When it comes to the cake versus cupcake debate, I fall squarely on the side of cake. There’s nothing better than a thick, towering slice with alternating layers of moist, fluffy cake and filling ranging from fruity jam to tart lemon curd to silky frosting, all surrounded by that same silky smooth, sweet frosting and possibly some sort of accent like nuts or graham cracker crumbs.
I love that my piece can be as big or as small as I want, that the rest of the cake is there staring at me inviting me to take another bite or two or freeze the rest for another day. The combinations of cake, filling, and frosting are nearly endless as my fork works its way around the plate finding the perfect bite. A piece of cake is typically larger than a cupcake and takes longer to eat, which is never a bad thing in my mind; savoring each bite is the best part about eating.
But sometimes I don’t feel like making a layer cake, an endeavor that can take the better part of the day. And sometimes I want my own little treat that I don’t have to share with anyone. My own little portion controlled treat, still with cake, frosting, and filling. Of course when there’s extra insanely creamy and flavorful caramel Italian buttercream portion control kind of goes out the window. When this happens, I make cupcakes.
These still took a few hours to make and assemble, but when I tell you they’re worth it, I really mean it. They start with a super moist, not too sweet brown sugar cupcake with a flavor and texture reminiscent of pound cake. They are one of the best cupcakes I’ve eaten. Then I hollowed out the middles, because what’s a cupcake without a filling, and filled the hole to the top with some more of that killer Caramel Sauce from a few posts ago. Some of the caramel soaks in, some of it stays in the center, some oozes out when the middle is replaced. It is all pure caramel soaked goodness and more is definitely better.
But they needed a heaping helping of frosting. I’m not a fan of the gritty texture and hyper sweet traditional buttercream, instead favoring the silky smooth and not too sweet Italian meringue buttercream. While it does require a candy thermometer and stand mixer to make, with a little patience and attention, it is quite easy to whip up and will become your favorite frosting too. And oh yeah, I added some caramel to it! The end result was the creamiest frosting ever with a hint of caramel flavor. The whole cupcake was topped with a little Maldon Sea Salt for complexity and the rest is baking history.
Give these decadent, caramel-y cupcakes a try to celebrate the last post of Caramel Week and remember there will still be many more caramel recipes to come.
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature (20-30 mins out of refrigerator)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, room temperature (20-30 mins out of refrigerator)
- About ½ cup Caramel Sauce
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature (15-20 minutes out of refrigerator)
- ¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup Caramel Sauce
- 1 teaspoon Maldon Sea Salt, for topping
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners. I love the ones from Sur La Table.
- Make the cupcakes. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar using a hand or stand mixer on medium for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy. I used a hand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, being sure each is incorporated before adding another. Add vanilla. Mix to combine and scrape down bowl as necessary.
- Add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, alternating the two, beginning and ending with the flour. I did three installments of flour and two of buttermilk. Using a regular sized ice cream scoop, scoop batter into prepared muffin tin, filling the liners ¾ full to completely full. Divide any remaining batter among liners.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Cool cupcakes in pan for about 20 minutes before removing and placing on wire rack to cool completely.
- Once cool, use a small paring knife to hollow out the middle of the cupcake. This can really be as big and deep as you like, just make sure not to go all the way to the edge or bottom so you leave enough cupcake intact to hold its shape. Fill the center of the cupcakes with caramel. Replace the middle of the cake. Some caramel will ooze out; that is okay.
- Make the frosting. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once this happens, stop stirring, attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and allow the mixture to come to 238 degrees F on the thermometer. In the meantime, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high until foamy. Once foamy, add the cream of tartar and continue beating on medium-high until stiff peaks form. Be sure not to overwhip the egg whites or they will become dry.
- Once the eggs are whipped and the syrup is at 238, turn the eggs to medium-low, immediately remove the syrup from the heat, and begin slowly and steadily drizzling it into the eggs. If the syrup is ready before the eggs, it can be turned down or removed from the heat while the eggs finish, before being replaced on the heat to bring to temperature. If the eggs are ready before the syrup, stop mixing them until the syrup is almost ready. Turn them back to medium-high briefly before turning them back down and adding the syrup.
- Once the syrup has all been added, turn the mixer back to medium and beat the frosting (what is basically marshmallow crème and is delectable all by itself) for 10-13 minutes until the bottom of the bowl is barely warm or at room temperature. It is important for it to not be too warm or the next step will not work.
- Once cooled, add the butter a couple tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to incorporate before adding another. Scrape down the bowl occasionally. Once all the butter is incorporated add the vanilla and mix to combine. With the mixer running on low, add the caramel. Mix until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and mix briefly by hand to make sure there are no clumps of butter. If the frosting is a bit soupy (because it was too warm when the butter was added) stick it in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes, beat it again with the stand mixer, and it should come together.
- Using a piping bag, or a zipper bag with the corner cut off (which is what I did), frost the cupcakes with a generous amount of frosting. Drizzle with additional caramel if desired and top with salt for an extra hit of flavor.
- Cupcakes may be stored for 1 day at room temperature (this is really how they are best). Store in the refrigerator overnight, but bring to room temperature before serving. They may also be frozen for up to 3 months, wrapped in plastic and foil and placed in a zipper bag. Thaw for several hours at room temperature.
Cupcake recipe adapted from Sprinkle Bakes
Frosting recipe adapted from Tyler Florence