Dark Chocolate and Red Wine Cupcakes


This is my new favorite chocolate cake. It has a pleasantly dense texture that just melts in your mouth, with a rich chocolate flavor and wine that you can taste. Combined with the smooth sweetness of Italian meringue buttercream, plus a drizzle of red wine chocolate syrup, it’s divine. I wasn’t in the mood for a cupcake when I put these together, but after the first bite I couldn’t stop.

Deb Pearlman from Smitten Kitchen is probably my favorite food blogger of all time. You can never go wrong with one of her recipes. So when I was looking for a wine and chocolate cake recipe, and found that she had one, I knew it was a winner. It’s also in her cookbook, which we should all buy right now. And you should read the story on her blog that accompanies the recipe, because it’s rather great.

  • Dutch cocoa in a measuring cup - red wine and chocolate cake.
  • Dark chocolate and red wine cupcake in a fluted black liner.

This recipe uses Dutch-processed cocoa powder. If you didn’t already know, natural cocoa powder – what you generally find in the store – is acidic. The Dutching process removes that acidity, bringing the cocoa to a neutral pH, and also creating darker color and a more mellow, deep flavor. This also means that the cocoa powder no longer reacts with baking soda, so it’s generally used in recipes that incorporate baking powder as a leavening agent. David Lebovitz has a great overview of the different types of cocoas, substitutions, etc.

Grocery stores near me carry Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder, and since I was shopping at the last minute, that’s what I used. It’s heavily Dutched, giving it a dark color, intense flavor, and creating cupcakes that are nearly black. And fabulous. Next time I make this recipe I plan to test out a lighter Dutch cocoa, which should give it the reddish color in the original Smitten Kitchen post. Maybe I’ll even do a side-by-side comparison.

So between the Dutch cocoa, dark brown sugar, and lots of red wine, these cupcakes are seriously rich. I can understand why the original recipe is for a single layer of cake – any more would be overwhelming.

  • Dark brown sugar in a measuring cup and cake batter being mixed.
  • Dark chocolate cupcakes with Italian meringue buttercream.
  • Red wine and dark chocolate cupcakes with Italian meringue buttercream and red wine chocolate sauce.

I feel like I should warn you about a very important step in the baking process. There will be a point after you have everything mixed together, where you have this bowl of batter, and you are getting ready to pour it into the cupcake liners. The point where you question whether cooking away some of the alcohol from the wine is the right thing to do, and you consider that it may be a better use of said wine if you just drink the batter and skip the baking altogether. So be strong, and bake your cupcakes. You can lick the bowl while they are in the oven.

Dark Chocolate and Red Wine Cupcakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes approximately 24-28 cupcakes or three 9″ round cakes

2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups red wine
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups Dutch cocoa powder
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a cupcake pan with liners of your choice.

In a glass measuring cup, mix the wine and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Then add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and egg yolk, continuing to beat until combined.

Add the wine and vanilla, and mix slowly. The batter will look a little strange and coagulated at this point, and that’s okay.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

The batter will be thick, so use a batter dispenser, ice cream scoop, or spoon to add it to the cupcake liners. Fill them 2/3 full, or a little more. I always recommend baking a single test cupcake to see how much the batter rises.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Frost with Italian meringue buttercream and drizzle with red wine chocolate syrup.

Red Wine Chocolate Syrup

1 1/4 cups red wine
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup light corn syrup

Heat wine in a saucepan over medium heat until it reduces slightly, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and add the chocolate chips. Stir until melted, remove from heat, and stir in the corn syrup. Allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator. It will thicken when cooled, so reheat before using.

the sweet spoonDark Chocolate and Red Wine Cupcakes

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