I made myself cupcakes. Well, I shared them with Kyle too but really, I made them for myself. And for good reason…my birthday was Sunday! And as I approach my ::ahem:: mid-30s, I’m finding that I’m not nearly as fussy about what type of birthday dessert gets made for or by me. Every single year growing up, my single birthday request was for a marbled cake with chocolate butter cream – no compromises. Last year, I switched things up big time with this pink vanilla bean birthday cake.
This year, I decided to go with cupcakes that I had been dreaming up all summer. My Friday afternoon treat this summer has been my old favorite Starbucks drink and very rarely ordered, a caramel frappuccino – with whipped cream, which I can justify having just once a week, can’t I? Anyway, I read through probably 20 different recipes for caramel frappuccino cupcakes I found online and 95% of them had chocolate cupcakes as their base. And that made no sense to me at all because the drink contains no chocolate!
So I made espresso-caramel cupcakes, topped them with whipped cream frosting, and drizzled on some vanilla bean caramel sauce. And oh yeah, these cupcakes totally hit their mark. The cupcakes, even without frosting, were outstanding – rich coffee flavor and a hint of buttery caramel with great structure and a really soft crumb. For a caramel frappuccino cupcake, the whipped cream frosting is basically obligatory to stick to the theme of the drink, but it can definitely be swapped out for a coffee Swiss meringue butter cream if you so choose and I’m sure that was be completely amazing as well. And the caramel? It’s completely amazing and if you opt for a different caramel for these cupcakes…or ever…you’re totally missing out. Perfect cupcake treat? Check. Deflect the anxiety of an almost-mid-30s birthday? Definitely.
A great tip for this multi-step recipe is that once the cupcakes go into the oven, immediately wash and dry the mixing bowl and stick it and the wire whisk attachment in the fridge to chill it before making the whipped cream frosting. A cold bowl keeps the whipped cream chilled better than a warm/room temperature one does. The caramel sauce can be make days (weeks!) in advance – just warm it ever so slightly in the microwave before drizzling it on to the cupcakes.
- 1 ¾ cups sugar, divided
- 1/3 cup very hot water
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- 1 tbsp espresso powder
- ¾ cup (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup strongly brewed coffee, warm or at room temperature
- 2 ½ cups cold whipping cream
- ½ cup + 2 tbsp powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract, clear if you have it
- ¼ cup vanilla bean caramel sauce
- To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two 12 cup muffin pans with cupcake liners; set aside.
- Spread ½ cup of the sugar out in an even layer in the bottom of a small saucepan. Heat the pan to medium and when the sides of the sugar begin to liquify, start slowly stirring the sugar together until all of the sugar has melted and only liquid remains. (Lower the heat to low if the sugar or liquid sugar begins to brown too quickly. If the sugar clumps, turn the heat to low and let it melt – try not to stir it so it has a chance to heat up slowly.) Once the liquid reaches a deep amber color (you can check this by dropping a little onto a white plate), remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the hot water while whisking quickly to incorporate the water into the sugar. Once the caramel mixture is completely smooth, set it aside to cool.
- In a medium mixing bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder together until well-combined; set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the remaining 1 ¼ cups sugar together at medium-high until they are light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until they incorporate fully before adding the next, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla extract. Stir in the caramel. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with two equal additions of the coffee, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Allow the ingredients to just incorporate into the batter before adding the next. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are fully mixed in. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners. Bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the center cupcakes comes out mostly clean, with just a few tiny crumbs clinging to it. Let the pans cool on wire racks for 5 minutes then remove the cupcakes and let them completely cool on the racks before frosting.
- To make the frosting: Pour the whipping cream into a chilled stand mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks are formed. Sprinkle in the powdered sugar and continue to beat the cream until stiff peaks form when you pull the cream up with the whisk. Beat in the vanilla extract until just incorporated. Be careful not to over beat the cream or it will be clumpy when you pipe it.
- To assemble the cupcakes: Using a large star tip (I used Ateco #828) fitted inside a pastry bag (or the snipped-off corner of a plastic zipper bag if you don’t have a pastry bag), pipe the whipped cream frosting onto the cupcakes. If the frosting becomes too soft (which can happen if you handle the bag too much), transfer the frosted cupcakes to the refrigerator for a few minutes until the frosting sets up a little. Using a small squeeze bottle or a spoon, drizzle the caramel sauce on top of the whipped cream frosting and serve. The cupcakes can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days (because the sugar stabilizes the cream) but the frosting will soften considerably so keeping them in the fridge (covered) is probably a better idea.
source: Smells Like Home original idea, cupcake recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats