These beautifully festive, rich and moist chocolate orange cupcakes are an ideal, special treat for all of your Christmas gatherings and celebrations! Made with light, yet moist and fudgy sponge and a topping of silky-smooth cream cheese frosting and candied orange peel.
The sponge batter as well as the frosting are flavoured with natural orange zest, which is what gives these delicious cupcakes a wonderful, fragrant aroma and taste. They are great treat to make ahead and they freeze really well too!
Only few other flavours are as distinctive and festive as the combination of chocolate and orange, right? If you enjoy chocolate oranges during holiday season, then you will love these cupcakes!
This irresistible recipe is a combination of two of my other recipes from this blog. The sponges are based on my Chocolate Cupcakes recipe and the cream cheese frosting is similar to the frosting from my popular Gingerbread Cupcakes recipe.
The ingredients for these moist chocolate cupcakes can be split into two main groups: the sponge ingredients and the chocolate orange buttercream ingredients. Let's start with the key ingredients for the chocolate sponge:
- Dry ingredients - these consist of the plain, all purpose flour, soft light brown sugar, caster sugar (granulated sugar will also work), cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.
- Wet ingredients - eggs, butter, milk, vanilla extract and orange zest.
To make the orange flavor chocolate buttercream, you will need the following ingredients:
- Full-fat cream cheese (I always use Philadelphia), cocoa powder, icing / powdered sugar and butter.
I also used candied orange peel to decorate the cakes with, but it is optional. However, if you want to make your own, all what you will need is one large orange and caster sugar.
Make sure to bring the ingredients to room temperature before starting the recipe. It's super important, especially the milk, cream cheese and the butter.
To make these chocolate cupcakes, start by beating the softened butter with both types of sugar, followed by eggs (one at a time), orange zest and vanilla extract.
Hint: Make sure to scrape the sides and the bottom of the mixing bowl to ensure the ingredients are fully incorporated.
Next, sift the remaining dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine. With the mixer running on low speed, start adding the dry ingredients to the butter and eggs mixture. Do it in three separate additions, alternating the dry ingredients with milk.
Keep mixing until you have smooth, light and runny batter. When done, divide the batter between cupcake liners and transfer to the preheated oven.
Hint: Use an ice cream scoop to divide and measure the batter with. It will ensure the cupcakes are uniform in their size.
They should take about 18-20 minutes (they take 18 minutes in my fan-assisted oven). You know they are ready, when the sponge springs back when gently pressed, or when toothpick inserted in the middle of the cupcake comes out clean.
Make sure the cupcakes are completely cool before decorating them with frosting.
Check out my suggestions below for some swaps and substitutions:
- Gluten free - Use a good quality gluten free flour instead of the plain flour, and make sure that your baking powder is also gluten free. You can also check out this recipe for Gluten-free Chocolate Orange Cupcakes from the lovely Becky Excell.
- Orange zest - If you don't have or don't want to use orange zest, you can simply swap it for orange extract or even some smooth orange juice (instead of using milk).
- Vegan chocolate orange cupcakes - To make the sponge vegan, use the dairy-free butter and dairy free milk (soy, oat or almond). Skip the eggs, and add 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar to the batter instead. Use your favourite vegan frosting to top the cupcakes with.
- Candied orange peel - I like to use candied orange peel for decorating these cupcakes, but you can also use any of your favourite sprinkles, or add small pieces of chocolate or even decorate them with the slices of Terry's Chocolate Orange!
See below for few simple ideas and suggestions on how you can customise these festive cupcakes:
- Turn it into a cake - You can use this sponge batter to make a chocolate orange cake instead of the cupcakes. Use the cream cheese frosting to decorate the cake with it.
- Hidden surprise - You can 'core' the cupcakes by removing a small amount of the sponge from the top middle of each cupcake and stuff them with your favourite chocolate spread or some caramel (citrus curd or some jam will also work well).
- More chocolate - make them even more chocolatey by adding some chocolate chips to the cake batter at the end of the step 4 of the recipe.
- Deluxe version (for grown ups only!) - Add a tablespoon of Baileys or Amaretto liquor to the sponge batter or to the frosting, for even more festive flavour.
Adding a dash of booze is a great way to enhance and accelerate the flavours of the bakes, like in my Gin and Tonic Cupcakes recipe.
Here's what you will need to succeed with these chocolate orange cupcakes recipe:
- Electric mixer - handheld or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment is essential in this recipe.
- Two 12-hole muffin/ cupcake tins (or one with larger capacity, if you have one). This recipe will make anywhere between 18-20 cupcakes.
- Cupcake liners/ paper cases
- Ice cream scoop - optional, but really handy when dividing the batter between the cases, as it allows you to measure the batter in a more precise way, ensuring each cupcake is the same size.
- Piping bag with a nozzle or a palette knife - to pipe the orange buttercream on top of the cupcakes, or, alternatively, use a palette knife to spread the frosting onto the cupcakes.
Frosted cupcakes will keep for up to two days. Store them in the fridge, in the airtight container. Bring the cupcakes to room temperature about an hour before serving. You can also freeze the frosted cupcakes for up to three months. Thaw them in the fridge overnight, then bring to room temperature about an hour before serving.
Unfrosted cupcakes can also be stored at room temperature in the airtight container for a couple of days. You can also freeze them for up to three months. Wrap each cake in a double layer of clingfilm and transfer to a freezer-friendly bag or container. Thaw at room temperature for 2-3 hours.
Cream cheese frosting can also be frozen for up to three months. Place it in the zip lock-style bag, removing as much air as possible, before placing in the freezer. Thaw it in the fridge overnight, then bring it to room temperature. Re-whip it for a minute with the electric mixer or kitchen whisk before using it.
If you are not a fan of using cream cheese, you could use a simple buttercream frosting instead (still flavoured with some orange zest or orange extract). Use the chocolate buttercream from my Small Batch Chocolate Cupcakes recipe (but double the ingredients).
To make sure the cupcakes turn even, without the 'hump' or a dome on top, you must ensure the oven temperature is not too hot. Oven temperatures may vary, and more than often, the temperature dial is not that accurate. Using an oven thermometer is a great way to set the most accurate temperature.
Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
- 2 x 12-hole muffin tins
- cupcake liners/ cases
- hand-held electric mixer or freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment
- mixing bowl
- ice cream scoop (optional)
- piping bag with large nozzle or a palette knife
For the chocolate cupcakes:
- 70 g unsalted butter softened
- 200 g white or golden caster sugar
- 100 g soft light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 255 g plain flour
- 50 g cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 240 ml milk of choice room temperature
For the frosting:
- 600 g icing/ powdered sugar
- 100 g unsalted butter softened
- 250 g full-fat cream cheese room temperature
- 60 g cocoa powder
- 3 teaspoon orange zest
For candied orange peel (optional):
- 1 large orange
- 200 g caster sugar
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (170° C fan). Line two muffin/ cupcake tins with paper liners.
- Using a hand held electric mixer or a freestanding mixer with paddle attachment, cream together the butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, followed by orange zest and vanilla extract.
- Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, then add them in three separate additions to the butter and egg mixture, alternating with milk. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl and keep mixing on low speed until all the ingredients are fully incorporated and you have a smooth batter.
- Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases, filling each case up to two-thirds full. Use an ice cream scoop if you have one, to divide the batter equally. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 18 minutes, or until the cupcake sponges spring back when you gently press them. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting:
- Using the hand-held electric mixer or a freestanding one with the paddle attachment, mix together the icing sugar and softened butter on low speed, until crumbly in texture, and no large lumps of butter remain. Add the cream cheese and cocoa powder and continue to mix on a medium speed until you have smooth and light frosting. Add the orange zest and stir it in by hand.
- Transfer the frosting into a piping bag fitted with the nozzle and pipe it on top of the cupcakes. Alternatively, use the palette knife to apply and smooth out the frosting on top of each cupcake. Decorate each cupcake with slices of candied orange peel (optional).
To make candied orange peel (optional):
- Peel large, wide strips from a large orange using a vegetable peeler. Remove any white pith with sharp knife, then slice the peel into a thin matchsticks.
- Pour 200 ml water into a small saucepan and add 200g of caster sugar and set it over a medium heath until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the sliced orange peel, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the peel with the slotted spoon onto the paper towel to cool. Use to decorate the cupcakes.
Please note that all my recipes are developed and tested in metric grams. I recommend that you use digital scales for a more accurate results. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.
- Store any leftover cupcakes for up to two days in the airtight container in the fridge. Bring the cupcakes to room temperature before serving again.
- Freeze unfrosted cupcakes for up to three months. Thaw at room temperature for 2-3 hours. Frosted cupcakes can also be frozen for up to three months. Thaw them in the fridge overnight, then bring to room temperature before serving.
- You can freeze the cream cheese buttercream for up to two months. Thaw it in the fridge overnight, then bring to room temperature. Re-whip it for a minute with electric mixer or hand whisk before using again.
This recipe was adapted from Hummingbird Bakery.