generally solid at room temperature, but we want to melt it into a liquid form for this recipe in order to incorporate it more easily into our chocolate cupcake batter. (We’ve used virgin unrefined coconut oils from 365/Whole Foods, Nutiva, and Carrington Farms and like them all). To melt coconut oil, scoop about 1 cup of coconut oil (in its solid, room-temperature form) into a microwave-safe glass measuring cup, and then microwave for 30-40 seconds until it’s melted down. Give the coconut oil a stir and then check the measurement – you may need to add another spoonful of room temperature coconut oil to bring the liquid up to the correct amount. Melt too much oil? Pour any excess right back into the container. Equipment: We use this measuring cup in the post photos and this one in the video!
Why the hot water? Adding hot water to the batter ensures all ingredients are mixed evenly, helps any clumps release and lets sugar dissolve as much as possible before baking. I find it also enhances the flavor of the cocoa (sometimes called “blooming”). Hot water also helps any colder ingredients come down in temperature, and helps the cupcakes retain moisture as they bake. You can substitute hot coffee for the hot water if you like. Some recipes call for the hot water in a cake recipe to be boiling, but I’ve found that as long as it’s quite hot (175 degrees F or so) it’ll do the trick just fine, and it’s easier to just heat some water in my electric tea kettle than it is to boil a whole pot of water.
Substitutions: The coconut flavor in these cupcakes isn’t overwhelming, but it definitely isn’t invisible. If you don’t like the taste of coconut, you can substitute vegetable oil, canola oil, or melted butter for the coconut oil in the cupcake batter. You can substitute melted butter for the coconut oil in the frosting if you prefer.
The chocolate fudge frosting in this recipe will start to seize up as the coconut oil cools, so work quickly to frost your cupcakes. The frosting will be quite thick and will resemble warm fudge – it won’t look or feel like the traditional buttercream or whipped frostings we’re often used to. If the frosting is too thin (this often happens when too much hot water is added) add extra powdered sugar or let it cool on the counter for a few minutes to thicken it up. If frosting is too thick, stir in an extra splash of hot water or zap it in the microwave in 5-second intervals to loosen it. I love that this frosting develops a rich, fudge-like texture as it cools (it’s one of my most-requested frostings from friends and family!) but you could also absolutely use a more traditional buttercream here if you prefer.
If you use silicone cupcake liners: When our testers used silicone cupcake liners (like these!) we found that we needed to extend the bake time by 2-3 minutes. If you’re using mini silicone liners, you can bake as directed.
Keywords: frosting, coconut oil, easy