Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Caramel Cupcakes

As I mentioned in the Hummingbird Cake post, when my aunt was planning the wedding showers for both my sister (who is now a Mrs! Go see the gorgeous photos!), and my cousin she asked for my help with the cakes.  When her & I were brainstorming cake ideas and flavors, my sister’s was pretty easy to choose, because the theme my aunt chose was “Tropical”.  But for my cousin’s shower, she had chosen a more autumnal color palatte and theme, and wanted to focus on a theme of “Sunflowers”.  I instantly suggested cupcakes decorated like Sunflowers, a la Martha Stewart Cupcakes Cookbook.  However, a flavor didn’t instantly come to me.  So, I asked the bride-to-be.  I emailed something along the lines of “What flavor do you want?  Chocolate, yellow cake, white cake, caramel….???”  She chose caramel.  So off I went searching for a recipe.  I assumed there was one in Martha’s Cupcakes book.

Here’s a little helpful hint.  In case you ever offer to make cupcakes, and then offer up flavor suggestions, it might be a good idea to have ACTUAL RECIPES to back up those flavor options!  After I discovered Martha didn’t have a recipe, I turned to another renowned baker, Dorie Greenspan.  Well, Baking: From My Home to Yours didn’t have a caramel cake recipe either!  So, to the internet I go….

I found two recipes.  The first recipe I tried, the caramel begins with just dry sugar heated in a pan.  I don’t know why I even attempted that recipe.  EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. I’ve tried a recipe for homemade caramel that begins this way, it ends badly.  My result from that caramel effort was rock hard chunks of sugar.  I decided to give the second recipe from the blog Use Real Butter a try.  Apparently this was from a previous “Daring Bakers” challenge.

This cake was a success!  The flavor was rich & sweet; and the kosher salt was a surprise that would come through in occasional bites.  Wow.  This was such an intensly delicious flavor!  I found this method of making the caramel syrup just about the simplest I’ve ever attempted.  You do have to keep an eye on it of course, and just wait for that amber color.  When you pour in the water you need to be careful.  But it’s still nearly fool-proof.

When it came time to do the frosting and decoration, I must admit, I was very intimidated.  I am a slow (and unsteady) decorator.  Plus I didn’t even have the necessary frosting tools to frost them.  This is where I got lucky.  The wonderfully talented Lindsay of Love & Olive Oil mentioned she had that Friday night alone because her husband was going out to a show.  I immediately offered my company, and my unfrosted cupcakes.  She was kind enough to assist me in the decorating.  And, she even had some AMAZING caramel extract to add to the frosting that really brought the taste over the top delicious!  Plus, decorating cupcakes is much faster when there is help!  Thanks again Lindsay!

As far as frosting them went, we discovered that we weren’t quite skilled enough to make them perfect, but when viewed in a group, cohesion helps!  The cupcakes looked really cute, and weren’t as difficult as I imagined.


Caramel Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

Cake recipe adapted from Shuna Fish Lydon on Bay Area Bites, as seen on Use Real Butter
Frosting adapted from Love & Olive Oil
Decorating instructions adapted from Martha Stewart
Yields: 18 Cupcakes


Caramel Cake
10 tbsps unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup caramel syrup (see below)
2 eggs, room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk, room temperature

Caramel Syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)

1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1/4 cup shortening (to help stabilize it in the HOT August heat!)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar (more or less for your tastes)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon caramel extract (vanilla could be substituted)

Optional ingredients & tools to decorate like sunflowers:
Mini chocolate chips
gel food coloring yellow & golden
pastry bag
small leaf pastry tip


Preheat oven to 350F. Line cupcake tray with cupcake liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform.

Portion batter into prepared cupcake pan. (I used my large Pampered Chef scoop to help make the portions the same.) Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 8-10 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. (My oven is crazy, and all over the place, so I just keep a close eye on them.) Bake until a skewer or toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before icing. Cupcakes will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.} Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Cream butter until smooth and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat until combined. Mix in extract and cream. Continue adding sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition (depending on the temperature of your butter, you may need more or less sugar/cream to achieve the proper consistency). Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Starting at edge of an unfrosted cupcake, pipe 3 to 4 circles of petals with buttercream, working inward and overlapping, leaving center empty. Fill center with mini chocolate chips.

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