Marbled Orange Espresso Cupcakes | Baking Recipe

These marbled cupcakes are sure to impress — no mixer required! Make the separate orange and espresso batters then swirl in the cupcake tins to create the gorgeous marbled effect. Top with the orange espresso buttercream for the perfect treat for the adventurous dessert fanatic in your life — or you know, just to have around as a quick snack!

A marbled orange espresso cupcake before baking.
A cupcake before baking — look at those swirls!

To best preserve the individual flavors, I’ve created two separate cake batters for these cupcakes; the orange and the espresso. The two are then playfully layered into cupcake tins and baked.

In order to keep this as simple as possible, no mixer is involved for the creation of the cake. Get two large bowls side by side and make your batter at the same time.

The recipe may look intimidating but I promise you can do it! As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.

The cake recipe is DAIRY FREE! No milk or butter used in the making of the cake. For a simple dairy-free swap in the buttercream, follow these replacements:

  • Use dairy-free or vegan butter.
  • Instead of heavy cream, use 2 tablespoons of your favorite dairy free milk, vanilla coffee creamer, or coconut cream.

Orange and Espresso: Delicious Flavor Combination

Initially, perhaps, this flavor combination seems counterintuitive. After all, chasing orange juice with espresso is a bitter experience. However, when layered with sugar in fluffy cupcake form, these flavors complement each other beautifully.

After much recipe testing, I perfected the amount of orange and espresso in each batter so that their true flavors come through but do not overpower one another. Additionally, these cupcakes are sweet which helps blend the two flavors together in a delicious way!

The espresso batter includes a dash of cocoa powder. This helps to round out the deep, bitter flavor of the espresso and complements the fresh orange zest and juice in the orange batter.

The buttercream frosting is a key component of this dessert, really tying the orange and espresso together in a smooth, creamy finish. I highly recommend taking the time to make the buttercream.

If you MUST skip the process of making the frosting, go for a vanilla store-bought, and mix in the orange zest, orange flavor and instant espresso as directed in the buttercream recipe.

Baked Marbled Orange Espresso Cupcakes
The end result of the marbling technique before frosting.

Orange and Espresso: Special Ingredients

To truly bring out the orange and espresso flavor in these cupcakes, we enlist the help of some special ingredients.

For the orange batter, use fresh, ripe oranges. You’ll zest and juice these oranges to use in the batter, and reserve some zest for use in the buttercream frosting.

In the espresso cupcakes, I chose to use instant espresso. It’s a great ingredient to have on hand for baking, as you can use it in the plain powdered form to incorporate into other cakes, frosting, ice cream or cookies or use the powder to brew just as much espresso as you need for your recipe. Here’s a link to my favorite brand of instant espresso, pictured below.

Medagalia D'Oro Instant Espresso

Marbled Cupcake Technique

What makes these cupcakes so fun and pretty to look at is the marbling technique. The natural colors of the orange and espresso come through in each batter, so you wind up with one light orange batter and a nice tan batter for the espresso. By making the batters separately and marbling them in the cupcake tin, it results in a gorgeous marbled cupcake!

Cake Mix in Two Separate Bowls. Layer and Swirl with Toothpick!

How you marble and layer the separate cake batters is entirely up to you. There truly is no wrong way to do this. Use small spoons to scoop different layers into the cupcake tin, then use a toothpick to swirl the colors together. For a more hands-on tutorial, check out this video from Wilton. The recipe they use utilizes food coloring, which you don’t need when using this recipe. However, its a good video of how the marbling process actually looks and may help if you are feeling unsure about the process.

Marbled Orange Espresso Cupcakes

By Lauren Harvey + August 14 2020

To keep the recipe as streamlined as possible, I’ve laid out step-by-step instructions to:

  1. Prepare the espresso batter
  2. Prepare the orange batter
  3. Combine the batters to form marbled cupcakes
  4. Prepare the frosting

Each ingredient list is included before the instructions for that stage of the recipe. For a full and complete list of needed ingredients and kitchen utensils, see the recipe notes at the end.

Happy baking!

Espresso Batter Ingredients

  • ¼ cup water with 2 teaspoons espresso
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon instant espresso
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoon canola oil

Espresso Cake Batter

  1. Prepare the espresso. Stir 2 teaspoons instant espresso into warm water until fully dissolved. Set aside.
  • Combine dry ingredients. In a clean bowl, sift flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Add in the salt and sugar and ½ teaspoon instant espresso. Whisk gently to combine.     
  • Combine the wet ingredients. In a different clean bowl, add the egg, canola oil, vanilla and espresso. Whisk to combine.    
  • Mix the batter. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk well to combine. Set aside until ready to use. If you prefer, you can pop this bowl into the fridge while you prepare the orange cake batter.

Orange Cake Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon orange emulsion
  • 1 ½ teaspoons orange zest
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil

Orange Cake Batter

  1. Prepare the oranges. Zest two oranges into a small bowl, avoiding the white pith. In a separate small bowl or cup, juice both oranges.
  • Combine the dry ingredients. In a clean bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Whisk gently to combine.
  • Combine the wet ingredients. In a separate clean bowl, add the egg, canola oil, vanilla, orange juice, orange zest and orange emulsion. Whisk to combine.
  • Mix the batter. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk well to combine.

Make the Cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  • Prepare your cupcake pan. Using paper or silicone liners, line one full-size cupcake pan.
  • Layer the batter. Using two small spoons, scoop a bit of the orange batter into the bottom of the cupcake tins, then add some espresso, alternating however you’d like. This is the fun part! Get creative and layer however you’d like. Stop filling the cups when it reaches about halfway.
  • Marble the batter. Using a toothpick, swirl the batters together in fun and interesting patterns. There’s really no wrong way to do this, so have fun with it and experiment freely.
  • Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are firm and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

Buttercream Ingredients

  • 1 ½ sticks (1 ½ cup) unsalted, softened butter
  • 2 ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant espresso
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • ½ tsp orange emulsion

Prepare the Buttercream

  1. Beat the butter. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes. Using room temperature butter will help speed up this process.
  • Incorporate powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, waiting until fully combined before adding more.
  • Add salt and vanilla. Once all the powdered sugar is mixed in, add the salt and vanilla extract. At this point, scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is fully combined.
  • Add the whipping cream. Pour the whipping cream in a slow, steady stream while beating the buttercream.
  • Add espresso powder, orange zest and orange emulsion. If you prefer your buttercream to be plain vanilla flavor, you can skip this step. To get the full orange espresso flavor, add the espresso powder, orange zest and orange emulsion, mixing until fully combined.
  • Prep your piping bag. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can cut one corner off a Ziploc bag and use it to pipe, or simply spread the frosting onto the cupcakes with a butter knife.
  • Frost the cupcakes. Once the cupcakes have cooled fully, frost your cupcakes however you’d like. Incorporate some food dye into the buttercream for an extra burst of color!

Recipe Notes

What You’ll Need for the Cupcakes:

  • Instant espresso
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 2 whole oranges (for their juice and zest)
  • Orange emulsion
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt
  • Heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  •  ¼ cup canola oil
  • Clean bowls (3-4 medium/large size; 2 small size)
  • Clean coffee mug to brew espresso
  • Zester
  • Whisk
  • Spatula
  • Cupcake tin
  • Cupcake liners
  • Two small silverware spoons
  • Stand or hand mixer (for the buttercream frosting)

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