Why This Recipe Works
The pairing of savory salt and sweet caramel is a hard one to resist. We wanted to create a cupcake that highlighted this combo, one that would be dressed up enough for any celebration. For caramel flavor in every bite, we started by giving our cupcakes a core of salted caramel sauce. We cooked the sauce until it was dark (but not burnt) for added complexity. And to ensure the sauce didn’t ooze out of the cupcakes at first bite, we added extra butter to help it set up.
Since we were already putting in the effort to prepare a delicious homemade caramel sauce for the cupcakes, we decided to add it to our frosting as well for a double hit of caramel flavor. We started with an easy vanilla frosting as our base and then simply whipped in 1/4 cup of the caramel sauce. We like to pipe the frosting into swirls before drizzling it with more caramel sauce and sprinkling it with sea salt for an eye-catching topping. When taking the temperature of the caramel in steps 3 and 4, remove the pot from the heat and tilt the pan to one side. Use your thermometer to stir the caramel back and forth to equalize hot and cool spots, which will help ensure an accurate reading.
Makes 12 cupcakes
For the Cupcakes
- 1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Salted Caramel Sauce
- 2/3 cup (4 2/3 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Frosting
- 20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces and softened
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
- Flake sea salt
- For the cupcakes: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and mix until mixture resembles coarse sand, about 1 minute. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined. Add milk and vanilla, increase speed to medium, and mix until light, fluffy, and no lumps remain, about 3 minutes.
- Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking. Let cupcakes cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from muffin tin and let cool completely on rack, about 1 hour. (Cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before continuing with recipe.)
- For the salted caramel sauce: Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until mixture is light amber colored, 4 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, swirling saucepan occasionally, until mixture is medium amber and registers 355 to 360 degrees F, about 1 minute longer.
- Off heat, carefully stir in cream, butter, vanilla, and salt (mixture will bubble and steam). Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until smooth and caramel reaches 240 to 245 degrees F, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow bubbles to subside. Carefully measure 1/4 cup caramel into heat-proof liquid measuring cup and set aside for frosting. Transfer remaining caramel to heatproof bowl and let both cool until just warm to touch, 15 to 20 minutes.
- While caramel is cooling, use paring knife to cut out cone-shaped wedge from top of each cupcake, about 1-inch from cupcake edge and 1-inch-deep into center of cupcake. Discard cones. Fill each cupcake with 2 teaspoons warm caramel sauce; set aside remaining caramel for frosting.
- For the frosting: Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, cream, vanilla, and salt on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low, slowly add sugar, and beat until incorporated and smooth, about 4 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop mixer and add 1/4 cup caramel to bowl. Beat on medium-high speed until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.
- Spread or pipe frosting evenly on cupcakes, drizzle with remaining caramel sauce (rewarming sauce as needed to keep fluid), and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve. (Cupcakes can be stored at room temperature for up to 4 hours before serving.)
Reprinted with permission from “The Perfect Cake: Your Ultimate Guide to Classic, Modern, and Whimsical Cakes” by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen.