Friday, September 28, 2012

Birthday Cupcakes

I love having the time to make cupcakes for a colleague I'm fond of. I was given a book of luscious cupcake recipes, titled simply cupcakes, as a wedding present, and I've worked my way through only about a half a dozen of them. This time, I wanted to try a chocolate with salted caramel. They were a hit with the small group we gathered to sing happy birthday, and the frosting was a big hit with my husband (though he thought the cupcakes themselves were a little too dense, which may have been because I left them in the oven just a little too long).

Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Basic Chocolate Cupcakes
2/3 cup flour
2 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees, prepare a 12-cup muffin tin. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Melt chocolate and butter in a large heavy pan, stirring frequently until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to let the chocolate burn at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and let cool.

 Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture once it is cooled to room temperature until the two are combined. Stir in the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Gently fold the flouer mixture just until no traces of flour remain; do not overmix (this also could have made the cake stiff). Place about 2 tbsp into each muffin cup, filling each to about 3/4 full.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 22-24 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool on a wire rack in the pan, then remove each from the pan and let them cool completely.

Basic Buttercream

3 large egg whites at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla paste

In a large heatproof bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over simmering water in a saucepan and heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is very warm to the touch, about two minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg white mixture until it is fluffy, cooled to room temperature, and holds stiff peaks (the mixture should not look dry), about 6 minutes.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the salt and the butter, a few pieces at a time, beating well after each addition. If the frosting appears to separate or is very liquid after all the butter is added, continue to beat on high speed until it is smooth and creamy, 3-5 minutes more.

 Caramel Sauce

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt

(makes about 2 1/4 cups)

In a heavy-bottomed and high-sided saucepan, cook the dry sugar all by itself over medium-high heat until it begins to melt around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stirring with a clean spoon, continue to cook until the sugar is melted and has turned golden amber, about 3 minutes longer. Be careful not to burn--that's a different sauce!

Carefully pour the cream down the side of the pan in a slow, steady stream (it will bubble and spatter), stirring constantly until completely smooth. Stir in the salt. Pour the caramel into a small heatproof bowl and let cool completely before using. You can store the caramel for about a week. Bring it back to room temperature before using.

Swirl into the buttercream and frost each cupcake generously. Then drizzle caramel in designs over the cupcake top. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Serve and enjoy!

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