Sometimes, the idea of getting out a bunch of ingredients and measuring cups and whipping egg whites and tempering chocolate sounds like fun (no one? Ok, I guess it’s just me). But sometimes, you just need a cupcake, in your face, like 10 minutes ago.

I happened to be especially desperate today, because well, it’s Friday. Luckily, my friend Amy was kind enough to have sent me a pouch of her new dark chocolate cupcake mix. She owns the Denver-based company SweetVictory, maker of fine, handcrafted baking mixes, candies and fruit preserves, and needed someone to test the new mix at sea level. Being in Seattle, I happily volunteered my baking-and cake-eating services.

Having no milk and no eggs, and cupcake liners a size too big, I wasn’t the most prepared tester. But once a chocolate craving starts, it’s pretty much impossible to stop. Like an insidious little seed, it starts in your brain and quickly spreads throughout your body until the only thing you can think about is getting your fix. I’ve never done crack, but I’m pretty sure this is what it feels like (or so the scientists say).

Upon inspection of the package though, I realized these were gluten-free, vegan cupcakes—SCORE! I could make these without a trip to the store and would make do with the wonky liners. I quickly grabbed some almond milk and vegetable oil from the pantry and furiously whisked in some espresso powder, to which Ina Garten would certainly approve (almost all her chocolate confections are enhanced by some sort of coffee flavor).

I dumped the mix and the milky, latte-like wet ingredients into a bowl and in 20 seconds, I had cake batter. Now, I will confide that because these babies are gluten-free, the batter is not quite as lick-able as regular batter; it’s gritty from the mixture of brown rice flour and starches. Obviously, this did not stop me from licking the spoon. Crack, people—it’s like crack.

To my great pleasure, the batter baked up into beautifully tender and fluffy cupcakes. They were surprisingly un-vegan and gluten-free-like, with an especially deep, dark chocolate crumb and small fissures on top.

Luckily, during the short 20-minute bake time, I had enough sense about me to whip up some sesame buttercream with tahini instead of butter. Think peanut butter + chocolate. This is similar, yet different. Not only does this keep the cupcakes vegan, but the nutty, rich flavor of toasted sesame is quite a sophisticated accompaniment to the chocolate. Well, as sophisticated as a lazy, chocolate-feening baker can manage anyway.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Tahini Buttercream

Get your pouch of vegan, gluten-free dark chocolate cupcake mix here, and while you’re at it, pick up some of this blueberry amaretto jam. Trust me. This vegan cake recipe would also work, although it’s not gluten-free.

Makes 12 cupcakes


Chocolate Cupcakes

1 pouch Sweet Victory Dark Chocolate Cake Mix

1 cup liquid (250g) 1 used almond milk

1 teaspoon (1g) espresso powder (optional)

1 cup (220g) vegetable oil

Tahini Buttercream

1 cup (200g) coconut oil, room temperature (or butter, if you don’t care about them being vegan)

¾ cup (200g) tahini

¼ cup (60g) water

½ teaspoon ground vanilla beans (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

1 pinch kosher salt

3 ¾ cups (450g) powdered sugar, sifted

Line a cupcake tinwith paper liners (or nonstick spray) and preheatthe oven to 350°F. In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the liquid, espresso powder (if using) and vegetable oil and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake mix and wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Scoop a heaping quarter cup of batter into each cupcake liner. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, rotating halfway through baking. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely (about 1 hour).

For the buttercream, beat together the coconut oil (or butter), tahini and water in a bowl with a handheld mixer until smooth. Add the vanilla, salt and powdered sugar and continue to mix for 2-3 minutes, until thick and fluffy. Scoop the buttercream into a pastry bag and pipe onto cooled cupcakes. The frosted cupcakes will keep for a couple days in an airtight container at room temperature.