Chocolate Graduation Cap Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Graduation cupcakes on a platter

Whether your graduate is earning a high school diploma or an advanced degree, such achievement calls for celebration, and these charming dessert treats are just the thing to cap your party off right. Rich chocolate makes these cupcakes delectably decadent, and the vanilla buttercream and edible mortar board toppers are sure to move you to the head of the class!

This week’s recipe: Chocolate Graduation Cap Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Why we like it:

Both the cupcake and the icing recipes are easy to make, even for a novice baker, and you can feel great about making them from scratch.  Chocolate cupcakes and vanilla buttercream are so basic that they can be used again and again whenever the baking occasion arises!

For the cupcakes:

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate

1/3 cup cocoa powder

¾ cup hot coffee

¾ cup bread flour

¾ cup white sugar

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

2 eggs, beaten

6 tbsp oil or shortening

2 tsp white vinegar

2 tsp vanilla extract


For the icing:

1 cup salted butter, softened

4 cups icing sugar

3 tbsp milk

3 tsp vanilla extract

1-2 tsp water (optional if icing is too thick)


For the grad caps:

Peanut butter or caramel cups

Square-shaped chocolate cookies or pure chocolate

Small candy balls or buttons

Licorice strands

Before mixing up your cupcake batter, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place medium-sized cupcake liners in your muffin pan.  Now add the cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate (can be chopped or simply broken into pieces) to a medium-sized bowl and pour in your hot coffee.

Mixing together chocolate components and coffee

Whisk together until the mixture is silky and smooth.  Place the bowl in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Melted chocolate mixture

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in another bowl and mix well.  Set that aside until later.

Combining dry ingredients

Add the eggs, oil, vinegar, and vanilla to the cooled chocolate and whisk everything together until the mixture is smooth.

Whisking the wet ingredients into the chocolate

Now gradually add your flour mixture to the bowl of wet ingredients, whisking as you go to incorporate everything together well.

Folding the flour mixture into the chocolate

Spoon the batter evenly into the cupcake liners, about ¾ full if you want smaller cupcakes, or nearly at the top of the liners if you want bigger cupcakes (they won’t rise a great deal).

Spooning cake batter into paper liners

Bake until the cupcakes are properly set, about 15-20 minutes.  The simplest way to check is to stick a toothpick into one of the cupcakes, and if it comes out clean, they’re done!  If the toothpick has uncooked batter on it, leave for a few minutes longer and check again.  Place the muffin pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, and then transfer the cupcakes from the pan directly to the wire rack to cool completely.

Baked chocolate cakes cooling

While the cupcakes cool, you can make your icing.  This recipe can be whipped up by hand- no fancy appliances necessary!  But make sure your butter is completely softened, or it will be very difficult to work with.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, icing sugar, vanilla, and milk.

Mixing together butter, milk, and sugar

Whisk everything together until the icing is smooth and free from any lumps.  If it seems too thick, add a teaspoon or two of water to thin it out.

Whisking together the buttercream icing

Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, ice them with your homemade vanilla buttercream! If you like to get a little fancier with your icing techniques, you can use a piping bag, but even icing amateurs can make these cupcakes look delicious with just an icing spatula, and everyone will be so busy marveling at the grad cap toppers to notice your icing skills (or lack thereof).

Icing the cupcakes

Now it’s time to make your grad cap toppers!  Unwrap your peanut butter or caramel cups and spread a little icing on top.  Place your chocolate square on top and press down.  When the icing hardens a little it will keep the two pieces stuck together.

Creating the candy camps

Dab a small amount of icing in the middle of the chocolate square and place your candy ball on top.

Placing the candy ball to the top of the cap

For the tassel you can make your life simpler by using one solid piece of licorice, but if you want to get a little craftier, slice the licorice string nearly all the way through using a small paring knife.  Slice each half of the licorice in half again to create 4 thin tassels, with the licorice still intact at the top.

Licorice tassels

Place a dab of icing on that top section and press the tassel onto the top of the cap, right up against the candy ball.  Voila!  A beautiful and edible graduation cap!

Attaching the licorice to the paddle board

Now just gently place the cap on top of a cupcake and press it into the icing, and get ready to wow your friends and family with these deliciously adorable cupcakes.

Placing the candy caps on top of the cupcake

Cupcake cut in half

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