I love to bake but it’s something that I have not been able to do nearly as frequently since I gave up my 9-5 and transitioned into a career in the fitness industry. It’s not that I can’t do it from a nutrition and calories perspective but more from a there is not time and my schedule is crazy perspective. I really, really, really love the flexibility that my job offers but it leaves me with a lot of random hours here and there to get things done and not the blocks of time that I need to really get busy and creative in the kitchen.
When I do get those blocks of time I often wander into the kitchen, make a cup of tea and cook or bake. Recently, I wanted to make cupcakes and went to my Pinterest board in search of inspiration. I saw a Pin for salted caramel frosting and my decision was made – chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel frosting.
I have always gravitated towards salting my baked goods a little more than recipes call for so I have been absolutely loving the “salted everything” trend that we’ve been in for quite some time now. Growing up, my dad always baked the best chocolate chip cookies with just the right contrast of salty and sweet. I came to find out years later that it was due to him baking with salted butter. I learned that the hard way. I was baking a cake for my grandmother’s 80th birthday and sampled the batter. I remarked to my family that it seemed so salty. I knew I hadn’t used more salt than the recipe called for and had made the cake several times before. I finally figured out that it was because my dad gave me salted butter to use in the recipe. We had a long debate over whether salted butter was always the right thing to use for baking. For the record, it is not (at least in my opinion…as expected, there was no winner in our debate). Salted strawberry cake is no bueno.
Back to present day. I wanted to try a new chocolate cake recipe. I always use the Hershey’s Perfect Chocolate Cake but of course I can’t leave good enough alone and I’m glad I didn’t. After reading great things about Ina Garten’s “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake” recipe on food blogs for years, I finally decided to give it a go. It was awesome and turned out better than I could have hoped. It’s not too different than the Hershey’s recipe but I think what really takes this cake recipe over the edge is the use of hot black coffee in the batter. It adds so much depth to the chocolate cake.
And the salted caramel frosting…well that was a bit of a learning experience. I really wanted to make the salted caramel homemade. The first recipe that I tried resulted in a burnt sugar mess in my pan and all in my sink. I was a little shocked by the huge fail and momentarily considered paying $15 for a jar of salted caramel at Williams-Sonoma before getting a grip and realizing that was neither financially smart or particularly daring of me. Back in the kitchen I went to attempt another recipe and it turned out perfectly. I’m so glad that I didn’t give up.
The final result was one of the best cupcakes I have ever baked. I shared them with some friends who agreed that they were pretty amazing. The best part was having leftover salted caramel sauce in the fridge to use on ice cream, to eat by the spoonful and I even baked it into a batch of salted fudge brownies last week. Yum.
Of course I’m going to share the recipe with you! Note, I halved the recipe below to make 12 cupcakes instead of 24 (and I had more salted caramel sauce leftover!).
Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting
(Recipe source Food Network for the chocolate cupcakes, Brown Eyed Baker for the Salted Caramel Sauce and I kind of winged the frosting based on multiple recipes)
FOR THE CUPCAKES
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder (I used a combination of Ghiradelli and Hershey’s Special Dark)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
FOR THE SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE (can skip this and use store bought)
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)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (stick and a half)
8 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup salted caramel (homemade or store bought)
FOR THE CUPCAKES
Preheat oven to 350 and line 24 muffin tins.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or use a hand mixer and beat on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture. Continue mixing on low and add the coffee. Mix until just combined and scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake for 18 to 22 minutes minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for a few minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
FOR THE SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE
Place sugar in the bottom of a medium-sized heavy saucepan and place heat on medium-high. Whisk the sugar frequently as it begins to melt. It will eventually completely liquidize.
Once all of the sugar has melted and become liquid, stop mixing and move to a just swirling the pan occasionally while the sugar continues to cook. Keep doing this until the sugar is a deep amber color and has a slight toasted aroma. WARNING – the sugar can burn really easily at this point (I learned this the hard way) so move on with the recipe once it’s close to this color. If you happen to have a candy thermometer or an instant read, the temperature should be 350 degrees.
When the sugar reaches 350 degrees or the color you’re looking for, add the butter all at once. The caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Use your whisk again and whisk butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. The mixture will bubble again. Whisk until cream has been incorporated and sauce is smooth. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to mix in well. Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into a glass jar or heavyweight plastic container and let cool to room temperature. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks but warm the sauce before using.
FOR THE FROSTING
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachement, beat together butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and then slowly start adding the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, until desired consistency has been reached. Reduce speed to low and mix in salted caramel. You may want to add a tad more powdered sugar at this point to thicken but it’s all dependent on your taste/consistency preferences. Watch out, this frosting is addicting!
Yield: 24 cupcakes