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Quick Chocolate Cupcakes with No-Powdered Sugar Vanilla Icing

by on February 23, 2011 · 20 comments

I have a million cupcake recipes, but when I need cupcakes for an event, I still find myself scrambling for the perfect recipe to fit the occasion. Luckily, that wasn’t the situation this week. In fact, it was in reverse. I found this easy and good looking cupcake recipe, then got an email reminding me the Girl Scouts were meeting here. Perfect. In a matter of minutes, these were whipped up and in and out of the oven.

Easy Chocolate Cupcake

As for the icing, I was completely out of powdered sugar and decided to try a recipe made without it. The icing isn’t exactly quick, but it is easy if you have a stand mixer with a whip attachment. It takes a lot of whipping to get the sugar to dissolve, but with the stand mixer you can just leave it while you do other things.

The cupcakes were really good. You can’t taste the lemon from the lemon juice (which is there to add acid) and they’re definitely moist and light. The icing was interesting. It reminded me of a slick buttercream and had a very clean flavor, but it wasn’t as good as true buttercream — something I need to practice making (the kind with egg yolks — not the recipe on the back of the sugar box).

Anyway, it’s nice to have an easy scratch cupcake recipe like this. I plan on using it as a base cupcake while I work on interesting fillings and frostings (and getting over my issues with making true buttercream).

Easy Chocolate Cupcakes


Quick Chocolate Cupcakes with No-Powdered Sugar Vanilla Icing
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Quick Chocolate Cupcakes with a frosting that does not call for powdered sugar.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened natural style unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted after measuring (4.5 oz)
Buttercream Frosting (I halved it and got just enough for 12 cupcakes)
  • 5 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 12 cupcake cups with paper liners.
  2. Mix together milk and lemon juice and set aside to curdle.
  3. Beat oil and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in
  4. egg, vanilla, salt, and baking soda until well blended. Beat in cocoa powder. With a large mixing spoon or rubber scraper, stir in the flour alternately with the milk until flour is absorbed.
  5. Divide batter equally between 12 paper-lined cupcake cups. Bake at 350
  6. degrees for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pan on rack 20 minutes. Remove to platter to continue cooling.
  8. Whisk the flour and milk together in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until it starts to thicken. Cook 1-2 minutes more. Turn into a dish and let cool.
  9. Beat together the butter and sugar, then beat in the cooled roux 2T. at a time. Continue to beat until frosting turns creamy rather than grainy. This takes a while – probably 6 to 10 minutes. Add vanilla and salt and mix until light and creamy. Frost immediately. You can keep the frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature before serving. I also left a few in a sealed container at room temperature overnight and they were fine.

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Published on February 23, 2011

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Ernst February 23, 2011 at 9:28 am

Flour icing — this is a first for me, haven’t heard of it before. I guess its nice to have an alternative in a pinch. Also an interesting idea about adding the lemon juice for acid. I thought non-Dutched cocoa was already pretty acidic, but I learned two new things with this blog post. :-)

Kathy February 23, 2011 at 10:24 am

My mother used to make a similar cooked/flour-type icing for red velvet cake.

Jen February 23, 2011 at 10:28 am

I really want to try Swiss Meringue Buttercream, too, but always seem to hesitate. Have you tried Martha’s:

Blake February 23, 2011 at 11:01 am

It’s so funny you’re posting this today, as I was just looking for a recipe of this type. I’ve been rather unhappy with the powdered sugar frosting lately – too sweet. Would you say this is less overwhelming with sweetness?

Darlene February 23, 2011 at 11:08 am

Usually I am very successful with following a recipe, but I tried a similar cooked flour icing recipe that required this technique and it failed miserably. I’m not sure if I didn’t judge the timing on the roux properly, or just how cool it needed to be before proceeding to the next step. I may have to try it again and hope for the best.

Laura February 23, 2011 at 11:11 am

Toba Garret likes this kind of icing, she a recipe like this in her first cake decorating book–she says it reminds her of ice cream.

stephanie February 23, 2011 at 11:43 am

I have a similar recipe but instead of flour it calls for cornstarch. It is great & not too sweat. You make like an unsweetened milk pudding with the cornstarch & milk, then whip it into the butter & sugar. It taste almost like a whipped cream.

Anna February 23, 2011 at 11:50 am

Thanks for not pointing out my typo! I called it No-Powered Sugar icing.

Lisa, I used natural. These might actually worth with Dutch. I’m not sure how much acid is actually needed.

Kathy, I’ve made the Red Velvet type and like it better. I should have just made that one. This one is less fluffy and more slick.

Blake, this was a lot less sweeter than powdered sugar icing. It was more fatty than sugary.

Darlene, I’ve failed at this type of recipe too. I think the time I failed I used too much flour and the roux was too thick.

Laura, I am not familiar with Toba Garret but I’ll look her up. It didn’t remind me of ice cream, though.

Stephanie, that sounds interesting too. It would be fun to compare the recipes.

This one also reminded me of a buttercream made with marshmallows. I’ll see if I can dig up that one if anyone is interested.

Louise February 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm

One trick to making less sweet powdered sugar icing is to add the powdered sugar really, really slowly while continuing to beat the butter. It’s possible to make a nice frosting while adding a lot less total powdered sugar.

Mackenzie@The Caramel Cookie February 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Looks good! It’s always good to have a quick cake recipe on hand.

Hannah at FleurDeLicious February 23, 2011 at 3:53 pm

i love cooked flour frosting! i tried it for the first time too when i was out of powdered sugar. i like the texture, and i think it’s good for cakes where you really want the flavor of the cake to stand out…not as sweet as powdered sugar buttercream, so it doesn’t overwhelm anything.

Laura February 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm

My issues with real buttercream revolve around the use of raw eggs since I usually bring in the thing I bake for my co-workers. I conquered my buttercream fears by making SMBC and checking the temperature of the whites to make sure they were pasteurized. It came out wonderfully…and now I’m afraid to try it again in case it was beginner’s luck! :)

Christie February 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm

I almost sent you a post yesterday to ask if you have ever made this cooked frosting! I can’t believe the timing. I tried it this weekend and despite whipping w/ a kitchen aid for 10 minutes, it was still grainy. After it sat overnight, it became creamy. Can you sub powdered sugar for the granulated? How is the red velvet frosting different? I used the frosting as a filling for “hostess” style chocolate cupcakes from Cook’s Country after their suggested recipe for filling was a flop for me. I always appreciate your quest for the best!

Anna February 24, 2011 at 7:51 am

Christie, what a coincidence! I do have a similar recipe that uses flour and powdered sugar, but I don’t care for that one much at all. As for the graininess, some versions of this recipe use super fine sugar which probably helps make the job go faster, but I hardly ever have super fine sugar on hand.

I had to look back at the frosting I used for Red Velvet — the one I really liked and which reminded me of Hostess cupcake filling. Here it is. It’s almost the same as this one but has salt and less flour.

3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 cup milk
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Make the frosting. In a heavy saucepan, whisk together 3 tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth. Whisk in salt and remaining milk. Turn heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick and creamy. Let it cool completely.

Using your electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the thoroughly cooled flour mixture. Beat and beat until the icing is fluffy and no longer grainy (this may take a while, depending on how good your mixer is). For this recipe, I recommend using a stand mixer.

Marti J February 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

The flour-paste buttercream used on the Waldorf Astoria cake originally called for Crisco – ick! I tried using all butter and wasn’t happy with it. Now I use stick margarine which I think is the happy medium. We like this icing cold so I store the cake in the refrigerator.

Louise February 26, 2011 at 7:58 am

Several recipes I saw for this call for half shortening and half butter. People seemed happy to use Spectrum.

Anna February 26, 2011 at 8:28 am

Louise, I don’t use Spectrum. Some people can taste the palm oil and I found out I’m one of them.

Louise February 26, 2011 at 11:07 am

Crisco is fine by me too. Maybe it would be a “natural” for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”. Have you tried adding 2 Tablespoons of cocoa to the frosting? That seems to be the right amount for the recipe. I’m going to try it soon.

Molly Montgomery April 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Wow! These tasted great! I did the Buttercream cupcakes. Amazing! I love this place! I just was looking up a recipe for snack for my 1st and 3rd grader. They loved them! Even my husband got so stuffed he couldn’t sleep. It was so much fun too.

Anna April 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Hi Molly,

Thanks so much for reviewing the cupcakes! I hope you find some more recipes you like.

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