Monday, January 13, 2014

Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting (and homemade salted caramel sauce!)

 Figuring out what to bake for a big group can be tricky. Some people like something simple, light and fruity; other people require a serious dose of chocolate. A couple of weeks ago, I put together a little cupcake display for a party, and I think I got the balance down pretty well! The bottom tier was a light red velvet cupcake with tangy cream cheese frosting (recipe here). For the top two tiers, I went with something kind of over-the-top but wonderfully indulgent and delicious. Tender chocolatey cupcakes are topped with a light and fluffy salted caramel frosting - it's all drizzled with golden-brown salted caramel sauce and topped off with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt.
The salt isn't overwhelming, and it's the perfect balance to the caramel and chocolate. Definitely take the time to make the sauce at home - it's better than anything store-bought. These are a crowd-pleaser for sure, and I have a few friends in mind who will definitely be getting birthday boxes of these sometime soon!
Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

for the cupcakes:
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

for the salted caramel frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup salted caramel sauce (recipe below)
4 cups powdered sugar

to garnish:
leftover salted caramel sauce
fleur de sel (or other flaky sea salt)

Make the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 standard-size, 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Combine the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth, and the butter is completely melted. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is cool, about 4-5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture, beating until smooth.
Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix each addition until just incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting:
Beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. Pour in the salted caramel and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to medium-low and slowly add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it has all been incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
To finish, pipe frosting onto the top of each cupcake (or use an offset spatula to spread the frosting), drizzle with some additional salted caramel sauce, and sprinkle with a pinch of fleur de del.
-makes 20-24 cupcakes

Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce

2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)

Add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy saucepan, with a capacity of at least 2 or 3 quarts. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. You'll see that the sugar will begin to form clumps, but that's okay; just keep whisking, and as it continues to cook, they will melt back down.
Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.
Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. Be very careful not to burn it - this can happen in a matter of seconds!
Once the caramel is golden-brown, add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will bubble up like crazy again.
Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate.
Set the sauce aside to cool for 10-15 minutes and then pour into a glass jar and let cool to room temperature. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; warm up before using.
-makes about 2 cups of salt
Note: Brown Eyed Baker has a wonderful tutorial on making the sauce; my one note is that mine was done long before reaching 350 F. 

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