Orange-Kissed Chocolate (cup)Cake

Of all the dessert flavor combinations, orange and chocolate is by far Tai’s favorite. Anything orangey-chocolate, or chocolaty-orange, is sure to rate high with his tastebuds.  Since it is Valentine’s Day (our first as an ‘official’ married couple) I wanted to make him something special and use his two favorite flavors.  My first thought was of a Cointreau chocolate cake with Burnt Orange Buttercream.  I’ve made the Burnt Orange buttercream before, and he loves it; I figured I could sneak some Cointreau into my basic chocolate cake recipe.  Great plan; only one problem: no Cointreau. And, I didn’t have enough eggs or butter for the cake and the buttercream (guess who didn’t make it to the farmer’s market yesterday?). Oops.

Plan B.  Chocolate cake with Godiva chocolate liqueur (which is in the liquor cabinet) and some orange flavor delivered with frozen OJ concentrate and orange oil.  Dressed with a simple glaze of orange juice, zest and powdered sugar (thus brilliantly alleviating the need for me to go out to the market to get more eggs and butter).  And since Tai is working today, guiding ice climbing up in the Catskills, I decided to make cupcakes so he could take some with him for lunch. What could be easier?

Well, first I decided to use a new cake recipe.  Because now that I’ve spent all sorts of time sorting out my basic chocolate cake recipe, I wouldn’t want to bake that again. Nope.  Makes much more sense to try something new.  Yep.  And, whilst trying this new cake recipe, I should probably make 6 or 7 changes to said recipe, you know, just ’cause.  Oh, and then I could run out of sugar. And run out of sugar again.  And then finally get the batter mixed and ready to pour into muffin tins, and then read the fine print of the recipe that says that this cake is very, very tender, and that you should grease, parchment, then grease and flour the cake pans.  Hmmm.  So, what makes perfect sense here, is to bust out the ancient, cast iron, heart-shaped mold pan thingy, that I got I-don’t-know-how-many-years-ago, and was probably designed to hang on the wall and be decorative, but I feel the need to bake extremely tender chocolate cakes in. 

The bottom line?  These cupcakes turned out delicious.  I thought that the cake was just the slightest bit dry (probably from the Great Sugar Debacle ’10) but, once iced, the foil was perfect; sweet, juicy and zingy orange glaze with a chocolately, rich, brownie-like cupcake. There was just a hint of orange flavor in the cake itself, but it was accentuated by the intense orange glaze. Really, quite good, and over the top if you are a chocolate-orange fan.  However, these were a major pain to make: the batter is so thick that it doesn’t pour, you really need to spoon it into the individual muffin tins.  You have to use cupcake liners if you want to have any hope of getting them out intact (lest you want to serve your sweetie Valentine’s trifle).  And even then, the cake is so tender that it doesn’t really have the structure to support a cupcake; once you peel the paper off and take the first bite, the cake practically falls apart in your hand.  Delicious, but annoying.  So, I guess the take-home message is this: not all cake recipes translate to cupcake recipes.  If you have a chocolate-orange sweetie in your household, definitely make this: just make it in cake pans.  You will thank me later.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Adapted from Chocolate Fudge Cake in The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


Orange-Kissed Chocolate (cup)Cake



  • 3 oz (3/4 cup + 3 tbsp, lightly spooned) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 large eggs (5 and 1/2 oz)
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chocolate liqueur (OR 1/4 cup boiling water, see Options)
  • 5 – 6 drops orange oil
  • 1.5 oz (about 5 tbsp) cornstarch
  • 9 oz (scant 3 cups) sifted whole wheat pastry flour
  • 15 and 1/4 oz (2 cups packed) light brown sugar (see Options)
  • 2 and 1/4 tsp baking pwder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 8 oz (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

Simple Orange Zest Glaze

  • zest and juice from 2 medium oranges
  • about 2 cups powdered (confectionary) sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 3 muffin tins with disposable cupcake liners. (You really need the liners for this recipe; alternatively you can grease, line with parchment, then grease and flour two 9″ x 1.5″ cake pans).
  2. Measure 1/4 cup of OJ concentrate into a heat-proof 2-cup measure.  Add boiling water to bring the total volume to 1 and 1/4 cups (or 1 and 1/2 cups if omitting the chocolate liqueur).  Mix briefly to combine, then whisk into the cocoa powder until smooth.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. Lightly whisk together eggs, vanilla, chocolate liqueur, orange oil and 1/4 of the cooled cocoa mixture.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine cornstarch, flour, baking powder and soda, salt and sugar.  Using an electric hand mixer, mix on low speed for 30 seconds until well mixed.  Add the remaining cocoa liquid and butter; mix on low speed until flour is all moistened, then raise speed to high and beat for 2 minutes to develop the cake’s structure.  The batter will start out looking very thick, dark and fudgy, but will lighten as you beat it to a milk chocolate color.  Scrape down the sides, and beat in the egg/cocoa mixture, in 3 batches, beating the batter for 20 seconds in between additions.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins; fill to about 3/4 full (or fill cake pans about 1/2 full). Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean (bake cake layers for 20 – 30 minutes).  Remove from the oven, cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely. 
  6. Add orange zest to a small bowl.  Add 2 tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice.  Start adding powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, and whisk briskly with a fork until smooth.  Keep adding sugar until you reach the desired consistency, a thick glaze that is not runny, but still runs off the fork in a smooth stream (not in clumps).  Keep adding OJ and sugar until you have as much glaze as you want.
  7. Dip the cooled cupcakes, upside down, into the surface of the glaze, turn the cupcake quickly, and spin, allowing the excess glaze to drip back into the bowl.  Alternatively, you can spoon glaze over the top and smooth with the back of the spoon, or drip in stripes or patterns. Repeat until all the cupcakes are iced.  Allow to rest at room temperature for at least an hour so the icing will set. If icing two cake layers, ice one, allowing the glaze to drip down the sides of the cake, then, while the glaze is still wet, place the top layer and glaze the top, again drizzling some glaze down the sides. Allow to set at least a few hours before slicing.

Yields about 30 cupcakes (or two, 9-inch cake layers).


  1. The original recipe calls for 1 and 1/2 cups of boiling water for the 3 oz of cocoa.  I replaced some of this liquid with OJ and chocolate liqueur; however, I’m not sure you can really taste the chocolate liqueur and the cake was just the slightest bit dry. Next time I would replace the liqueur with boiling water.
  2. The original recipe called for 2 cups (packed) light brown sugar. I only had organic “brown sugar” (which I basically consider dark brown) which I ran out of, so I added some organic evaporated cane juice (organic ‘white’ sugar), which I ran out of, so I added turbinado (raw) sugar.  Phew! In total it was 8 oz brown sugar, 5 oz ‘white’ sugar, and 2.25 oz turbinado.  The cake was just the slightest bit dry, probably because brown sugar adds more moisture.
  3. You can replace the cornstarch and WW pastry flour with 10.5 oz of cake flour.  To use all purpose, keep the cornstarch and use     9 oz AP flour.


At room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for 2 days. Five days refrigerated or 2 months frozen.


Year round.


  1. Awwww . . . sounds sweet in every way.

    I ran out of flour during my valentine’s day baking, and had to make little romantic tartlets. I’ll post them soon . . .

  2. local kitchen

    These actually got better the next day; I think the glaze may have seeped into the cakes somewhat (or else they just cooled completely and “settled”) but they are now super-moist and seriously delicious.

    Of course, still WAY too tender for cupcakes. But Tai brought some for the other climbing guides yesterday, and apparently one of them gave himself a paper cut on his tongue licking the last bits off the muffin liner. Hurts so good. 😉

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