Sunday, November 13, 2011

Falling for Fall

It feels almost a bit insane to talk about cupcakes after the past few posts but I have to do it. I'm a baker at heart and it's what makes me happy. 

When I think of "Fall" I see golden yellows, oranges, deep reds… I smell cinnamon, caramel, chocolate, coffee… I think of pumpkins, cold gray days, my family and close friends. 

I could possibly go on for days about how much I enjoy Fall but instead I think I'll get talking about cupcakes. 

Husband and I have been in Italy for two months now and just this past Monday we finally got all our household goods which included all my baking equipment. So for my own personal agenda I've decided that everything I make from here on out will be exclusively made from scratch as much as possible. I thought about making my own butter for a second but then I decided against it- it's the 21st century after all. =)

I've made cupcakes, cakes, pies, brownies and cookies from scratch in the past but the challenge here is for me to ALWAYS make it form scratch no matter how lazy I might feel at that moment. 

For my first cupcake of this season I've decided to make (drum roll please…) 

"Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream!"

If you Google this cupcake you'll see many variations for it and to be honest I thought for a second that I was a total genus because I came up with it myself… lol but seeing as how that's not the case I scoured the internet looking for the most unique recipe or a combination of recipes that I like. In the end I actually went with my basic yellow cake recipe that I've used in the past and spiced it up with pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon (because you just can't have too much cinnamon in my opinion). Then for the buttercream I feel it was kind of like a Frankenstein attempt to make it work but in the end it came out just perfect.

I made the caramel first because I've attempted to make it in the past and failed miserably. The key here is that I had an extra set of eyes and another nose to watch and smell it before it had a chance to burn.  The first time I made it this morning I pulled the sugar off literally 10 seconds too late which was enough to burn it. It looked great, smelled great, but the second we tasted it we knew I failed… again. On my second try Husband stood right there next to me and as soon as he thought it was the perfect blonde color we pulled it off the heat and it turned out AMAZING! The problem here is that other people use the words "amber" or "golden brown" to describe when you should pull the sugar off the heat. That isn't so! I say as soon as you see it change from all clear to that slight hint of color then finally a true blonde PULL it OFF the heat!!! 

For the caramel (yields 3/4 cup)
1/2 c. sugar
4 tbsp. water
1/2 heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla

Pour sugar into saucepan, add water, stir gently then turn on your heat to medium high. The first 5 minutes aren't too critical since the sugar is still dissolving in the water so take this time to get your cream and vanilla ready. Once you see your sugar is all dissolved and the bubbles are becoming more pronounced watch it like hawk. The next two and a half minutes are super important because like I said earlier the minute it changes from clear bubbles to a hint of color it will take a blink of an eye to change to blonde and once that happens PULL it off the HEAT and add your cream (a tablespoon at a time at first) and stir with a wooden spoon. It will bubble up violently so be careful not to burn yourself. Add your vanilla and continue stirring. At this point you should have a gorgeous, smooth, perfectly colored caramel sauce. Set off to the side to cool completely. 
For the cupcakes (yields 22, using 1/4 cup batter per serving)
2 c. whole wheat cake flour*
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3 lg. eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. milk
2 Granny Smith apples, 1/2 an apple grated (for applesauce) the rest finely chopped
2 tsp. Pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1-2 tbsp. additional flour for dusting apples
*To make cake flour, measure 2 tbsp. cornstarch and put it on the bottom of your 1 cup measure then top of the rest of the cup with flour, level with the back of a knife. 

The cake is simple: Combine your dry ingredients (be sure to sift). Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Alternate your flour mixture and your milk (always ending in dry) until well incorporated. My sequence went like this: 1/4 cup applesauce, beat, 1/3 of the flour mixture, beat, milk, beat, flour, beat, milk, beat, flour, beat. Dust apples with remaining flour plus the spices then fold into batter.
Fill 12 cupcake tins using 1/4 cup of batter in each then bake for 18-20 minutes. If you're doing all 22 cupcakes at once you'll have to adjust your time, keep an eye and nose on it and check around 28 minutes. 

For the buttercream
1/2 c. shortening or butter
1 lb. powdered sugar, sifted
1 tbsp. meringue powder
3/4 c. caramel
1 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Sea salt for sprinkling 

Finally, the buttercream.
Cream together shortening, vanilla, caramel and milk until smooth. Add sifted powdered sugar and meringue powder until all incorporated. If the icing is too stiff for your liking, add 1 tsp of milk at a time until you reach your desired consistency. 


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