Chocolate & peppermint: complementary companions

It’s that time of year again: the holiday season, those four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas when peppermint joins chocolate center stage.

At heart, I’m a chocolate traditionalist. Not for me chocolate/orange, chocolate/raspberry, or chocolate/any other fruit combo, thanks very much. I’ll take my chocolate dark and plain.

OK, I do make exceptions. Chocolate-dipped strawberries… plump dried apricots half-coated in dark chocolate… even chocolate cherry cordials, with their sticky liquid dripping off your fingers – all good.

And chocolate/coffee – more than good. Exquisite.

But chocolate cake with Grand Marnier frosting? No thanks.

Maybe it’s simple nostalgia, but I do enjoy chocolate and peppermint. Like many girls back in the day, I was a Girl Scout and sold Thin Mints. They weren’t my favorite, though; even back then I was a budding chocolate Luddite, and preferred Do-si-dos.

Which, somewhat surprisingly, are one of only three GS cookies (the other two being the aforementioned Thin Mints, and shortbread Trefoils) that are offered every year without fail. Lemon Chalet Cremes may come and Daisy Go Rounds may go, but The Big Three live forever. (Though Samoas and Tagalongs are pretty much a given, also.)

But I digress. Christmas. Candy canes. Chocolate and peppermint. It all comes together, eh?

And comes together very nicely indeed, I must say, in these dense, moist chocolate cupcakes, crowned with a thick layer of white peppermint icing.

Looking for a good chocolate cupcake recipe for the holidays?

You’ve found it.

What puts the pop in these cupcakes? Peppermint. Extra-strong peppermint oil, to be exact.

Line two muffin or cupcake pans with papers, and lightly grease the papers. If you only have one pan, you’ll need to bake in shifts; this recipe makes 21 cupcakes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place 1 cup melted butter, 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa, and 1 cup hot water in a bowl.

Whisk to combine.

Place the following in another bowl, or a measuring cup:

1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt, or 1/3 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk to combine.

Whisk together the following:

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional but good
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pour the yogurt/egg mixture on top.

Add the cocoa mixture.

Beat until smooth.

Pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter into each cup. A level muffin scoop’s worth of batter makes just the right size cupcakes. And, each cake will be exactly the same size; no having to line up stunted cakes next to overblown monsters and try to make the whole presentation look gorgeous!

You’ll fill the cups about 3/4 full.

Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of one of the middle cupcakes comes out clean.

Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

Ah, just what I was after – a nice rise, but relatively flat across the top. The decorations I’ll be laying on top won’t need to teeter on a huge peak.

And, see? All the same size.

Next, our peppermint icing.

Sift 4 cups (1 pound) confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Yes, you DO want to bother sifting the sugar, to prevent lumps in your frosting.

Next, add a pinch of salt; 1 to 2 drops peppermint oil, or peppermint extract to taste; and up to 1/3 cup heavy cream. Stir until smooth.

Add just enough heavy cream to make a thick-yet-smooth, spreadable icing. You want icing that, when you plop it atop the cupcake, very gradually settles into a smooth surface (with a bit of nudging from a spatula). Try icing one cupcake first; if the icing’s too thick and doesn’t smooth itself out as you spread it, add a tiny bit more cream.

Want to use milk instead of cream? Be my guest. You’ll want to use less. Start with 1/4 cup milk, and go from there.

1 level tablespoon scoop (4 measuring teaspoons) is just the right amount.

Scoop it on…

See how the icing’s both thick and smooth?

A gentle, flattening nudge with a spatula…

…presses the icing nearly to the edge of the cake. Don’t go all the way to the edge. If you do…

…this is what might happen. A little too much icing, too close to the edge.

Are these sugar decos cute, or what?

You could decorate with crushed peppermint candies, as well. Our peppermint crunch takes the effort out of crushing candy canes, and trying to get the pieces relatively uniform in size. If you’ve ever tried to crush a candy cane – you’ll know what I mean!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Peppermint-Fudge Cupcakes.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Jill Martin

    This is my go-to favorite recipe for chocolate cupcakes. I just leave the peppermint out. Would it work for a cake? I would love to make a two-layer, six-inch cake with it. What do you think?

    1. Susan Reid

      Jill, you’ll have more batter than you need for two 6″ layers. Recipes that make 24 cupcakes are “standard”; ie, they make 6 cups of batter. That’s enough for two 9″ layers, three 8″ layers, or a 9″ x 13″ cake. Two 6″ layers need 4 cups of batter (2 cups per pan). So you could either make three 6″ layers and keep the third in the freezer for emergency cake needs, or make the 2 6″ layers and 8 cupcakes. Susan

  2. Karen

    In your instructions for frosting the cupcakes, you state that one tablespoon equals 4 teaspoons. I thought it was 3 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon. Love your blog and especially the Sunday Recipe Roundup.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Thanks for the kind words, Karen. I’m actually referring to our tablespoon cookie scoop, which mimics the old-fashioned tableware tablespoon someone would use to portion out cookie dough. The scoop’s volume is, indeed, 4 measuring teaspoons; but never fear, a true measuring tablespoon is still 3 teaspoons! 🙂 PJH

  3. milkwithknives

    I made your beautiful frosting yesterday! It was for lemon cupcakes so I used vanilla bean paste and a few drops of lemon oil instead of the peppermint, but I made it just like you showed and scooped it onto the cupcakes. It was so thick and wonderful to work with. Yummy, too. I sat on the couch and ate the last bits out of the bowl with a spoon. (grin) Thanks again, I’ll definitely be using this frosting often.

  4. MGW960W

    PJ, do you think this icing would be good on the KAF recipe for chocolate cake-pan cake? It’s one of my favorites – so easy and delicious. If so, would half the icing recipe be about right or should I try only 25 percent? Any other suggestions? This icing looks wonderful, but I’m not sure about the consistency on a cake.

    Please also let me say what a wonderful writer you are. Your blog posts always bring back wonderful memories, or warm my heart in some way. Just before Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for you and your colleagues at KAF.

    Yes, this would be just fine on a cake – I’d say make half the recipe for a thick layer of frosting. And thank you so much for your kind words – I’m glad you feel a connection here. We’re all joined – some as neighbors and friends, some as virtual friends – by baking and sharing. Happy Thanksgiving – we certainly have a lot to be thankful for. PJH

  5. KimberlyD

    The frosting is close to what learned to make when I worked at Bronners Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth Michigan. I just add white vanilla extract and 1 egg white to mine. Minus the pepermint oil extract. It is getting easier to fine your fine KAF products in local stores, I love it!! LOL!

  6. milkwithknives

    Oh my gosh, that frosting is GORGEOUS. And I”m just crazy about mint/chocolate. I don’t really have anything constructive to say, I just wanted to gush about that drool-inducing frosting, which I am actually trying to imagine in my mouth right now. Thanks for another wonderful post.

    Our pleasure… PJH

  7. huntspencil

    I am going to try this recipe today; I don’t have espresso powder on hand and I love the coffee/chocolate flavors together. Can I use fresh brewed hot coffee to liquefy the cocoa powder in lieu of hot water? Or will that have an adverse effect on the cocoa?

    Absolutely – go for it! PJH

  8. 2darnhot2

    My first reaction was: This would make something a bit different for my cookie exchange. But I would want to make mini cupcakes. How many mini muffins/cupcakes equals one big one?

    Depends on the size of your mini pan, but it’s usually 4 minis = 1 standard-size cupcake. PJH


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