You didn’t think that I’d tease you with salted caramel sauce yesterday and not provide you with something deliciously evil to do with it, did you? As I mentioned when we talked about the sauce, I’ve had a lot of fun with salted caramel baked goods over the last year, and I have loved each and every one of them. Yet, there was something missing. One crucial recipe that I had yet to perfect. Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting. After seeing (and trying) tons of salted caramel cupcakes at various cupcake shops, I kept meaning to make my own. How something like that gets pushed to the back burner, I’ll never know. You all have Michelle C. to thank for getting salted caramel cupcakes back to the front and center of my mind, where it absolutely needed to be. Michelle shared a photo of her brand new KitchenAid mixer that she received as a Mother’s Day gift on the BEB Facebook page. When I asked her the first thing she made, she said she was waiting to break it in with a salted caramel cupcake recipe, and was waiting to see one from me. I can’t have me be the only thing standing in the way of a woman and KitchenAid bliss, so I made it my business to catapult salted caramel cupcakes to the top of my “to do” list. Well, Michelle, I hope you love these cupcakes as much as I did, and that they make your inaugural KitchenAid baking experience fun and delicious!
When it comes to salted caramel cupcakes, there is certainly no shortage of variations. Salted caramel cupcakes with salted caramel frosting. Brown sugar cupcakes with salted caramel frosting. Vanilla cupcakes with salted caramel frosting. Chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel frosting. As you can tell, there was definitely one constant – salted caramel frosting. That was perfect, since I already knew, without a doubt, that my cupcakes would be adorned with salted caramel buttercream frosting. Now, what type of base to use?
I thought long and hard about it, and at first was leaning towards an all-salted caramel cupcake, but then stepped back from the ledge. I thought it might be a little overkill. Salted caramel is awesome, but I think the essence of it really shines when it’s used in combination with a contrasting flavor and texture. That’s what makes it such an amazing pairing with brownies, ice cream, and hot chocolate. At the end of the day, I couldn’t ignore my infatuation with all things salted caramel and chocolate. A chocolate cupcake it was!
While there isn’t any salted caramel used directly in the cupcake itself, there is one part of the process that creates a caramel-like flavor, which adds to the recipe as a whole. Instead of beating together the butter and sugar in the mixing bowl as most recipes would call for, the butter and sugar are cooked slowly in a saucepan until the butter is completely melted. The result is a little bit of a mix between a nutty, caramel flavor and smell, and that of browned butter. I wish I could have supplied you with a scratch and sniff here! That one little step adds volumes in terms of flavor and how well the chocolate cupcake complements the salted buttercream frosting.
So, there you have it. An incredibly moist, amazing chocolate cupcake with just a hint of caramel undertones, topped with a salted caramel cream cheese buttercream frosting. Drizzle a little extra salted caramel sauce on top and finish off with a pinch of flaky sea salt, and you have one seriously phenomenal cupcake.
Make the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard-size muffin pans with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Combine the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth, and the butter is completely melted. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is cool, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture, beating until smooth.
Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix each addition until just incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the Frosting: Beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed for 5 minutes (I like to use the whisk attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, but it's not necessary). Pour in the salted caramel and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to medium-low and slowly add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it has all been incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional two to three minutes, until light and fluffy.
To finish, pipe frosting onto the top of each cupcake (or use an offset spatula to spread the frosting), drizzle with some additional salted caramel sauce, and sprinkle with a pinch of fleur de sel. (Note: I used an Ateco #864 decorating tip to frost these cupcakes.)