Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes

I hosted a Stella & Dot party of my own on Friday night. Since I started making cupcakes in 2007 I rarely have a party without cupcakes anymore. I think my guests expect it, but little do they know that they are my little guinea pigs and I expect critiques on taste, texture and aestheticism.

I no longer doubt the power of the Red Velvet Cupcake. However, I’m starting to think that it is more about my cream cheese frosting. At any rate, the red velvet was on the menu. Despite the success of my Irish Cream Cupcakes, which I thought were a bit bland, but were well-loved by my clients, I decided to make Coconut Cupcakes with a basic butter and icing sugar frosting and toasted coconut. The coconut cupcakes were given the least amount of love at my party; as I said before, I have found that coconut is either a love or hate flavour. Maybe a coconut pastry cream filling would have boosted their status.

The star of the party was the Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes book. By the way, I’m not sure of the copyrights involved, but I do not think I can reprint her book recipes here without going through the hassle of getting permission; but if you want to make cupcakes, I do not believe that you will regret buying this book. On another note, I don’t believe there are too many original recipes any more anyway, most recipes are built upon the tried-and-true basic recipes, tweaking here and there for the user’s particular purpose.

I used her Devil’s Food Chocolate Cupcake recipe, which I love for their perfect domes, then I removed a cone from the middle and filled the cupcake with Salted Caramel before adding the trimmed top back over the hole. I find that covering the center well of the cupcake after filling helps keep everything neater. I iced the cupcakes with a swirl of Dark Chocolate Frosting. The recipe calls for Fleur de Sel (available at CostCo) and I do recommend using the real deal, as I have tried it with sea salt and the grains were too small and sort of melted into the frosting. Kosher salt is too big.

A note on making caramel. I am not a trained pastry chef. I’ve read lots and watched videos on making caramel. I’m a scientist; I know about following details, temperatures, etc. Yet every time I make caramel I’m in a sweat. I use a thermometer, I wash the sides of my pan down with a pastry brush dipped in water and I swirl the pan; but I’m never quite sure how it’s going to turn out. One of the first times I made caramel for a cake I had to make it three times: the first time it burned, the second time, leery of it burning, I didn’t caramelize it enough and it was “blonde” caramel, but the third attempt was right. I once made an apple spice cake with caramel filling and caramel Swiss Meringue buttercream that I have yet to live up to again. I thought it was a mess when I cut it and the caramel started seeping out the cut part of the cake; but my guests loved it and still talk about it. Usually the caramel is soft and seeping, but once I made it and it turned hard and crunchy; did I over-reach the optimal temperature? So while I get a little shiver of anxious anticipation whenever I decide to make caramel, I keep trying for perfection and it’s definitely worth the effort. Those Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes didn’t last long.