Devil’s Food Cupcakes & White Chocolate Icing

Devils Food Cupcakes

On Sunday, I spent a few hours with my teenage daughter talking through the University application process. She is currently doing her A/S levels (equivalent to Junior year in American high school) and the pressure is mounting as to what she is going to do after she finishes next year.

English literature is her favourite subject and she is keen to study it at University. This is unfortunate for her, as in England this is a very competitive course in terms of applicants versus places. Many Universities might have 40 places but close to 600 applicants. So this means the grade requirements are very high and even then, without an attractive and varied extracurricular “life”, your chances are slim.

However, University should be about studying something that stimulates you academically. With popular courses, this places the prospective student under huge pressure if they want to attend a Russell Group (UK’s equivalent to Ivy League) University or a top-notch red brick one. I’ve listened to many a parent argue that unless your child makes it in to the “top 20” you might as well not bother. Once you’ve heard, “the degree’s not worth the paper it’s written on” chanted at you a number of times it begins to take shape in your head.

Stories circulate about prospective students finding unusual courses with fewer applicants in order to get places at top Universities. A degree in David Beckham studies anyone? I don’t want to go down this route but nor do I want my daughter getting a series of rejections. I have to be careful too, how I handle this with my teenager. On the one hand she is adamant that she is not going to do well; but when I suggest applying to Universities with lower acceptance grades, she barks back at me “what you think I’m not good enough?”

Funny thing is I have all the confidence in the world that whatever University she chooses it will be a positive experience for her. Whether she has the academic ability to make it to the top or not.

After all, what is University really about?

Sure it’s great to get the degree at the end of it. Hopefully, but not always these days, it will lead to some decent career opportunities. Let’s not forget, though, the all important other facet of University life: the part where you emotionally and socially develop and mature. Isn’t it as much about the amazing friendships you make and the independence and freedom that transform you into a young adult when you leave. (Okay and let’s not forget the drugs, drink and sex but I am not going to think about that just yet!) Surely that comes from any University that suits your needs, that “gels” with you so to speak, and not just a “top 20”.

If you are ever lucky enough to meet her (and some of you reading this already have) you will find a knock your socks off special, all too sensible and very stylish chick who will make the most of whatever comes her way. So while she is working hard to move herself that bit closer to the next stage in her life, I’ve made her some devil’s food cupcakes. They are her favourites you know. See she’s got good taste already!

Devils Food Cupcakes on a plate

Devil’s Food Cupcakes with White Chocolate Icing

The great thing about this cake is it actually tastes like chocolate but at the same time isn’t too rich. The flavour is intense but not bitter. The cake’s texture is melt in the mouth moist. This taste and texture comes from the process of mixing the unsweetened dutch process cocoa with boiling hot water and leaving it to sit before adding it to the cake mixture. It is vital to use this type (and in England I have only found it in the Green & Black’s variety) as it contains alkali which normal cocoa does not. The presence of alkali stops the cocoa from reacting with the baking powder and creating that bitter flavour so often found in chocolate cakes.

Okay enough of the science bit. Now for the fun part.


For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsweetened dutch-process cocoa powder (Green & Blacks in the UK)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) plus 1 cup (8 ounces) water
1 1/2 stick (6 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) light brown sugar firmly packed
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups (7 ounces) cake flour*
1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the icing:
4 1/2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups (4 3/4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup milk (2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350f. Line cupcake tins with paper cupcake liners. Makes 2 x 12.

Mix cocoa powder with 1/2 cup of boiling water (straight from kettle is fine!). Whisk it together. Mixture should be smooth and like a paste. Add 1 cup of tepid water and mix until there are no bits. Leave cocoa mixture until it cools down.

Using a stand up mixer beat together the butter, granulated and brown sugars until light in colour. This takes around 5 minutes. It will take slightly longer if you use a hand-held mixer. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl before adding the eggs and vanilla.

Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Then add the vanilla.

Mix the cake flour*, plain flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl and whisk together.

With the mixer on the lowest speed, alternatively add the cocoa mixture and the dry ingredients. You want to add one-third of the flour mixture first and then half of the cocoa mixture. Repeat this again and then finally add the remaining flour mixture. Beat until just combined.

Fill each cupcake liner half full with batter. Bake for 15-20 mins or until the tops are firm to touch and a toothpick/fork inserted comes out clean. Transfer to rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, melt the white chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Stir until smooth. Leave it to cool to room temperature (otherwise you will melt the butter when it is added).

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl. Stir in the milk and vanilla. Add the butter and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in the cooled white chocolate.

Now you can get on with frosting your cakes! I added some chocolate curls to the tops of mine.

*Cake flour is only available in America. There is some debate on the Internet as to whether it is in fact just self-raising flour. It isn’t. To make cake flour add 1/4 cup of corn flour to 1 3/4 cup of plain flour. This will equal 2 cups of cake flour.

Devils Food Cupcakes on a tray

62 thoughts on “Devil’s Food Cupcakes & White Chocolate Icing

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  5. Those cakes look too tempting! Uni is definately about more than the degree. I am still best friends with my uni mates 17 years later. Good luck to your daughter with her application process. Unfortunately even the not so well placed Uni’s (I work at one!) can be hard to get into now days. We had about 2000 oversubscribed students last year!
    Mich x


  6. Wow Heather, finally getting a bit of space to peruse your amazing blog. I cannot believe Hannah is already applying to University. Your post filled me with pleasant nostalgia as all my own memories of college days are indelibly infused with memories of you and our incomparable friendship. To me, reason enough to go to University. And Hannah looks so much like how I remember you looked in those days! Please tell her I could see the spark of brilliance in her when she was a toddler!!


    • Ah thanks Aileen. So pleased you came to have a look. Of course Uni is all about you for me too! What great times we had. I only hope Hannah is as fortunate to meet such great friends. Hx


  7. Hallo, I’ve not had devil’s food cake, always wondered what it was like.

    Re university choices, my degree was actually a history one but with a slant towards literature, the authors we studied were exactly the same as my housemate’s English course but putting them in perspective with history/philosophy. At the end of the day, the subject of the degree as you suggest above does come second to the place it comes from so it might be worth her checking out the syllabus of some history/philosophy type courses as these might be very similar in content to what she’d be reading on an English syllabus.

    Having said that, I am highly sympathetic with having a degree that’s “not worth the paper it’s written on”, mine didn’t prepare me for anything in particular but I will never regret doing it and my time at university was the most memorable of my life. Whether it’s worth 30k debt is another matter!!!!


  8. They’re under so much pressure nowdays and my son who is just doing his GCSE’s at the moment is already spouting out “well this course is so oversubscribed blah blah” …very sad.
    Anyway….those cakes look delicious…my son is 16 tomorrow he is a devil food cake fiend and I’m thinking I may make them…..just the mixing up the cake flour sounds scary….I’m easily scared haha…I wonder how they’ll turn out with gluten free flour so next son down can eat them.


  9. Late to the party here, but I’m sure Hannah will do fantastically well with your support. My oldest is 15 so I’ll be watching how you get on with interest! x


  10. You’re one cool mum, it must be so nice for Hannah to read what you feel about her and the confidence that you have. I had time between leaving school and doing more education and didn’t jump quickly into something that I wasn’t 100% sure of. For me, it wasn’t just about the course but the whole ethos of the place. I’m biased but Edinburgh is my home city and where I studied and it’s worth a look!


  11. Hi Heather. What a beautiful post and what an understanding mum you are. You are so right – the things I learnt and remember from uni were not about my course but about finding out who I am as an individual away from my family. Good luck Hannah – you are going to do great things.


  12. “Okay and let’s not forget the drugs, drink and sex ” – oh you make me laugh!! I had the marks to go to a top South African university but I went to the local one (kinda mid-range) and you are so right. There is more to university than an astonishing education – the social skills that you learn there are the most important skills of your life. I wish your daughter luck in her search!


  13. Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting have always been my hands-down favourite. Unfortunately, my daughters are not that in love with chocolate and prefer vanilla with buttercreme frosting. So I make do with them:) My 14-year-old is a keen baker. She loves it and derives incredible joy from it. She says it helps her de-stress so I’m very lucky to have home-baked cakes, scones, bread and cinnamon rolls (her specialty) all the time. Good luck to your daughter. It sounds like any choice she makes will be the right one and she’ll excel.


  14. I’d love to say something stirring and supportive about Hannah, but everyone else has done it for me! You go girl! Incidentally though, I don’t know anyone who didn’t enjoy university, whereve they went…. three (four) years of meeting likeminded people, hopefully doing something that interests you, and (don’t tell your parents) a lot of alcohol, what’s not to love?

    Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was: What’s confectioners sugar? These look fab, but I’m slightly frightened by the US ingredients!


  15. I do think it’s important to find a university that really “fits” with your personality! You’re right that it’s about so much more than just studies. What a sweet mom you are to make these cupcakes for Hannah, they look absolutely wonderful!


  16. Hey Heather! It was so nice meeting you over the weekend! Glad to hear I helped with the photos even if it was just a little =) Funny you should write about the topic of universities as I was talking to Beth about it on Monday – it’s always tough making such a big decision when you’re so young. I could go on about this forever, but won’t do so here. We should meet sometime soon! x


  17. Lovely post and lovely looking cupcakes. I studied English Literature at Stirling University and the small campus really suited me at the time, I think going somewhere that suits your personality is so important. Also, it is really worth seeing how the individual course is rated rather than just the university. I would also suggest visiting Edinburgh (just because I used to live there and I love it). A great city to live in and an excellent university. Good luck to Hannah in her search.


  18. Hannah
    Don’t forget the US. I know US universities are more expensive but you are talented enough to get a scholarship.
    Go for the gold. You are the best!


  19. Oh thank you for this post! As American’s living in England, finding the right ingredients can be a real challenge – especially cake flour! Great to know that you agree with what I’d figured out (re the corn flour!). Thanks for that and the tip on cocoa! Also, just got a tip from someone that American corn syrup is available at just in case anyone needs it for baking! 🙂


    • I know it is always a slight challenge. There are quite a few internet sites now that sell American food. I use them when I am desperate. Thanks for stopping by! It was great to meet both of you last week.


  20. Definitely, definitely agree with the “university years were best years” sentiment (I too, met my husband there!).

    Wherever Hannah ends up, and whatever she does, I hope she has a blast – both academically and socially. It’s a difficult choice – good luck.


  21. MrW and I were just chatting about the purpose of university over coffee this morning and both agree that the exposure to radical ideas and opinions, the freedom to discuss and immerse yourself in new ways of thinking, new discourses, challenging views of the world around us are all integral to university life. At no other stage do we have the freedom to do this. Which makes you think again about the currently mooted idea of 2 year degree courses. How much would be lost? All the time to research and think for yourself and challenge hegemonic ideas. The stuff only politicians invested in controlling the population would wish to lose.


  22. What a fab post and fab Mum, Hannah sounds lovely! I loved Uni and *whispers* I went to a Poly before they all became Unis! It is about so much more than pieces of paper and it’s such a good way to leave home. I met my husband there too…in our last term!


  23. Ah, so much to say but it all boils down to study what you are passionate about and at a school that offers everything you need both in and out of the class. I studied for 2 years at a Florida state school then transferred and did my last 3 years at an Ivy League School with the top psych dept in the country. To tell the truth, the Florida school had been a better fit and I surely would have continued all the way thru to my PhD instead of only a BA. And I want some cupcakes when I meet your daughter. Please.


    • I had a similar experience. I transferred to an Ivy League after two years although I did love it. Not because of that but more the people I met were some of the best friends I’ve ever had. And of course I will be serving cupcakes when you meet my daughter. That’s a given x


  24. She is such a lucky girl to have amum who describes her in the way you have in this post! you are right – any univ experience will be great for her becasue she enjoys life!
    Can you send just a small one of those over please! 🙂


  25. Awww Hannah your Mum is very cool and I’m certain you will find the right path. I loved University! (we called it varsity) I didn’t like the restriction of school, but I really came into my own at Varsity. Best time of my life. Funny thing is no matter what course you do, or what your grades are by the time you reach 20 something it almost doesn’t matter! A degree is a ticket that lets you in the door to an interesting job/career but once you’re in you get to choose. Have you written for local papers or blogs? When I first wanted to get into Uni/journalism wrote pieces on a volunteer basis. Or is it just on grades alone?


  26. It’s hard for me to believe that you are going through this with Hannah; I can remember you applying to college, especially the transfer process to BC. Hannah is such an exceptional human being. She will do well where ever she lands.


  27. I studied science at a red brick uni. Uni for me was more than studying my favourite subject it was learning to be independant & confident. The fact I met my husband there is a huge bonus! I still look back at my uni years as being some of the best years Ive had. I hope your daughter enjoys her time in uni as much as I did.


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