Yes, this post is about all three – chocolate, coffee, and caramel. Three of my most favorite indulgences, all in one beautiful little cupcake. Last week I was requested, er, told, that I was to bring the dessert for a work pot luck. I love making a dessert that makes people smile, so I needed something good. Really good. And I’m afraid I’ve outdone myself this time. I don’t know how I will ever make anything better. I’m a serious critic of my food, and this time, I am really proud.
What could I have made that tastes so good? Chocolate cupcakes with caramel pudding and a coffee buttercream icing. Oh yeah. When people ate these they had a look of pure pleasure on their face. That amazing.
And then, at the same time, I thought, Do I really want to share these? Maybe I should just buy cupcakes so I can keep these to myself. I got the cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen and she too writes that she didn’t want to share. In fact, she said “I kind of wanted to swat people off with a spoon.” I felt the same way! You will too. I promise.
Now these cupcakes didn’t come without heartache. I knew I wanted to put caramel pudding inside, but I had never made caramel pudding before. I’ve made pastry cream many times, but never caramel flavored. The first recipe I tried came out rubbery. I was worried because it didn’t have eggs like the traditional pastry cream. I was right to be worried. It was terrible. Bleh. Try number two I used a recipe from Hungry Cravings and I was fairly certain this recipe would work since it was a traditional pastry cream recipe. But, the first time I burned my sugar. Like black in my pan. Bad. Just a pointer if you do this, fill your pot of burned, hard sugar with water and bring to a boil. It will dissolve the sugar and then your pot will be clean! Second time though, the sugar didn’t burn and I had a delicious caramel pudding. Whew. Step one was done.
The cake went fairly smoothly, except I overfilled the cupcakes. I knew the cake didn’t rise a lot, but I still over judged how much to fill. So I had to very carefully peel each cupcake from the pan. If I wasn’t careful, I would tear the cupcake and it wouldn’t be pretty anymore. And those “ruined” cupcakes, well, quality control is just terrible, huh? I couldn’t let them go to waste. Yummy.
Finally, the buttercream. I’m not sure why buttercream gives me such a headache, but alas, it does. I learned a very important lesson when I made this buttercream. My emulsion broke. Let’s chat a bit about emulsions. According to wikipedia an emulsion “is a mixture of two or more immiscible (unblendable) liquids.” What, that doesn’t make sense? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. Examples of emulsions are mayonnaise and vinaigrettes. Mayo is a “permanent” emulsion. Once it is done, it’s done and it won’t separate if it’s done correctly. Vinaigrettes will have to be mixed each time since they will separate. An emulsion forms when the mixture is well, mixed properly. It is broken when it’s not. And you know when it’s broken because it just looks terrible.
Now, did you know that ganache and buttercreams are also emulsions? Yup, they are. This buttercream was made with egg whites, sugar, and butter. All was going well with the egg whites, but when I started adding the butter, I had a grainy, icky, horrible looking buttercream.
Drat. What to do? I didn’t want to dump it out and start over – what a waste! Thankfully, Baking 911 had pointers for fixing a broken butter cream. The site suggested if it is cold and broken, melt about 25% of the butter cream and rewhip. This didn’t work for me the first time. I tried chilling in the refrigerator and then whipping. Nothing, nada, zip. I was on the verge of a meltdown at this point. Why wasn’t it coming together? So, one more shot. I put the buttercream in the freezer for 15 minutes, then melted some again. I was so certain it wasn’t going to work that I just put the mixer on high speed, insanely fast, and what do you know – I had a smooth, silky butter cream. I did a little jump for joy! Yahoo!
Then, it was time to assemble. This was the easiest part. Step 1, cut out little holes in your cupcakes.
Place all your cake crumbs into a separate bowl. Save for later when you are craving this cake. This may be immediately.
Next step is to fill the cupcakes. The absolute, easiest way to do this is use a piping bag. There is no reason to be scared of a piping bag here. It requires no skill whatsoever. You are merely filling the cupcakes and it will make your life a whole lot easier if you use a piping bag. If you don’t have one, they are super cheap at your local craft store (particularly if you use coupons!). I prefer the 14″ Wilton Featherweight bags because they are dishwasher safe (hooray!) and just the right size. And, all you need is a simple piping tip like this one and you are set. No need for couplers here since you are using a larger tip and you are just filling cupcakes.
Finally, time to top the cupcakes with that buttercream. I used a piping bag here too, but it isn’t necessary. Do whatever is easiest for you.
People will love you for these. If you are willing to share, that is. And if you aren’t, don’t worry, I understand. They are that good.
I only used about half of this in the cupcakes. So, either cut the recipe in half or enjoy the rest as tasty snack.
- 6 ounces sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 cups milk
- 1 ¼ ounce cornstarch
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- ½ ounce unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine 5 ounces of the sugar and the water in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, brush down the sides of the pan with water, and boil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until caramelized (this only took about 5 minutes for me. The key is to watch very carefully! Do not leave the room!) The sugar will be fragrant and a deep amber color when it is caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat and dip the bottom into an ice water bath for a second or two. Slowly stir in the milk. (The sugar may harden at this point. Just keep stirring on the heat and it will melt again). Return the pan to low heat and stir until smooth. Increase the heat to medium and heat to a simmer.
Meanwhile, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining 1 ounce of sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in the egg and yolks. Continue whisking while adding the hot caramel mixture (all of it, not just a little) in a thin stream. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it thickens and just comes to a boil. Immediately strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl and stir in the butter and vanilla. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate.
From Smitten Kitchen
The recipe below is for 2 10-inch layers or about 32 cupcakes.
- 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Guittard
- 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used half King Arthur Cake Flour and half AP flour)
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 300°F. and prepare pans or cupcake liners.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.
Note: This is a very runny cake mixture. You will think you’ve done something wrong, but never fear, it is supposed to be like that.
Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
from Martha Stewart
I doubled this recipe and had just a little bit leftover.
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
- 1 tablespoon boiling water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 large egg whites
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place espresso powder in a small cup; add the boiling water, and stir to dissolve. Let cool.
Bring a saucepan with about 2 inches of water to a simmer. Combine sugar and whites in a large heatproof mixer bowl set over (not in) simmering water. Whisk until whites are warm to the touch and sugar is dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes.
Place bowl on mixer stand; whisk on low speed until mixture is foamy. Whisk on medium-high until stiff, glossy peaks form and mixture is completely cooled completely, about 10 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter 2 tablespoons at a time, whisking to incorporate fully well after each addition (if buttercream appears curdled, at this point simply beat until smooth). Whisk in vanilla and espresso mixture.
Switch to paddle attachment; beat on lowest speed to reduce air bubbles, 3 to 5 minutes. To store, refrigerate airtight up to 3 days, or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature; beat with paddle attachment on the lowest speed until smooth and pliable, about 10 minutes.