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Mocha Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream

Mocha Cupcakes with Coffee Frosting
When a baked good uses coffee in the name, it often means that the dish will pair well with coffee, not necessarily that it will contain coffee. As much as I enjoy pairing baked goods with coffee, as a coffee-lover, I always appreciate it when I find coffee flavors in desserts. And these Mocha Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream are a great choice for a coffee lover. They were inspired by the ever-popular mocha latte, and prominently feature the flavors of both chocolate and coffee in each bite.

I find that chocolate tends to dominate the flavor of coffee unless the coffee is on the strong side, as it is in a mocha latte with strong, flavorful espresso. In the cupcakes themselves, you’re going to get a little bit more chocolate than coffee, though there is definitely a coffee note that will set them apart from your average chocolate cupcake. The cupcakes are soft and moist, with a dark color that shows you how much chocolate flavor is inside even before you take a bite. That chocolate flavor comes from unsweetened cocoa powder, and the coffee element in these cupcakes comes from instant coffee power.

I wanted to make sure the coffee popped in this dessert, so I topped the finished cupcakes with a coffee buttercream. It’s an American-style buttercream frosting, which tends to be quite sweet. That sweetness really works perfectly here to balance the strong coffee flavor and give you a good coffee frosting without any bitter notes. If you want to emphasize the chocolate more, just pair these cupcakes with a chocolate frosting instead. I dusted the cupcakes with a little cocoa powder just to finish off the mocha theme, but it is completely optional since it is more for looks than for additional flavor.

Mocha Cupcakes, Interior

Mocha Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cococa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp instant coffee powder
3/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and instant coffee power until completely combined. Whisk in one third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the water. Whisk in an additional third of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining water. Stir in all of the remaining flour, mixing until no streaks of dry ingredients remain and batter is uniform.
Divide evenly into prepared muffin pan.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack.
When cupcakes are cool, top them with coffee buttercream. Dust with cocoa powder for a “mocha” look, if desired. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 12.

Coffee Buttercream
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
2 tbsp milk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 – 3 cups confectioners’ sugar

In a small bowl, dissolve the instant coffee powder in milk and vanilla extract.
In a large bowl, beat together butter, instant coffee mixture and 2 cups confectioners’ sugar. Gradually blend in more confectioners’ sugar until frosting is smooth, thick and fluffy.
Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

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  • Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust
    February 24, 2014

    I LOVE that frosting!!!

  • mash
    February 25, 2014

    Hi fantastic recipe have been searching for a true coffee cake for a long time – the water u used is it room temperature or hot water and any particular coffee pwd u would recommend that will give a more profound coffee flavour

  • Nicole
    February 25, 2014

    Mash – Room temperature water is fine for this recipe. The instant coffee will dissolve easily. If you want more coffee flavor, I recommend using instant espresso powder (any brand) or using Starbucks Via, which is a little more expensive but is great to bake with and really delivers a lot of flavor.

  • Auxai
    February 26, 2014

    Hi!!! I just discovered your blog and I loved it … I will try more than one of your recipes, specially this one, because it combines my two favorite flavors chocolate and coffee ummmmmmm!!!! Thanks for publishing your recipes

  • Olivia
    February 26, 2014

    This is such an amazing recipe. Everything turned out perfect and the taste is to die for. Thank you for posting this!!

  • Joanie from NC
    March 6, 2014

    Thank you, Nicole, for another wonderful addition to my baking arsenal! I was doing some test runs yesterday for treats for an ACC Tourney party for next Friday (Go Heels!) and decided to give your new cuppers a shot. They are perfect! They get a #1 seed for my treat contributions for next week!!
    (I still adore your pumpkin sheet cake as well, ma’m!) THANKS, AGAIN!

  • Camille
    April 12, 2014

    Omg, I made these for the very first time for my church, they were heavenly!! Extremely moist, I could eat the whole batch. Everyone went crazy over them, thank you so much. I substitued the chocolate with 2 sachet of Organogold Gourmet Cafe Mocha and 1 sachet of their Gourmet Instant Black Coffee, a lot cheaper than Starbucks, if anyone’s interested you can order their products at http://www.ckduhaney.myorganogold.com …I’ll def be making more of these!!!!!

  • Louisa
    June 15, 2014

    Yum! It was good– thanks for the recipe! A very moist, feathery, pleasant cake. It goes well with tea. Although I enjoyed it, (the coffee was a great compliment to the cocoa) the cake itself seemed to need some rich, dark, smooth chocolate bits to add intensity and texture if one wants the cake to truly be chocolate-y. The cake I ended up with did not strike me as a particularly good chocolate cake. I see it as a good, light snack cake.

    I did make some changes that could affect my review:

    – 1/2 cup brown sugar (adds more moisture than an equal quantity of white sugar, but I cut down the sugar greatly, so it should have compensated. Also adds a warmer taste.)
    -no vanilla (I wanted a dark flavor profile, with the cocoa, coffee, and brown sugar)
    – good olive oil (this was a fantastic addition! The delicate floral notes in the finished cake greatly complimented the coffee’s aroma and brown sugar.)
    – hot water+instant coffee
    – baked in an 8 in round cake tin for 22 minutes.

  • Ashley
    October 21, 2014

    I wonder if these could be made into CAKE POPS, following every instruction but instead of baking them as individual cupcakes, a nice pan would do well and then breaking it up into tiny crumbs and adding all the frosting into the crumbled up cake. Forming them into yummy chocolate mocha balls and then freezing them so they maintain their shape and then afterwards dipping them into melted milk chocolate and back into the freezer they go. mmm sounds like a delicious frozen dessert if you ask me. IM GONNA TRY IT.

  • Amie
    January 9, 2015

    Hi! So just so everyone knows, if you don’t have instant coffee on hand, you can totally use room temperature coffee instead of the water and instant coffee. Still super good. I used 3/4 cup of coffee in the cake mix and 1 tbsp of milk and 1 tbsp of coffee in the icing!

  • CB
    February 17, 2015


  • Lorita
    March 12, 2015

    Thanks for this, i love how you explained the tastes of the cake and which ingredients will bring out what kind of flavour so clearly.

  • jan
    May 16, 2017

    i didn’t make the frosting, but the cupcakes were soft, just slightly coffee-y and (i only used a cup of sugar) has the perfect amount of sweetness. my batter was a bit lumpy though, what did i do wrong?

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