Cupcakes with salted caramel

I came up with the recipe for this buttercream because I saw that a Seattle cupcake shop (which shall remain unnamed, but those of you who know me will know which one I’m talking about) had a salted caramel cupcake as a recently added flavor. Now, I find their cupcakes generally too sweet, and it has to do with that powdered-sugar buttercream that I can’t swallow. I’m not sure how that would fly with caramel on top of all that sugar (remember, caramel is sugar too, right?) so, curious, I set out to do my own.
I tried to do a coconut cupcake because I love coconut, but the cake came out dry, so I’m still working on it. The recipe I started with was Ina Garten’s coconut cupcakes, but I’m not so big on those because I find sweetened coconut flakes kinda vile. I tried to replace it with regular coconut, but it didn’t turn out quite right, so I’ll have to do some more experimenting in this area (and I’m sure my family won’t want to ever see another coconut cupcake, ever.) The next time, I did a standard vanilla cupcake and it tasted really nice with the caramel.

This uses a base of Swiss meringue buttercream with the caramel mixed in at the end. It is light and fluffy, but has good caramel flavor. For the caramel I added salt (I call it ‘salted caramel’ even though I always add salt to the caramel I make for say, leche flan). Sprinkle the cupcakes with some fleur de sel at the end and it will totally elevate the frosting to the next level.

Vanilla cupcakes (my go-to recipe is here)
makes 12 cupcakes
Note: I prefer to grease and flour muffin tins because I like eating cupcakes where I don’t have to peel off the wrapper, but the recipe does not change if you want to use cupcake papers.

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the oven rack in the middle position. Grease and flour a 12-cup muffin tin.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light colored and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the egg, egg yolks and vanilla and beat at medium speed until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Add the sour cream and beat until incorporated.
  6. Add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove and cool to room temperature on a rack, about 45 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the frosting of your choice.

Salted Caramel Buttercream
makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes

For the caramel:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
pinch sea salt

  1. Add the sugar to a small saucepan and pour the water over it. With the heat on low, swirl the pan around until the sugar has nearly dissolved. Be careful not to let it boil — if it starts getting too hot, remove it from the burner for a few seconds, continuing to swirl.
  2. Once the sugar has mostly dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover it immediately and leave on boil for 2 minutes.
  3. Uncover and continue swirling the mixture until it becomes dark amber. (Be careful — you want it to be dark, but it can go from dark to burning in seconds.) Take it off the heat immediately.
  4. Slowly pour in the cream, stirring with a whisk. Again, be careful as the caramel will start splattering, and will splatter even more if you add the cream too fast. Whisk until combined and set aside.

For the buttercream:
3 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 sticks of butter, at room temperature (I actually use salted butter)

  1. Combine the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer (i.e. your KitchenAid bowl). Bring a large pan of water to simmer, making sure that the water is a the same height as the egg whites in your stainless bowl. Set the bowl in the pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Be really careful not to curdle the egg whites– simply remove the bowl from the heat for a bit if it feels like that’s happening. Also, you’ll know when it’s getting close to 140 degrees; the mixture will be getting ultra foamy, like the top of a latte. (A really good latte that is– one of those kinds where it has a leaf-pattern on top, you know what I’m talking about.)
  2. Remove the bowl to your stand mixer and beat on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture holds glossy, marshmallowy peaks. Remove the meringue to another bowl.
  3. In the standing mixer, beat half the butter and one-third of the meringue until well combined. Continue to add the remaining two-thirds of the meringue a dollop at a time. The mixture may look scarily curdled at this point; adding the remaining butter a tablespoon at a time will smooth things out. (Basically, just keep adding a bit of butter at a time until the curdling corrects itself.)
  4. With the mixer on low, add the caramel and mix until well-combined.
  5. Frost the cupcakes using an offset spatula. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Crispywaffle: Vanilla Cupcake recipe
Food Network: Ina Garten’s Coconut Cupcakes Recipe
Crispywaffle: Filipino Leche Flan