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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Can You Really Put Healthy and Chocolate Cupcake in the Same Sentence? (Plus Homemade Chocolate Cake Mix)

Weaning myself off holiday goodies requires some inventiveness. To that end, the other day I decided to make these pumpkin-chocolate cupcakes. They were fudgy, chocolatey, and hit the spot. Most importantly, they were guilt-free!

Did I mention these cupcakes were healthy? Not only are they reduced-fat, but they also have fiber, Vitamins A, B (several of them), E & K, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and trace amounts of zinc and selenium. Whew! That's a lot of good stuff packed into something so tasty.

Remember the pumpkin-spice cake mix hack that Kris told us about? Here's a chocolate version that is topped with a melted chocolate drizzle. I made this as 16 good-sized cupcakes. It can be made into 18 smaller cupcakes or a 9X13-inch rectangular cake. I prefer the cupcakes as they're portion controlled while delivering on the chocolate.

Healthier Chocolate Drizzle Cupcakes

15.25 oz box chocolate cake mix  or  3⅓ cups of chocolate cake mix
15 oz can pumpkin puree
½ can (pumpkin can) of water

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vegetable shortening

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush with oil or spray with baking spray, 16-18 muffin liners set into muffin pans. 

Mix the cake mix, pumpkin and water until thoroughly combined.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin liners. On a center rack in the oven, bake for 20 to 24 minutes, until the tops spring back when gently pressed with a finger. (Don't rely on toothpick test for these cupcakes.)

Cool in the pans for 15 minutes then remove to wire racks to fully cool.

Chocolate Drizzle

elt ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips with 2 teaspoons vegetable shortening in the microwave in 15 second increments, stirring in between. When fully melted, drizzle over tops of cooled cupcakes. 

I place the cupcakes very close together on a platter and drizzle the melty chocolate with a fork over all, quickly, before it begins to firm up.

Since I rarely buy cake mixes, I used this homemade chocolate cake mix. It makes 4 cups of dry mix, which is equivalent to what was in the older 18.25 oz boxes of cake mix. (Anybody else remember the larger cake mixes? They shrank a couple of years ago.) Today's 15.25 oz box of cake mix contains about 3⅓ cups of mix. 

Homemade Chocolate Cake Mix

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup natural cocoa powder (not dutch-processed)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ cup instant dry milk powder
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening

With a mesh sieve over a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to remove any lumps. (This is primarily for the cocoa and leavenings.)

Stir together with a wire whisk or pastry blender. Cut in the shortening, using the whisk/pastry blender, until uniform consistency.

Store in a cool, dry location in a tightly covered container or resealable bag, up to 3 months.

This mix can be used in place of a commercial mix in cake mix hacks, using 3⅓ cups of mix in place of a 15.25 oz box, or it can be baked as a cake on its own.

To bake the Homemade Chocolate Cake Mix as a cake:

In a large bowl with electric mixer set on LOW, combine the mix with 3 large eggs⅓ cup vegetable oil, and 1¼ cups water. Increase the speed of mixer to MED for 2 additional minutes. Pour into greased and floured baking pans and bake at 350 degrees F.
  • 9X13 rectangular baker -- 35-38 mins
  • two 9-inch round pans -- 30-33 mins
  • 24 cupcakes -- 19-22 mins

Have I shown you my mom's trick to fit 16 to 20 cupcakes into a small, 30-inch oven all on the same rack?

Set one muffin pan into another, off-setting the top pan by 4 or 8 indentations. 

Do you know the difference between natural cocoa powder and Dutch-process cocoa powder? 

I didn't know until recently. Here's what I found out. Dutch-process cocoa powder has been treated with an alkaline substance to neutralize acidity that is naturally present in the cocoa beans. And Dutch-process cocoa powder is darker in color and smoother in flavor than natural cocoa powder. Many recipes don't specify which type to use. 

According to King Arthur's website, for most modern recipes, if neither type is specified, either will do. However, if you're thinking of making your great-grandmother's special chocolate cake recipe, you'll want natural cocoa powder. Dutch-process cocoa powder was not widely available in the US until the second half of the 20th century. So, it would stand to reason that older cake recipes always used natural cocoa powder along with baking soda for leavening. 

If you're not sure what you've got in your cupboard, it's often printed right on the front of the label as to which type of cocoa powder it is, such as Hershey's 100% Cacao Natural Unsweetened or Hershey's Special Dark 100% Cacao Dutched Cocoa. If the front of the label doesn't indicate Dutch or natural, check the ingredients listing on the back. If the product has been Dutch-processed, it will say something like "Cocoa-processed with alkali". I use Walmart's Great Value brand cocoa powder. The front of the GV brand just says "Baking Cocoa/ Unsweetened Cocoa Powder". The ingredient listing simply says "Cocoa". I'm assuming this is natural cocoa powder and not Dutched.

Why would any of this matter? As natural cocoa powder has not been treated with alkali and is acidic, it reacts with a base like baking soda, providing leavening. In a cake recipe, that may matter. In brownies, maybe not so much. There are formulas for how to substitute one type for another. King Arthur's article on cocoa powders indicates that if the recipe calls for less than 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, no changes need to be made. Greater than 3 tablespoons? You may want to adjust the leavening. (See "How to tweak the recipe to minimize changes" in the King Arthur article for details.) 

December treats may have been all about cookies in my house. It's looking like January desserts will be all about cakes, healthier versions, of course 😏. 


  1. I'm going to need to cut sweets in January as much as possible. I can only have a very little bit but the rest of the family may have sweets so December I did make them some goodies.

    Chocolate is the probably everyone's favorite but I recently made those cinnamon topped muffins that resemble cinnamon/sugar coated doughnuts. They went fast and were gone in no time.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Donut muffins. Those are good, and I an understand why they'd go quickly with your family members.

      How is it going with maintaining your dietary requirements? It can't be easy when the rest of the household can have foods that are off your list. But you do what you have to do for your health.

      Have a great day, Alice!

  2. Ooh, tasty! I need to do some baking and this might fill the bill. I am not good with techniques to make things pretty so I appreciate your ideas like using fork tines to drizzle chocolate.

    I made the stuffed dates last night. I had a few leftover dates and 2 ounces of cream cheese that needed to be used before they went bad. It was the perfect recipe for using my odds and ends!

    1. Hi Kris,
      As you can see, I'm a bit messy with the chocolate drizzle -- blobs here and there. But I think when you put melted chocolate on top of something, no one seems to care if it's messy or neat. In fact, the ones with the blobs of chocolate get chosen first in my house! If you make these, I hope your family enjoys them as much as we did!

      I'm so glad you tried the stuffed dates and reported back. They sound delicious and such a great way to use up your tidbits of leftovers.

      Have a great day, Kris!

  3. These sound really good. I'm tempted to make some today, but we still have sweets left from Christmas. Better wait.

    That's interesting information about the cocoa powder. Baking, especially cakes, is definitely a science.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      Enjoy those Christmas goodies while you have them. This recipe will still be here when you want a healthy chocolate pick-me-up.

      I know. I had noticed some cocoa powder was Dutch-process, but I didn't know what that meant for baking.

      Enjoy your evening, Live and Learn!


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