A dark and scary version of red velvet cupcakes is the perfect treat for Halloween. The secret to the black-as-night batter isn't food coloring, but black cocoa powder—and it's completely dye free! The cocoa has been processed with an alkaline solution, making it darker in color and producing a smooth, intense chocolate flavor.
For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, oil, sour cream, egg, espresso powder and vanilla in another large bowl.
Add the flour mixture to the buttermilk mixture and whisk until just incorporated. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 16 to 18 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the cupcakes and let cool completely on a wire rack, about 30 minutes.
For the frosting: Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Spread the frosting on top of the cooled cupcakes then dust with a little black cocoa powder.
When measuring flour, we spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.)