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Day of the dead cupcakes recipe

Celebrate the season with these chocolate day of the dead cupcakes. Festive and delicious, they are perfect for a Día de los Muertos party. With colorful sugar skull decorations and fun sprinkles, they will be the hit of your festivities.

I’ll give you variations and substitutions where I can, plus helpful tips and tricks for success. Read on for this info as well as the recipe. If you’d like to skip straight to the recipe, use the jump to recipe button at the top of the post.

You may also be interested in my caramel apple cupcakes and my devil’s food cupcakes recipes. For ease of browsing, you can find all of my cupcake recipes in one place.

Day of the dead chocolate cupcake with sugar skull decoration in front of a black background.

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Why you should make this recipe

These chocolate cupcakes use Mexican chocolate, which has a bit of cinnamon in it. I also add in a pinch of cayenne pepper for a tiny bit of heat (optional, of course), to give these cupcakes a twist on devil’s food.

  • Colorful – Topped with multi-colored sprinkles and sugar skull decorations, they are bright and festive.
  • Quick and easy – The cupcake batter is made in a sauce pan and no mixer is required.
  • Unique – Swapping in Mexican chocolate and chili makes these cupcakes unique and delicious.
Disney's Coco movie cupcakes decorated with marigolds and sugar skulls.

Day of the dead cupcakes

Deep, dark chocolate cupcakes with the distinct flavor of Mexican chocolate and the tiniest hint of heat. That sums up the flavor of this recipe.

What makes these cupcakes unique is the chocolate. Mexican chocolate is sold in round tablets that are scored in wedges (like a pie). Because it has sugar in the chocolate, you can melt it into hot milk for “instant” Mexican hot chocolate.

Decorated with a simple buttercream frosting, they are topped with colorful sprinkles and small sugar skull decorations.

Day of the dead cupcakes in front of a black background.

What is Día de los Muertos?

Since the Disney movie “Coco” came out, I think people have a better understanding that this holiday is not the Mexican version of Halloween – It is a time to remember friends and family who have passed on. In Mexico, people go to the cemeteries to give the departed offerings of their favorite things.

They’ll often leave food and drinks, candles, photos and little trinkets. It may sound a bit morbid, but it’s quite the opposite. It’s a celebration of life and it’s full of color, which is why I wanted to share these Day of the Dead cupcakes with you.

Skulls are often decorated with marigolds, so I gave my cupcakes a floral flair. Everything is edible, even the flowers. The flowers are of course optional, but I love how they look on this cupcake and they give it an authentic feel.

Ingredients

This recipe does use one special ingredient, but it is available at many grocery stores: Mexican chocolate.

  • All-purpose flour – Weighing your flour is the most accurate way to measure. I highly recommend using a scale to measure flour. 
  • Butter – Use unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt in your baked goods.
  • Mexican chocolate – Sold in round tablets, and scored like a pie so you can break them apart, this chocolate contains cinnamon.
    • Substitution: Use a dark chocolate candy bar (72% is perfect) + a pinch of cinnamon.
  • Cocoa powder – I use Cacao Barry. It is a Dutch-process cocoa powder. It is hands down better than anything I’ve ever had from the grocery store.
    • Substitution: Any Dutch-process cocoa powder.
  • Vanilla – Gives baked goods that familiar flavor we all love.
  • Brown sugar – It has a deeper flavor than regular sugar, thanks to molasses. Light or dark will work.
  • Eggs – Provide moisture and structure to the dough.
  • Salt – All baked goods need salt.
  • Baking soda – Baking soda helps the cupcakes rise.
  • Cayenne (optional) – Chili pepper gives the cupcakes a tiny bit of heat.
  • Black coffee (not pictured) – Coffee brings out the chocolate flavor.

How to make

Here’s a quick summary of how to make day of the dead cupcakes. Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the full recipe. 

Step by step photos showing how to make day of the dead cupcakes.
  1. Melt – Combine butter and coffee in a sauce pan, and stir until melted.
  2. Combine – Sift dry ingredients into wet ingredients and whisk together.
  3. Portion – Use a scoop to portion out cupcake batter to ensure they are uniform in size and bake at the same rate.
  4. Bake – Bake cupcakes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out with a few crumbs attached.
Chocolate cupcake batter in lined muffin pan ready for the oven.

It is important not to overfill the cupcake liners. You want to fill them 2/3 full, otherwise they will overflow. Once the cupcakes have cooled in the tin, remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Make the buttercream frosting while the cupcakes are cooling. Use a colorful sprinkle mix to decorate the cupcakes, then top with an edible sugar skull decoration.

Chocolate cupcakes on cooling rack in front of a white background.

The method for this recipe was inspired by Stella Parks. I updated this recipe from 2019 and used her method for a one bowl cake. In doing so, this recipe became even easier to make.

Day of the dead cupcakes FAQ’s

What makes Mexican chocolate different?

Mexican chocolate has cinnamon in it, which gives it a really nice flavor and makes these Mexican chocolate cupcakes extra delicious.

How long will the cupcakes stay fresh?

Store them covered at room temperature for a couple of days.

Can I freeze them?

Yes. You can freeze both the cupcakes and the buttercream for up to 3 months. Store in an airtight container.

Overhead view of day of the dead chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles and sugar skull decorations.

Variations and substitutions

  • Spicy – Add in a pinch of chipotle or ancho chili powder to give it an extra spicy, smoky kick.
  • Extra dark – Swap out the Mexican chocolate for dark chocolate. I like a 72% chocolate bar.

Serving suggestions

For a Mexican-themed Halloween party, here are a few delicious recipes to complete your menu.

Sugar skull cupcakes for día de los muertos on a black background.

Helpful tools and equipment

  • This scoop will give you the perfect sized cupcake. I use it for portioning cupcake and muffin batter, cookie dough, etc.
  • A mini offset spatula is the perfect tool to remove cupcakes from the pan to the cooling rack.

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Day of the Dead Cupcakes

Cheryl Bennett
Day of the dead cupcakes are bright, colorful and so chocolaty.
4.84 from 18 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling Time 30 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Desserts
Cuisine American
Servings 12 cupcakes
Calories 564 kcal

Ingredients
  

For the Cupcakes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter // 113g // 4 ounces
  • 1/2 cup black coffee // 100ml
  • 1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder // 28g
  • 2 1/2 ounces Mexican chocolate 3/4 tablet // 70g, roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar // 150g // 5.3 ounces
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt reduce by half if using table salt
  • 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour // 85g // 3 ounces
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper optional

Buttercream

  • 3 sticks butter unsalted, room temperature // 340g
  • 4 cups powdered sugar // 450g
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. milk or cream
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla

Decorations

  • sprinkles
  • sugar skulls

Instructions
 

  • Make Cupcakes
  • Preheat oven to 350°F // 180°C, and fill cupcake pans with paper liners.
  • In a medium sauce pan, combine butter and coffee over low heat. When butter has melted, remove from heat and add cocoa powder and chopped Mexican chocolate. Whisk until smooth and chocolate has melted.
  • Add brown sugar, vanilla and salt, whisk to combine, then add whole eggs, plus yolk, and whisk again.
  • Sift in the flour, baking soda and cayenne (if using). Whisk thoroughly to combine.
  • Using a scoop, portion cupcake batter in liners. Do not fill more than 2/3 full. *See note
  • Bake for 15 minutes, A tester inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out with a few crumbs attached to it.
  • Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • While cupcakes are cooling, make buttercream.
  • Make Buttercream & decorate cupcakes
  • Combine butter and half of the powdered sugar in a medium bowl.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat together until combined, then slowly add the remaining sugar. 
  • Add salt, milk and vanilla. Beat for 4 – 5 minutes until very fluffy.
  • Use a piping bag fitted with a tip or a small knife to frost the cupcakes.
  • Decorate with sprinkles and edible sugar skulls.

Notes

Mexican chocolate substitute: to replicate the flavor of Mexican chocolate, use 72% chocolate bar, plus a pinch of ground cinnamon.
Filling cupcake pan: I used a 2 oz. scoop (1/4 cup) to fill the cupcake papers with batter. Do not overfill. They pan should be about 2/3 full. More than that will result in your cupcakes overflowing.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 564kcalCarbohydrates: 61gProtein: 3gFat: 35gSaturated Fat: 21gPolyunsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 132mgSodium: 281mgFiber: 1gSugar: 53g
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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Thanks for stopping by! Have a delicious day 🙂

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Originally published 9/14/19, most recent update 10/25/23.

21 Comments

  1. Amazingly delicious!! Rave reviews when I served them at a Halloween party last weekend. Loved the texture of the cake. Question-can I substitute bittersweet chocolate for the Mexican chocolate?

    1. Thank you so much, Patricia!!! You can absolutely substitute bittersweet chocolate for the Mexican chocolate. You could even use semi-sweet 🙂

  2. Hello! These cupcakes are beautiful, where can i get the exact sprinkles you used? I will be making these for sure.

  3. Hi! These look so awesome! I am getting a mold to make the sugar skulls but what is the best recipe to use to make the skulls and then how do you get the decorations on the skulls to look so perfect? What is best to use to decorate them?

  4. I am wondering if I make these the day before serving & frost and decorate them with the sugar skulls as pictured, will the skulls get soggy? Appreciate your advice & thanks for a great recipe!

    1. Hi Liz, You can frost the cupcakes, but just to be on the safe side, I would add the decorations just before serving… especially if you plan to refrigerate, because the fridge will make them soggy.

4.84 from 18 votes (14 ratings without comment)

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