These cupcakes were never really meant to be, but I’m so glad that they came into being! When I was home a couple weekends ago, I was helping my mom test some recipes she had lined up for a visit with family friends in December. We love food, our family friends love food, and so my mom wanted to be sure she had a few great meal ideas ready for their visit. One of those ideas was this phenomenal flourless chocolate cake that we’ve had at a local restaurant on numerous occasions. I got my hands on the recipe and we wanted to recreate it for them, but when I got home Friday there was no chocolate in the house.
You’d think a case of a missing ingredient would be easy to fix, yet somehow throughout an entire day of food shopping Saturday, we neglected to remember to buy the chocolate. By the time we got home, sans chocolate, none of us wanted to set foot outside again, so we opted for something else. We sorted through ingredients in the fridge and the pantry, throwing ideas out left and right, but none of them worked because we didn’t have all the necessary ingredients in the house. Eventually I decided on cupcakes because I hadn’t made them in a while, and since we had lots of pumpkin, I decided on pumpkin cupcakes and used this amazing recipe for Pumpkin Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting. The accompanying caramel frosting was perfect given my caramel obsession lately, so I was pretty psyched about my find and got straight to work.
This cupcake batter is heavenly, like velvet when you pour it into the molds, and all soft and pillowy when you bite into the finished product. I love cupcakes that puff up perfectly in the oven, with pretty little domes… to me, that’s just how it should be. These were easily the best pumpkin cupcakes I’ve ever tasted, with a well balanced and subtle flavor, not too much pumpkin or too much spice, just the right amount of both. They have a great shape even after they’ve cooled and are so soft and fluffy, everyone seemed to love them.
The caramel frosting was pretty intense, though if you’ve got a serious sweet tooth you’ll probably love it. I made a half recipe of cupcakes but a full recipe of frosting, not wanting to be short on the frosting, and not only ended up having plenty left over but probably could have used less on the cupcakes. I found that the flavors of the frosting complimented the cupcakes well, but the soft and subtle cupcakes didn’t need a ton of frosting – just a bit would have sufficed. Overall though, these were a wonderful weekend treat, and though I was mildly disappointed not to make the chocolate cakes, these were a wonderful substitute. I think these would be a great Thanksgiving treat for those less-traditional folks like me, who enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving pie flavors (pumpkin, pecan, and apple) but want to mix it up a bit! I’m planning to make pumpkin cheesecake, pecan pie bars, and a yet-to-be-determined apple creation this year, for my family’s largest Thanksgiving celebration to date. I really can’t wait!
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 Tablespoons (that’s 1 stick), of unsalted butter softened to room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar [Note: The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup, which I think would be a tad too sweet.]
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt, at room temperature [Note: The original calls for 1/2 cup of buttermilk…which I didn’t have on hand. Both will work.]
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Line cupcake pan(s) with 18-20 liners. [Note: I managed to scrape up 20 cupcakes, but if you can only get 18, no worries. Just be sure to fill any empty muffin tins with water before baking.]
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper. Whisk and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or any bowl large enough to accommodate everything if you’re using a hand-held mixer), beat together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes on high speed).
Scrape downs the sides of the bowl and, one at a time, add the eggs, beating well after each addition (about 1 minute on medium speed).
Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine.
Alternate adding the flour mixture and yogurt (or buttermilk, if using), beginning and ending with the flour. When using this method of incorporating dry and wet, always start and end with the dry.
Once everything has been combined, beat in the pumpkin on low-medium speed, until the batter is smooth.
Fill each liner to about 3/4 full. Lightly rap the pans on the counter, just to release any air pockets. So as not potentially set your oven on fire, be sure to add a bit of water to any unused tins.
Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow the cupcakes to rest in the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Cool completely before frosting.
Salted Caramel Frosting [Note: If you plan on piping the frosting, you may want to double the recipe. I had about 5 naked cupcakes that required some serious bowl-scraping to frost. This was sad, as it left me with nothing to lick.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (that’s a 1/2 stick), of unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sea salt
8 Tablespoons (that’s 1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar
Prepare the caramel: Roll up your sleeves and take a deep breath. You can do this!
Have the cream and butter measured out and set aside, but within reach.
In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water. Stir them up a bit, just to combine. Turn the heat to medium-high (or just medium if you’re nervous…I still get butterflies when making caramel). Using a wooden spoon, stir just until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and allow the mixture to come to a boil. If one spot appears to be boiling faster than the rest, gently swirl the pan around using the handle. Continue to boil until the mixture turns a deep amber colour (but not too dark). Once the colour begins to change, keep a close eye on it…it can go from amber to black in a matter of seconds.
Once it’s a rich shade of amber, remove the pan from the heat and immediately (but carefully) add the cream and butter. The caramel will spit and sputter at you, so try not to look it in the eye. Stir vigorously until smooth..if it seizes up on you, just keep stiring and it should iron itself out. Stir in the sea salt. Set the pan aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (a hand-held will work too), beat the 8 Tablespoons of butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add about 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low to combine.
Add the cooled caramel and continue beating until combined.
Slowly add 2 more cups of confectioners’ sugar. (Don’t add it all at once or it’ll explode all over the kitchen.)
If the frosting looks too thin, add another 1/2 of sugar, until it comes to a thicker consistency. If it’s still too thin, blame the caramel, and stick the frosting in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes.
Spread, pipe, slather the cupcakes as desired! Sprinkle with brown sugar or anything else you can think of!