The holidays were crazy and it has been really hard to return. At first it was perfectly justifiable. I was working longer hours, sewing holiday gifts, baking treats for different holiday parties and there just wasn't any time to come back here and write. Then after the new year there were birthdays and shows and parties and more work, so I once again put off coming here. Baking was being done in the middle of the night and pictures, if I even bothered to take any, were all badly lit and unworthy. Inspiration was hard to find at the end of each long day so I decided to just call it an extended vacation from blogging. The problem with that is that when you don't have a plane ticket back, you're quite likely to just stay on vacation.
A few weeks ago, before going to a theater preview with a friend, we stopped by the Ghiradelli store on Michigan Ave for a coffee (we were determined to stay as far away from Starbucks as possible and good coffee is hard to come by in that area). We were cheerfully greeted with a square of caramel chocolate each and when we just couldn't decide between the salted caramel hot chocolate and a cappuccino (caffeine was sorely needed, but the salted caramel just sounded soo good), the friendly "barista" offered to combine the two at no extra charge. Sold! It was delicious, and I have been thinking about it ever since, so when one of my sister's work friends ordered cupcakes from me to celebrate his newborn baby boy, I decided to use those flavors for the cupcakes since I was given free rein.
I whipped up some smooth lightly salted caramel and folded it into a half cream cheese half buttercream frosting I'd come up with, and then I swirled it on top of a fluffy espresso spiked dark chocolate cupcake. If you really like the combination of salty and sweet I'd recommend topping each one with a light sprinkle of coarse sea salt to kick up the flavor even more. They did that at Ghiradelli and the outcome was divine.
Salted Caramel Mocha Cupcakes
Cupcake recipe adapted from Epicurious and the frosting I just made up.
- 1 cup hot brewed espresso (you can use coffee, but I wanted an extra kick)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
- 1.5 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla (or vanilla bean paste)
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp vanilla (or vanilla bean paste)
1 8oz package of cream cheese, at room temp
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp (2 sticks)
1 cup powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 300°F and line 2 cupcake pans with liners (batch makes between 24 and 30 cupcakes).
- Finely chop chocolate, put into a medium bowl, top with hot coffee, let is stand for a few seconds and then whisk it until the mixture is uniform.
- Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- In the large bowl of your standing mixer (or another large bowl if you're using a hand mixer) beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3-5 minutes). Stop the mixer and add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs. Whisk together by hand until uniform (or else the liquid will splatter all over the place).
- Dump in the sugar/flour mixture, give it a few stirs with your whisk and then beat on medium speed until just combined well.
- Fill each cupcake liner half way (the batter will rise so if you add too much batter it will overflow and you'll have an awkward muffing top to deal with) and bake in the middle of the oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.
- In a medium saucepan (bigger than you think you'll need) briefly stir together granulated sugar, lemon juice and water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes. If you see that it's getting color on one side, but not the other, just give the pan a swirl and whatever you do, don't walk away because it can go from dark amber to burnt very quickly.
- Remove the pan from heat and slowly whisk in the cream, vanilla and salt. It will bubble up, but should get thick and creamy once it's mixed and cools down. Let it cool to room temperature, about 25 minutes.
- Beat together the creamcheese and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the powdered sugar. Dump in the cooled caramel and whip again until smooth and even.
- The frosting will be a bit soft so put it in the fridge to thicken for 20 minutes before piping onto the cupcakes. Cover tightly and store in the fridge. They keep great and are even better on the 2nd day.
Optional: Top each cupcake with a light sprinkle of coarse sea salt before serving for an extra delicious punch.