3 Cupcakes for $11

September 20, 2011

Now that the school year has started, we have a new weekly schedule in place.  Graham is in first grade so, obviously, he is in school five days a week.  Spencer goes to preschool four days a week and spends Wednesdays with me.  As much as I try to keep those days fun and Spencer-centered, they are often days full of errands.  He is a great sport and happily accompanies me as I drive around town getting the necessary ingredients for cooking classes or catering jobs.  I like to make sure those trips aren’t pure drudgery for him so there is often some kind of treat incentive.

Last week, we were near a cupcake shop and I suggested we stop in for cupcakes for the “boys” in our family.  (Me?  If I am going to eat cake, I am going to eat cake.  My cake.  Not store-bought cupcakes.)  I asked for three, the nice lady behind the counter boxed them up, rang me up, and told me I owed her $11.

$11.  For three cupcakes.  Really?  In my brain a little switch went off.  That “I will never buy into this crazy-ness again” switch.  As much joy as those cupcakes bring my children – it’s over.  Cupcakes in the Dana Treat household are homemade from now on.

But here is the thing.  I get it.  If I make cupcakes, it’s about 1 million times cheaper.  I can probably make 50 cupcakes for $11.  They will taste much better and be made with love.  But what am I going to do with 50 cupcakes?  Or even 12?  There are three people in my family who eat them.  Even if we have cupcake loving friends with cupcake loving kids over, we will only get through just over half a dozen.  What do I do with the rest of them?  They only keep for a day or so.  I can’t exactly put them in the cookie jar, right?  (Note to self:  Invent a cupcake jar!)

Once in a while my addled brain comes up with something surprisingly clear.  Post store-bought cupcake horror, I was extremely motivated to make my own.  I also realized that I needed a dessert for a special class I was teaching.  Mexican Chocolate Cake actually.  What if I made the cake smaller and used the rest of the batter for cupcakes?  It could have been a disaster but it worked great.  From one recipe, originally intended for a bundt pan, I made a 9×5-inch loaf cake and six cupcakes.  The boys were pleased, the babysitter was pleased, my students were pleased, Randy was pleased, and I was pleased.  Success!

One Year Ago:  Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Two Years Ago:  Grits Frittata
Three Years Ago:  Frittata with Feta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Basil (apparently this is the time of year I make a lot of eggs)

Mexican Chocolate Cake

To make things simpler, I’m giving you the cake as originally written, for a 12-cup bundt pan.  (This is the standard size for a bundt pan in the US.)  You can play around with what pans you want or if you just want to make all cupcakes.  A site I find very useful when trying to figure out what pans to use is Joy of Baking.  You can look up your pan size, find out how many cups it holds by volume, and then reconfigure.  Sound complicated?  It’s actually really easy.

For cake
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
½ cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt

For glaze
2 cups chopped pecans (7½ ounces)
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter
½ cup half-and-half
½ cup confectioners sugar
5 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
¼ teaspoon salt

Make cake:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter cake pan well and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Melt butter (2 sticks) in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in cocoa. Add water and whisk until smooth, then remove from heat. Whisk in separately sugar, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl, then sift again into cocoa mixture and whisk until just combined (don’t worry if there are lumps).

Pour batter into cake pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out with a few crumbs adhering, 45 to 55 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Cool cake in pan on a rack 20 minutes, then loosen edges with a thin knife and invert onto a plate.

Make glaze:
Spread pecans in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan (1 inch deep) and bake until fragrant and a shade darker, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool pecans slightly in pan on a rack, about 5 minutes.

Melt butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, then stir in half-and-half and confectioners sugar. Add chocolate and cook, stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in pecans and salt. Cool glaze until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Spoon glaze over top and sides of cake (cake will still be warm) and spread with a small offset spatula or knife to cover completely.

(Cake (with glaze) can be made 2 days ahead and kept at room temperature in a cake keeper or covered with an inverted bowl.)


  1. That price is insanity! I remember splurging on a $4 vegan cupcake at a food festival and thinking it would be worth it for a high-quality vegan cupcake…turned out the be ultra dry and disappointing. Such a shame because that’s crazy expensive!

    Comment by Faith @ For the Health of It — September 20, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  2. i’m just going to pretend i did not see those photos and just say $11 is way too high. crazy high. living on cape cod there is one cupcake joint that charges $2.50 a cupcake and they are good, but boy they are tiny

    Comment by vanillasugarblog — September 20, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

  3. Great solution, and that cake/cupcakes look insanely good! Wow – lots of delicious chocolate! :)

    Comment by sara — September 20, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  4. Your cupcake horror story is so why I read your blog!!! I am often amazed at the price of baked goods but I continue to buy them for convenience and novelty. However, you really can’t beat homemade goodies and why not teach our kids to appreciate the stuff that can only come out of your oven!?

    Comment by Stephanie — September 20, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

  5. Very clever! I brought cupcakes to a friend once and had similar sticker shock – it’s ridiculous how much people pay for them!

    Comment by Maris — September 20, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

  6. I up and down REFUSE to buy storebought cupcakes. I’ve tried some of the “best” around NYC…and mine are better. hands down, absolutely better. I don’t know what they’re putting in those cupcakes but it’s nothing good.

    I love your solution of making a smaller cake and then some cupcakes on the side! It’s also easier to photograph cupcakes than it is to cut a slice out of a cake that you’re gifting to someone else. Just saying.

    Comment by Joanne — September 20, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  7. Thank you!! perfect timing bc I have my 2 bday girls’ party this weekend and was in need of a cupcake recipe. Just curious, how long did you bake the cupcakes?

    Comment by Jo — September 20, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

  8. I would of have fallen over at the bakery……..

    Your cake looks dreamy!

    Comment by Nettie Moore — September 20, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

  9. The cupcakes at my local patisserie are £2.95, which is ridiculous considering that the sponge is dry and tasteless (though the icing on the chocolate ones is divine, I must say). I think the trend has gone a tad OTT! Yours look great though, love the cinnamon and buttermilk for Autumn!

    Comment by Ele — September 20, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  10. Good question Jo! I baked the cupcakes for about 20 mins (but check them at 15) and the cake for about an hour.

    Comment by dana — September 20, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

  11. At $11, I would savor each and every crumb! lol

    I do love your delectable treats. Love the mixture of mini cake and cupcakes. Win-win. :-)

    Comment by Libby — September 21, 2011 @ 12:01 am

  12. I’m guessing you visited Trophy Cupcake. It’s been about six months since I’ve been out of Seattle, and I’m hoping you didn’t visit Cupcake Royale for $11.

    But this looks delicious!

    Comment by Zachary — September 21, 2011 @ 3:48 am

  13. […] layered cake. This is the thought that occurred to me Tuesday as I was reading Dana Treat’s blog post about buying cupcakes versus making your […]

    Pingback by Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting | thishomemadelife — September 21, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  14. The cupcake people have gone crazy with the cupcake prices these days.

    Comment by leslie — September 21, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  15. I would only pay that kind of money for your cupcakes:)

    Comment by Maria — September 21, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  16. The small cake and cupcake idea is genius, but I will say that if I make too many cupcakes, I just freeze the extras. I just have to plan ahead a little, and take them out to thaw a few hours before I want to eat them, but it’s probably good that I’m forced to be more mindful about my sugar habit. :)

    Comment by statgirl — September 21, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

  17. That glaze topping clinches it, Dana! Looks beyond amazing. I’ve splurged on a fancy pants cupcake (last year in Seattle in fact) and it was delicious, but yeah, it’s so much better to make your own. I’m putting your recipe on my list.

    Comment by kickpleat — September 21, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

  18. I remember a similar sticker shock over a cupcake for my boy last summer and in the end he didn’t really like it. The icing was too sweet and the cake too dry and there was just tooooo much icing. What a great idea to do a cake and cupcakes. You are a wizard!

    Comment by Charlotte — September 22, 2011 @ 5:16 am

  19. That is a bargain compared to this cupcake place we have here. 1 dozen cupcakes for $65!!!

    Comment by Kennedy — September 24, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

  20. If you freeze them on a cookie sheet, you can put them in large freezer bags and they make great lunchbox treats once in a while. Just sayin’.. :)

    Comment by Beth R. — September 24, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

  21. I never would have thought of freezing them! Great idea! I have put a bunch into a big plastic tub with tight lid. That helps. Rectangular plastic tub or a cake saver plastic tub. Tupperware or Rubbermaid work fine.

    In my house, a day-old cupcake is better than no cupcake.

    Comment by Cindy — October 7, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

  22. Nice blog.. Thanks for sharing this information with us

    Comment by Buy Biscuits Online — January 17, 2013 @ 6:19 am

  23. Great pictures. Looks similar to “Texas Sheet Cake” ??? Do you have any idea how many cupcakes this would make. Anxious to make. Thank you for posting.

    Comment by sue griffore — February 20, 2013 @ 3:20 am

  24. Hi! Could you tell me what is 1/2 cup of half-and-half? I speak spanish and i can’t find the exact translation of it. Thanks.

    Comment by kathy macedo — March 7, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

  25. Kathy, half and half is half cream and half whole milk. I’m sure you could mix a quarter cup of heavy (whipping) cream and whole milk and that would be fine.

    Comment by dana — March 7, 2013 @ 9:08 pm

  26. We are lucky to have a great cake supply store that also sells amazing cupcakes for only $1.50 each. Good for when I don’t have time, but I am pinning this recipe and will definitely make it!

    Comment by Kandi — March 24, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

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    Pingback by Mexican Chocolate Cake | Dreamy Blog — May 19, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  28. […] made cake. Wooooooo. The recipe can be found at http://danatreat.com/2011/09/3-cupcakes-for-11/. Enjoy. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… Tags: cake, chocolate, […]

    Pingback by Mexican Chocolate Cake | With a Little Bit of Spice — May 24, 2013 @ 2:13 am

  29. And I felt bad about paying 3$ for three little cupcakes at a new shop in my home town. I’m Locke you though, I can make them much more delicious and for a fraction of the price. Just have to take them to work or send them with the husband so I don’t eat them all!

    Comment by Kathy brewer — May 31, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  30. […] Mexican Chocolate Cake […]

    Pingback by 10 Most Decadent Chocolate Desserts - Gourmandelle | Healthy Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes — July 8, 2013 @ 7:05 am

  31. Just wondering about the Dutch processed cocoa. In reading about it online, it is recommended in recipes that use baking powder, not baking soda. Want to make the cake, but worried about the leavening. Help?

    Comment by Jill Rahn — August 20, 2013 @ 11:41 pm

  32. This is my recipe exactly from The Pastry Queen. Would be nice if you would at least give credit.

    Comment by rebecca rather — February 2, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

  33. I’ve never been to your web site. I got the recipe from Gourmet as I credited.

    Comment by dana — February 2, 2014 @ 7:20 pm

  34. Looks delicious, but did anyone notice this is actually a ‘Texas Sheet Cake’ recipe, but baked in a loaf pan or muffin tin? Just about the best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten, and I make it regularly. I have even taken it to school for my kids’ birthdays – just left in the jelly-roll pan that is called for in Texas Sheet Cake recipe – and let the individual decide upon the size of their piece. Definitely required a fork to eat it, however, as the glaze is soft and amazing.

    Comment by Mary — April 25, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

  35. I have been searching for a recipe for a Mexican chocolate cake and look what I came across! Can’t wait to make this for my Thanksgiving reunion! Thanks for a great recipe!

    Comment by Jennifer Stewart — October 31, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

  36. $11 for 3 gourmet cupcakes seems high especially if they are a doctored up box mix. I bake completely from scratch using high quality ingredients, make my own vanilla, and charge $1.50 per cupcake for non filled and $1.75 for filled. Half the cost per cupcake is food and the other half is labor and paying myself $10 per hour. So, no, you cannot make 50 cupcakes for $11 unless you’re using a box mix. That being said, the recipe looks good.

    Comment by Michelle — August 16, 2015 @ 7:40 pm

  37. I add 1/4 tsp. or a little pinch more of cayenne pepper to the recipe and 1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 pinches just that little kick!

    Comment by Jaculin — June 10, 2017 @ 6:34 pm

  38. I have used the extra batter into cupcakes trick often. I have a carrot cake recipe which says “two 9 inch pans” but overflows 3 pans. Before I acquired 10″ cake pans (lifechanging) I would use the extra cake for cupcakes. The worst part about cupcakes is getting the baking time right!!!

    Comment by CLAIRE WOOD — September 9, 2018 @ 2:14 am

  39. I am definitely going to try this cake with the extra spices my Mexican Chocolate Spicey cookies call for. (cayenne, black pepper and cinnamon) They are killer cookies, and they are slice and bake too.

    Comment by CLAIRE WOOD — September 9, 2018 @ 2:15 am

  40. I’m going to try your recipe because it looks delish, but truth be told. I’m disappointed it didn’t include any Mexican chocolate. Being of Mexican descent I was looking for that, not even any almond extract. I will be adding it to mine when I bake this. Try it. Thanks for sharing Sra. Avalos

    Comment by Karen Avalos — November 27, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

  41. Delicious! I did use a GF flour blend, and added a pinch of cayenne to the cake batter, as well as a little cinnamon and cayenne to the ganache. I would definitely make it again.

    Comment by Patty — February 11, 2021 @ 11:35 pm

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