Valentine’s Day Recipes: Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

by Pamela

chocolate orange, chocolate orange cupcakes, doctored cake mix, cake mix cupcakes

There’s a lot of things no one tells you about before you get married.  Not that you would listen, because you’ve already figured out everything there is to know about being married.  Screw all that 50% divorce rate, “that’ll never happen to me” riiiiiiiiight.  It’s almost like married people don’t want you know the reality of married life because they want you to join in their misery, kind of like what pregnant women do (if they disclosed everything that happens when you’re pregnant and in delivery…most women wouldn’t do it).  Even Cosmo, the harbinger of all things good relationship, doesn’t tell you about these horrifying aspects of marriage (how dare you, Cosmo, not be forthcoming about such things). But hey, it’s Valentine’s Day.

I will never forget the absolute disgust I felt when Craig asked me why I hadn’t bought a box of macaroni and cheese the first time I came back from the grocery store as Mrs. Craig.  He waxed poetic about his love of cheesy powder and yellow orange slimy macaroni.  I think I actually threw up in my mouth a little.  (I also grew up on the blue boxed stuff, but did not have the same kind of love affair with it that he apparently did).  When you get married, your food habits really can make or break a relationship.

This isn’t just relegated to specific food items either.  Does your significant other mix everything together before eating it or do they methodically eat each item before moving on to the next?  Are there certain foods that must be eaten on specific days?  Are their food items that one of you eats that can not be eaten in front of the other?  And how about flavor combinations?  One of Craig’s favorites is the chocolate orange combo.  I don’t get that combination at all, but he loves it.

chocolate orange cupcakes

But Valentine’s Day is all about showing the one you care about, how much you love them.  So Craig got his treat a little early with these chocolate orange cupcakes.

The food blogger heathen that I am, I did not make these from scratch.  I’ve talked about using cake mixes before.  I used a cake mix when I made this deconstructed black forest cake.  I don’t have a big problem using cake mix from a box.  They’re delicious, hard to screw up, inexpensive and easy to use.  But did you know that a doctored cake mix tastes even better?  Really, a doctored cake mix (while I suppose it’s technically not homemade) makes baked goods that actually taste like you made it from scratch.  Plus, it’s still easy to make.

So let’s all agree that cake mix cupcakes are not the devil in a paper cup.  Not everything needs to be made from scratch all the time.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a little treat that doesn’t take a bunch of ingredients to put together.  I totally get it though, that you want your stuff to taste really good, and sometimes using a boxed mix doesn’t quite get you there. That’s where the doctored cake mix comes in handy.

I thought I’d give you a list of some of the things you can play with, when using a boxed cake mix to make it taste a little bit better.  These substitutions or additions were used with a standard boxed cake mix, not a vegan or gluten free mix.  When making subs in these specialty mixes you need to be a bit more careful.

  • Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to any mix.
  • Substitute milk, or buttermilk, for the water.
  • Throw some jimmies into a white or yellow cake mix to make a funfetti cake.
  • Add a tablespoon of citrus zest.
  • Use melted butter in place of the oil.
  • Use applesauce in place of the oil.

Even though these are cake mix cupcakes, I did top them with a homemade bittersweet chocolate orange icing.  To take them to another level altogether, I then added a slice of Campari candied kumquat on top of the icing.  I agree that the kumquats might be a little over the top, but it’s Valentine’s Day.

So if you, or your special someone, have a thing for chocolate orange (or cupcakes) – these chocolate orange cupcakes will be an easy and delicious way to tame that craving.

Relationship Advice


Recipe: Valentine’s Day Recipes: Chocolate Orange Cupcakes


For Cupcakes

  • 1 18.25 Ounce Dark Chocolate Boxed Cake Mix
  • 1 1/2 Cups Buttermilk (use in place of the water called for)
  • 1 Tablespoon Orange Zest

For Icing

  • 4 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
  • 6 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (melted)
  • 4 1/2 Tablespoons Milk
  • 3 Tablespoons Cointreau

For Campari Candied Kumquats

  • 24 Kumquats (sliced into equal rounds)
  • 3/4 Cups Campari
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons Corn Syrup
  • Granulated Sugar (for dredging)


For Cupcakes

  1. Follow the instructions on the cake mix box substituting the buttermilk for the water and stirring in the orange zest.
  2. Continue following the instructions for portioning and baking.

For Icing

  1. In a medium size bowl, mix the powdered sugar and cocoa together until thoroughly blended.
  2. Pour in the butter, milk and Cointreau.
  3. Using a stand, or hand mixer, blend the icing ingredients together until all the clumps are gone and the texture is smooth and glossy.
  4. Ice cupcakes once they have completely cooled.

For Campari Candied Kumquats

  1. Combine the Compari, corn syrup and sugar in a small pan and heat over medium heat.
  2. Continue stirring until all the sugar has melted.
  3. Add the sliced kumquats to the warm syrup and turn the heat down to medium low.
  4. Continue to heat and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed (it will reduce by about 2/3 rds).
  5. Cover and let sit overnight.
  6. Reheat and bring to a simmer.
  7. Remove from heat and spread the kumquat slices on a cooling rack.
  8. Pour some of the granulated sugar onto a dish.
  9. Once the kumquats have completely cooled, dredge the slices through the sugar and put back onto the cooling rack and let them sit for about an hour.
  10. Top each cupcake with a slice of the candied kumquats.


You could use water, in place of the Campari, for the candied kumquats.

Number of servings (yield): 12

Culinary tradition: USA (General)





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Rebekah Pitre March 9, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Awesome post.

Jennifer February 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I use cake mixes when I make my son’s birthday cakes. They’re great and since the toddlers are only going to have a few bites, I don’t see the point in making from scratch. And I, like you, also hate chocolate and orange together. I’ve never understood that combo and never will which is why I’ll never, ever make a chocolate orange anything as I want to enjoy it too.

Maureen February 7, 2012 at 6:04 am

So obvious but I never thought of exchanging melted butter for the oil. I’m swooning at the idea.

Cupcakes look so yummy.

Belinda @zomppa February 6, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Can I have these cupcakes?? Perfect combination!

Pamela February 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I can ship some right out! These travel well.

Nancy@acommunaltable February 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Whoa… I am loving this on ALL counts! My pastry chef in culinary school said there was nothing wrong with using cake mixes!!! And I have to say I am totally with your husband re: the chocolate and orange combo – one of my absolute favorites!
As for the kumquats – hooray!! Never do know what to do with them… and now I do!

Pamela February 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I usually cut up kumquats and throw them on a salad, but I couldn’t resist the bottle of Campari. So on top of the cupcake they went.

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