It’s delightfully easy (only takes one bowl!) and perfectly tender with a hearty chocolate flavor that satisfies my bittersweet cravings. At this point I should have it memorized. But the blackberries stirred carefully into the nearly black batter, now that is new and a very happy discovery. Tart cream cheese frosting and a bit of vanilla flecked salt was going to be the final flourish but a friend and I decided that a salty caramel would really put these little cakes over the top.

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makes 3 8” inch layers or 24 cupcakes


3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar (I’ve used white or brown or a combination of the two and all work well)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup vegetable oil (or other, nearly flavorless oil)

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups warm water

4 cups blackberries (fresh or frozen)

Prepare two cupcake pans with liners.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl until everything is well blended.

Add the wet ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in the berries.

Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the tops slowly spring back when gently nudged.

Let cool in the pan for five minutes before finishings the cooling on a rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 (8-ounce) packages / 680 g cream cheese, at room temperature

1⁄2 cup / 115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (depending on the desired amount of sweetness)

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean

For the frosting:

Beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla. Turn on low and mix until combined.

Turn up the speed to medium and beat 4 minutes more.

The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge.


1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy cream

Flake salt

Combine the sugar and the water in a small saucepan. Bring a boil and let the sugar caramelize until it’s smoking and deep copper in color. I teeter the edge with my caramel – close to burnt so you get complex flavors rather than a flat, just-sweet, caramel.

Carefully add the cream (it will bubble up vigorously) then stir to combine.

Let cool.

Frost the cupcakes when they are completely cool. Drizzle on the caramel then top with flake salt

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