Monday, January 16, 2012

Salted Caramel Cupcakes

I love caramel.  I mean, I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVEEEE caramel.  I love the fact that I can make my own caramel now and it tastes so much better than store-bought caramel-- not that I would ever turn up my nose at the store-bought stuff.  Caramel can be scary to make, though.  I have only ever made caramel using the "wet" method, where you add water to the sugar as you initially cook it.  The "dry" method still freaks me out-- cooking just sugar in a pot on the stove?  To me, that sounds like a recipe for disaster, burnt sugar, and a ruined pot.  This caramel, however, is YUM.  My husband almost made himself sick eating the leftover caramel out of the pot.  You really should try it-- people freak when they find out you can make caramel. Everyone is Very Impressed with that skill.

I made my own caramel for these, obviously-- for the filling and the icing.  I was also able to use the fleur de sel that I got for Christmas, which was fun.  These are super-good cupcakes.  I was impressed that the cake isn't too heavy-- it's nice and light, so it doesn't overpower the other flavors-- and you really can taste the salt in the caramel filling and the icing, especially on day two.  I will tell you that next time I make these, I will use foil liners-- the caramel makes the already-moist cupcake even more moist on the bottom (you can see it a little bit in the first picture). 

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes
All recipes from 20Something Cupcakes
Makes 20-24 cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk*
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water

*I very rarely buy buttermilk, mostly because I know I won't use it all.  If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can make your own by adding 1 Tbsp vinegar to 1 cup milk.  It will curdle and look gross and perfectly substitute for buttermilk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans.  In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk these dry ingredients until combined.  With mixer on low speed, add the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and water.  Beat until combined.  NOTE:  This batter is super-thin.  I was really worried-- I thought I had messed it up when I first mixed it.  From this point, the original recipe says to "spoon the batter" into the cupcake liners, but I couldn't do that-- the batter was too thin.  Instead, I poured it into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup and literally poured the batter into the liners.  I would suggest that you do that rather than trying to spoon it in.  Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes, or until cake tester (toothpick) inserted comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pans on wire racks; after 10 minutes, remove from pans to continue cooling.  When cool to the touch, core each cupcake (instructions here). 

Salted Caramel
(For filling and icing)

2 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 Tbsp light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 tsp flaked sea salt-- use fleur de sel, if you have it

NOTE:  Caramel is weird and finicky.  I will give you the original recipe here, as well as my experiences making this particular recipe. 

Heat sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until syrup is clear. Clip a candy thermometer to the side and stop stirring.
(My syrup did not get clear.  When the syrup began to boil, I stopped stirring.  Once it boiled for a few minutes, then it got clear.  Also, I do not own a candy thermometer.  You don't need it to make caramel.)

Cook until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. Boil, gently swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is caramelized and just reaches 360°F.
(I don't wash down the sides of my saucepan.  You will need to watch your caramel carefully-- plan to devote about 10-15 minutes to hanging over the stove, watching it boil.  When the mixture becomes a nice amber color, then it's done.  Again, I would recommend that you don't leave your caramel unattended.  It will burn very quickly!  Also, don't get freaked out and take it off too early-- let it get to the amber color.)

Once your caramel is amber in color, remove from heat and slowly pour in cream; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in sea salt.
(Pour in the cream slowly and carefully!  Do not pour it in all at once- your caramel will seize and harden.  Also, please be careful-- the caramel gets very angry and spits and bubbles and hisses when you pour the cream in.  Just keep stirring and slowly adding the cream.)

Let the caramel cool for 15-20 minutes, then fill each cored cupcake with caramel.  Sprinkle a few flakes of fleur de sel on top the caramel before replacing the cupcake top.

Salted Caramel Buttercream
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup Crisco (or you can substitute another stick of butter here)
1/2 tsp flaked sea salt/fleur de sel
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/2- 3/4 cup caramel (from above)

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, Crisco, and sea salt until combined.  Add the vanilla extract and beat until absorbed.  Next, add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, beating until absorbed-- scrape the sides of the bowl after each addition.  (I used about 3.5 cups.)  Scrape the bowl again and add the half cup of caramel-- beat until incorporated.  If you want a more intense caramel flavor, add more, beating each addition until well-combined.  If your frosting seems soft, you can refrigerate it until it sets-- the caramel may make it soft, especially if it was warm when added. 

Using a pasrty bag with a tip (I used a large start tip) or a ziploc with the corner cut off, frost each cupcake.  Garnish each cupcake with a few flakes of the sea salt.  Store in a covered container at room temperature.

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