Xocolatl Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Xocolatl Cupcakes

I love the Dagoba brand of chocolate. They make by far my favorite brand of milk chocolate (and by milk chocolate, I mean like 40% cacao). It’s so complex and flavorful, while retaining that sweet, milky quality we love about milk chocolate. So at the store a month or so I saw a bar from them called Xocolatl, which was the Aztec word for chocolate that the Europeans turned into the word we have now. Chocolate naturally has a strong bitterness (just imagine eating 100% cacao chocolate, and you’ll get it). The Aztecs were fond of drinking chocolate, but instead of adding sugar and milk as we do to cut the bitterness, they added spices and chiles. It complimented and enhanced the flavors, and apparently, their stomachs were way stronger than mine. The Dagoba Xocolatl bar has a strong heat to it. It inspired this cupcake!

The problem is, a lot of people see a chocolate cupcake and think, “Oh, yum, chocolate!” If you add spice to it, it could end up badly. So I wanted to make this a subtle, seething heat that lingered and dissipated like it arrived. This recipe successfully does that – it actually almost verges on too subtle, depending on your preference for chile in chocolate. If you want more of a kick and think the people eating them can handle the kick, up the cayenne and ancho chile powder a bit, or use a stronger chile powder. I like it as it is.  The first few bites taste like a super moist chocolate cupcake, but then, slowly, the heat builds. The decoration of the Vosges Red Fire Bar really subtly adds. If you don’t use a chile chocolate bar for decoration, you might want to add a bit more of each spice, too.

The chocolate cake recipe I found does not look like normal cake batter, but it’s really fluffy and really moist and I strongly recommend it! It’s also unbelieveably simple.

Xocolatl Cupcake Ingredients

(Not pictured: light corn syrup.)

So easy: put the sugar, flour, cocoa*, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ancho chile powder and cayenne in the mixer and briefly whisk together. Then, add the eggs, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla and mix all together for 1.5 – 2 minutes, until blended. Have the muffin cups already greased or with paper cups, ready to go, and the oven preheated (375 for altitude, 350 for non-altitude). Add a cup of boiling water to the batter, mix until incorporated and then pour into baking cups. You will literally POUR it because it is very, alarmingly, liquid. I was concerned, I won’t lie. It was so watery. In fact, it’s so watery that I recommend using a metal pan over the flexible silicon, like I used, because I had muliple spill-overs in the transfer from the counter to the oven that needed to be wiped up. Put in for 18 – 22 minutes, until they pass the toothpick test. They will be soft and yet firm when done. That’s the fluffiness.

*I really wanted a dark, dark chocolate cake. I made a stop at a local spice shop to pick up some cayenne, and discovered something called Black Onyx Dutch Cocoa Powder.

Black Onyx Dutch Cocoa Powder

As it says on the bag, the cocoa powder has been extra-alkalized, which reduces the fat content and creates a beautifully strong, black cocoa powder. It’s beautiful and powerful. Due to the lowered fat content, I wouldn’t recommend using just this instead of regular cocoa (too expensive, too). The difference in fat would really change the outcome of any recipe. I replaced about 25% of the regular cocoa with this. Just that made a black batter.

Black batter

For the frosting, I wanted a deep chocolate ganache. A ganache is technically just a mixture of cream and chocolate. More chocolate for a thicker ganache, less for a thinner ganache (like you would pour over a cake). I heated up the heavy cream till just before it boiled and then poured it over 16 oz chocolate in a heat-proof bowl (like glass). I used 8 oz semi-sweet and 8 oz bittersweet. You could also add a little of the Red Fire Bar or Xocolatl bar if you want even more heat. Let sit for 1 – 2 minutes to melt, and then whisk together until incorporated. I also added just a little corn syrup, for sweetness, and vanilla and cinnamon. Then, because I wanted it to be a consistency that could be put into a pastry bag and used as frosting, I put it in the fridge, stirring every 5 – 10 minutes until thickenened (but keep an eye on it – no stirring and  too long in the fridge will completely harden it! If this happens, just immerse bottom of bowl in hot water till it softens to desired consistency).

I finished the cupcakes by sprinkling cinnamon and ancho chile powder on top and adding a triangle of the Red Fire Bar to each one:

Xocolatl Cupcake

Mmm….yum. You know you want it.

Recipe follows (high altitude conversion at the bottom).


(based on a Hershey’s recipe)

makes 24 cupcakes

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder (include 25% Black Onyx Cocoa if desired)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

(HIGH ALTITUDE: — Decrease sugar to 1-3/4 cups
— Increase flour to 1-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons
— Decrease baking powder to 1-1/4 teaspoons
— Decrease baking soda to 1-1/4 teaspoons
— Increase milk to 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
— Bake at 375°F)

1. Heat oven to 350 (375 for high altitude). Prep two cupcake pans by greasing or lining with paper liners.

2. Put sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cayenne and chile powder into bowl of mixer (or regular mixing bowl). Whisk together. Add eggs, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla. Beat on low  to medium speed with stand mixer or electrix mixer (or by hand!) for about 2 minutes until blended. Add boiling water, stir in. Pour into prepared pans. It will seem quite thin!

3. Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on cooling rack before frosting.


  • 1.5 cups heavy cream
  • 16 oz semi-sweet and/or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup (if desired)

Put chocolate into heatproof bowl. Heat cream in a saucepan until just before boiling. Pour cream over chocolate, and let sit for 1 – 2 minutes to allow melting to start. Add vanilla, corn syrup and cinnamon and whisk until smooth (may take a couple of minutes). Put in fridge and stir every 5 – 10 minutes until reaches desired thickened frosting consistency.

Spread ganache on cupcakes as desired. Sprinkle cupcakes each with a pinch of cinnamon and ancho chile powder. Top with a triangle of Vosges Chocolate’s Red Fire Bar.


Filed under Cupcake Challenge

3 responses to “Xocolatl Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  1. OMG – those look fantastic! Nice combination of chocolate with cinnamon and chilli.

  2. Wow! Those look SOOOO good! Must try. 🙂

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