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Salty Caramel-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

Recipe Author Jessie Sheehan
Course Dessert
Cuisine Cupcakes

Ingredients

For the salty caramel

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream warmed
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

For the chocolate cupcakes

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cups dark brown sugar packed
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 yolks
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 1 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 scant Tbsp espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa powder plus 1 tbsp black cocoa powder, if you have it, regular cocoa powder, if you do not
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 stick/8 Tbsp unsalted butter melted and warm

For the chocolate buttercream

  • 1 3/4 stick 14 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream room temperature

For decorating

  • Maldon sea salt

Instructions

To make the salty caramel

  • Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and whisk until combined. Place the saucepan on medium heat and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and, without stirring, cook the sugar mixture until it changes to a deep amber color, occasionally holding the pan with pot holders, and gently swirling the mixture to ensure that the sugar cooks evenly and that the color is to your liking (the deeper the color, the stronger the flavor of the caramel).
  • Watch the mixture carefully as it cooks, as caramel goes quickly from brown to burnt. If sugar crystals form on the sides of your pan, use a wet pastry brush to wipe them away.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat, and carefully pour the warm heavy cream into the pan. Be very careful; the hot mixture may splatter. Stir with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula and then add the butter, vanilla, and salt, stirring until incorporated. Warming the heavy cream should prevent the caramel from hardening and becoming clumpy (seizing), but if it does, return the saucepan to the heat and melt the hardened bits, stirring gently, until the caramel liquefies.
  • Transfer the caramel to a heatproof container and let it cool until room temperature and slightly thickened. You can also place it in the refrigerator to speed up the cooling process, and cold caramel is slightly easier to fill cups with than room temp. While the caramel is cooling, make the cups.

To make the chocolate birthday cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line three 12 cup muffin pans with paper liners. Set aside.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into the bowl of a stand mixer and then briefly whisk the mixture to ensure the leavening is incorporated. Add the sugar and place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed while preparing the rest of the batter.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, heavy cream, yolks, eggs, and paste and set aside.
  • In another medium-sized bowl, add the chocolate, espresso powder, cocoa powder, oil, and boiling water to the melted butter. Whisk vigorously until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. the butter may separate from the chocolate a bit once the water is added. do not worry: after the chocolate mixture is added to the rest of the batter it will all come together.
  • Keeping the mixer on low speed, slowly add the sour cream mixture to the dry mixture in the bowl. Once added, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Now slowly add the chocolate mixture. Once added, stop the mixer and scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula again, making sure to scrape up from the bottom of the bowl to ensure the chocolate is thoroughly integrated with the rest of the batter. Mix on low speed for an additional 15 seconds and remove the bowl from the mixer. Mix once by hand with a rubber spatula to ensure complete incorporation.
  • Use an ice cream scoop to fill each liner 2/3 of the way full. Place one tray at a time in the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the pan every 7 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at about 18 minutes (no one likes over-baked cake). The cupcakes are done when a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs. Repeat with the remaining two pans.
  • Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack. Let them cool til room temperature. While the cupcakes cool, make the frosting.

To make the chocolate buttercream

  • Place the room temperature butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until the butter is smooth. Meanwhile, sift the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder together in a large bowl. On medium-low speed, add a little of the sugar/cocoa mixture to the butter.
  • Once incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula, and continue to add and stop and scrape, until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated. Add the vanilla and then slowly add the cream. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl again. Then beat the mixture on medium-low speed until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Don't be afraid to beat longer than you might think necessary, this ensures an airy frosting.

To assemble the cupcakes

  • Using a large frosting tip, press the small end of the tip into the center of each cupcake, then twist the tip as you pull it out. This will remove the center of the cupcake and provide you with a spot for your caramel.
  • Using a small spoon, place a spoonful or two of the caramel into the hole on the top of each cupcake. You can spoon some in and then wait until it is absorbed a bit, and then put a little more in. Once all the cups are filled, place about 1 1/2 Tbsp of frosting over the hole on each cup. I used an ice cream scoop, but you could use a pastry bag fitted with the largest tip. Use a small offset spatula to decoratively frost the cupcakes. Or, if using the pastry bag, you can just leave a large dollop of frosting on the top of each cup, as they do at baked.
  • Once all of the cups are frosted, sprinkle the tops with the sea salt and serve. cups will keep loosely covered on the counter for up to 48 hours.

Notes

You will have extra after filling the cupcakes (lucky you). Make the caramel first, then the cups, then the frosting. The caramel needs to come to room temp, and filling the cups is easier if it is even a bit cold from the fridge.