Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

For about a year now I’ve been thinking about upgrading the body of my camera, perhaps selling the old one so I can justify the purchase a little more easily. It occurred to me as I was photographing these cupcakes, though, that before I could even consider trying to sell it, it would need a little TLC. The poor thing has flour, sugar, cornstarch and who knows what else hiding in many of its crevices – the pitfalls of using the camera primarily for food photography I guess :) These cupcakes were particularly messy to shoot, so we can add salted caramel to the list now too…

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

The salted caramel sauce was the primary motivation behind getting these cupcakes made. I had quite a bit leftover after baking these bars, and rather than continue to eat it with a spoon, I figured I’d repurpose it into a dessert I could share with Shane’s coworkers. I’ve tried so many different recipes for caramel, with varying degrees of success, but this is my favorite by far. You don’t have to judge when the caramel is the perfect shade of amber; instead, you simply use a candy thermometer to cook it to the right temperature. Aside from the method, I also really love the texture of this caramel – even after being refrigerated it’s not rock hard like some others I’ve made.

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

My inspiration for these cupcakes was Annie’s post, though I used different recipes for each of the components in my version. The base is one of my go-to chocolate cupcakes, a no-fuss, no mixer required cupcake that bakes up perfectly every time. I filled the cupcakes with some of the leftover salted caramel sauce, and then topped them with buttery caramel Swiss meringue buttercream. The dark chocolate cupcakes aren’t overly sweet, so I think they work nicely with the other components here. The drizzle of salted caramel on top is optional, and definitely makes these a little bit messy, but the best desserts usually are, aren’t they? As much as I was enjoying spoonfuls of the caramel sauce on its own, these decadent cupcakes were the way to go, they satisfy every possible craving for me when it comes to dessert!

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes
cupcakes from Cook’s Illustrated, filling from Baked Explorations, frosting adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

{Notes: You will probably have a little bit of leftover salted caramel sauce. Store in the fridge for up to a week, bringing to room temperature before using. Also, this makes a lot of frosting – you won’t need it all unless you really mound a lot of frosting on your cupcakes. You can either halve the recipe, or freeze the extra for up to 1 month.}

Salted Caramel
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

Cupcakes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) or sour cream

Caramel Buttercream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-8 tablespoon salted caramel sauce

To make the caramel: Add the sugar, corn syrup and water to a medium saucepan and stir gently to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture registers 350 F on a candy thermometer (if you don’t have a thermometer cook until the mixture is amber in color). Turn off the heat under the pan and slowly add the cream (the caramel will bubble up quite a bit so be mindful) then the fleur de sel. Stir in the sour cream until the mixture is smooth. Allow to cool before using – you could even refrigerate for a bit so it’s not quite as thin when you go to fill the cupcakes.

To make the cupcakes: With a rack in the bottom third of the oven, preheat to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Place butter, chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave in 30 second spurts on 50% power, stirring in between, until the butter and chocolate are melted and the mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, you could do this step in a double boiler.) Set the mixture aside to cool until just warm to the touch.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl to combine, then add the sugar, vanilla and salt and continue whisking until fully incorporated. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the bowl and whisk to combine. Sift one-third of the flour mixture into the bowl and whisk gently to combine. Add the sour cream, whisk to combine and finally, sift the the rest of the flour mixture into the bowl and whisk until everything is well combined – the batter will be thick.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Remove the pan to a wire rack and let the cupcakes cool for a few minutes before removing them to the rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: Add the butter to a large bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter on medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, stopping to scrape the bowl as necessary. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and sugar. Whisk to combine. Place the mixer bowl over a pot of simmering water, and, whisking constantly, heat until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved. You can test by rubbing a bit between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty at all.

Put the bowl on the mixer, and starting on low and gradually increasing the speed to medium-high, beat the egg white mixture until stiff, glossy peaks form – this will take about 8-10 minutes, and the bowl should feel cool to the touch when you’ve finished. Reduce the mixer to medium-low speed, and gradually add the butter, 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.

With the mixer still on medium-low, gradually add 6 tablespoons of the salted caramel sauce, and continue beating until it is completely incorporated. Taste the frosting, and if you want a stronger caramel flavor, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of caramel sauce.

To assemble the cupcakes: Use a small paring knife to cut a cone-shaped piece from the center of each cupcake. Fill the hole with salted caramel sauce, then replace the top portion of the cone (you’ll need to slice off the tip). Transfer the caramel buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with a tip. Pipe frosting into a swirl on each cupcake. Drizzle additional salted caramel sauce over the top, if desired.

Makes 12 cupcakes