Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes (Oil-free)


People often make vegan baking seem like some dark art that you have to be a wizard to throw down.  Bakeries often over charge for their vegan cakes as if they have also placed some investment in this mythology.  This deceptively simple recipe will have your friends and family begging for more.  The inclusion of some whole food ingredients not only make this tastier but also filling, which may feel oddly satisfying.  If you dare to read this entire post, you will see that baking is all about technique.  The devil is in the details people.

I swear, box cake mixes ruined my ability to make cakes from scratch for my entire life until about a year ago.  Whatever they put in those box mixes, they do a great job at making cake baking pretty fool proof.  Your box cake making skills don't translate so well to actual cake making.  I have had a few spongy dense disasters, and a lot of cakes that were just "kind of good" before I finally started to get it right.  Before reading further, I'd recommend reading through these cake baking tips so you can start impressing your friends with your baking skills.

In case you didn't know, I am actually a chemist by training.  I've heard rumor that chemists made good chefs, but recently I've been realizing that it's not just because we are good recipe followers... 

Baking Tips

If you are already a pro cake baker, feel free to skip this section and go right to the ingredients.

  1. Pre-heat the oven, but I mean really let it heat up and equilibrate (I had to use at least one science word).  Once your oven tells you it's preheated, let it sit for another 10-15 minutes to let all the components heat up to the same temperature.  This helps to ensure that you have even heating throughout the oven.  That 10-15 extra minutes is good for another reason though.  I have used a lot of state of the art heating equipment throughout my science career and I have noticed one thing... Almost every time I set an instrument to heat up, the heating element overshoots the setting and after it does that it takes a little time for the temperature to come back down to where it's supposed to be.  Low and behold, kitchen equipment does the same thing!  My waffle griddle, pancake griddle, and oven all do the same.  The temperature ramps significantly to get it hot, overshoots the desired temperature and then comes back down.  If you try to use the oven too early, when it's too hot, you may end up with a cake with a top that's burnt before the inside has cooked through.
  2. Buy an oven thermometer.  Have you ever checked that your oven temperature is what it claims to be?  Oven temperature dials are often incorrect, so it is important to check.  These handy thermometers are usually very cheap.
  3. The best way to line a cake pan is to spray the entire pan with cooking spray, then take a paper towel and rub the bottom and sides to wipe off the excess.  You can also use vegan butter by applying with a paper towel.  Then, take about 2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and dust it around the entire pan, tap the excess into the sink or trashcan.  Finally, cut out a circle of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of the cake pan.   To ensure that the parchment circle is the right size, put the pan on top of the parchment paper and use a pencil to trace the outline.  After that, use scissors and cut slightly inside your pencil mark.  The final result should not have any pencil markings, and fit perfectly inside the bottom of the pan.  You do not need to apply any butter or oil to this.  This method of lining pans is fool proof, every time I make a cake it just falls right out when I turn the pan over with no sticking. Cupcake liners for cupcakes eliminate the need for any additional oil or lubrication, simply place the liner in the cupcake pan and add the batter to that
  4. Six months after opening your baking powder, it's garbage.  If you are not sure how long your baking powder has been sitting around, just get a new tin to be safe.  Buy small tins and keep a lot of unopened extras in your cabinet.  If the baking powder is inactive, your cake will not rise.
  5. Thoroughly mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients before combining.  The minute that you combine the wet/dry ingredients, the baking powder starts to activate so do not mix until you are absolutely ready to put this into the oven.
  6. Do not over mix the batter, this will start to develop the gluten and make your cake chewy.  Combine the ingredients and whisk briefly.  the lumps should work themselves out fairly quickly.  It is ok to have lumps though, they will work themselves out after being heated.
  7. Do not open the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking or risk deflating your cake.

Recipe type: Dessert

Servings: 16-24 cupcakes (Depends how much you fill up each cupcake tin)
Preparation Time: 50 mins
Tags: Vegan, oil-free


  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel or sea salt - If you have never tried the fancy French salt called fleur de sel in dessert recipes I recommend it.  You can taste the difference!
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder or 1/4 tsp vanilla extract - Vanilla powder has a very nice vanilla flavor compared to extracts. I like to purchase this on Amazon, lasts a long time.
  • 1 and 1/4 cups almond milk, home made if you can but store bought is okay
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce


  1. Set oven to 350F, let preheat for 20-30 minutes

  2. Thoroughly whisk flour and baking powder (dry ingredients) together in a bowl.  For best results, whisk this through a fine mesh sieve.


  3. In a food processor or separate bowl with a hand mixer (or mix by hand), combine and process the wet ingredients (almond milk, peanut butter, applesauce, vanilla) as well as the cocoa powder, brown sugar, and sea salt.  Process until smooth.

  4. Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners.  I only have one cupcake pan so I will typically fill use one cupcake pan and make an additional small cake in a 4 inch spring-form pan with the left over batter.  See notes above for more information about lining cake pans.  Keep in mind that the small cake will take about 15 minutes longer to bake.

  5. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and fold over batter until well incorporated.  The batter should be thick, but saturated.  You will need to use a spoon and your finger to add the batter to the cupcake tins.

  6. Spoon batter into cupcake pans.  Fill up the cupcake tins about 1/2 to 2/3 full.  I like to do 2/3 full so I have large round cupcakes, but the choice is yours.

  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean

  8. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then finish cooling on a wire rack

Do not frost cupcakes until cooled completely, I often will let these sit overnight before frosting.

Store cupcakes in a air-tight plastic container to ensure they stay fresh and moist!



This cashew based frosting is delicious!

Cashew Maple Frosting


  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup coconut butter - You can find this in the health section by the oils, do not confuse this with coconut oil.
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla powder


  1. In a blender or food processor, blend ingredients until smooth.*
  2. Chill in refrigerator before frosting cupcakes.

*If not using a high powered blender, like a Vitamix, try soaking the cashews for at least 4 hours, preferably 8 hours or oevernight.  If using a food processor, you must soak the cashews first.  Process until smooth, this may take up to 10-15 minutes.

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