December 27, 2011

Applesauce Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

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Work the day after Christmas weekend sucks. Working full day when you're normally part-time the day after Christmas weekend sucks more. It's one of the pitfalls of being a receptionist: even though everyone else is taking the day off, you can't because the company would be unable to function without you there. And yet, everyone looks down on you because you're "just" a receptionist.

The receptionist in one of our other offices had to attend a funeral today. Her back-up is on vacation this week, so the receptionist that I work with had to go there, and I've been here since 7:30 this morning, with only one short break. That was my idea, though, because the guy covering me on my breaks today doesn't really know the phones, and while they're mostly quiet, you never know when a difficult person might call in and give you grief.

Luckily I figured that today was going to be quiet, so I took lots of pictures when I was making my applesauce cupcakes on Saturday in anticipation of having far too much time on my hands today. And nobody ever objects to the sound of typing. ^_^

The first time I made these, last Saturday, I wanted to make a caramel frosting for them. I tried using caramel flavoring syrup, which I had. It made it way too sweet, so I whipped in a lot of whipping cream. The resulting frosting was light and creamy and delicious... but not especially caramel-y. Then I saw this pin on Pinterest. She had made salted caramel frosting by simply adding the caramel to a buttercream base. I could do that. That's what I decided to do for this past Saturday, but I didn't know how well salted caramel would go over with my family. I made this caramel recipe from Bakingdom and omitted the salt. I took my buttercream recipe and increased the butter and decreased the sugar, and whipped in the cooled caramel sauce. The frosting was fluffy like a meringue, a bit on the sweet side, but very yummy... and not hugely caramel-y. This time, however I think I shot myself in the foot by not adding the salt which would have brought out the flavor of the caramel and cut some of the sweetness. Bakingdom's recipe also had a lighter flavor than I had expected; another recipe such as this one from Recipe Girl might do the trick. So you can play around with it a bit. And if you have extra caramel, you can always drizzle that on top.

Frosting trials notwithstanding, these cupcakes are really the stars. They're moist and slightly spicy with a nice apple flavor. For more of an apple flavor, you can always add replace half of the applesauce with shredded apple, but I like them as is. I had thought the French toast cupcakes were my new favorites, but that's a lie. These totally win, hands down. And they're easy to make, with ingredients almost everyone has already in their pantry.

Speaking of, here are today's cast of characters. Flour, sugar, light brown sugar, 1 egg, unsalted butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, unsweetened applesauce and apple cider vinegar. You can use white vinegar in place of apple cider; however the apple cider vinegar gives it a better flavor. I wouldn't try to replace the unsweetened applesauce with the regular stuff not just because of the added sugar, but a lot of the times, sweetened applesauces have spices added to them as well. You can also make this a muffin recipe by replacing half the flour with whole wheat, reducing the sugars to a third cup each, and topping with a cinnamon struesel. Yum.
Mix together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. When I first started baking, I used to skip this step because I didn't want to dirty another bowl. Then I realized that this was easier. I'm still not a fan of sifting, though.
Add the butter and sugars to the bowl of a stand mixer. It's always a good idea to break up your ingredients a bit. I cut up my butter into tablespoon sized chunks, and I break up the brown sugar. You're less likely to get unmixed chunks that way. Or *cringe* butter bits.
The first time that I read "beat the butter and sugar until fluffy", I had no idea what that meant. I watched my mixer like a hawk until it reached a stage I considered "fluffy". Now, I wait until the butter/sugar mixture coats the side of the bowl, instead of a big ball in the middle. Then I scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat it for another 30 seconds to abolish any sneaky butter bits.
Add the egg and vanilla and beat well.
Add the flour mixture, alternating with the applesauce. Half flour, applesauce, half flour. After the second half of the flour is added, but before its fully mixed in, add the vinegar. Continue to mix until smooth. The batter is thick but fluffy and has a silky texture.
For the perfect cupcake, I learned from Bakingdom that you only need about two tablespoons of batter, or two scoops from a cookie scoop. I generally use heaping scoops, and I do my best to use every drop of batter. Because otherwise, I will eat the leftover raw batter.
These bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. You might have little streaks of wet batter in a couple of them as you take them out of the oven- that's okay. They firm up while cooling. I think those are just caused by the acidity of the vinegar and baking soda. I've made these twice now and it happened both times. Also, be careful not to press the tops until they're fully cooled. You can see a fingerprint in that one in front there. Again, these firm up while they cool. So long as your toothpick comes out clean, you're golden.
Onto the frosting. Three basic ingredients. Unsalted butter, powdered sugar, and what's that third thing?...
Oh, right. Caramel. Homemade caramel. Your's should be salted. Mine should have been, too. You can easily use store-bought caramel, too, just heat it in a small saucepan over low heat, and mix in 1 tsp. of sea salt.
You're going to start the frosting like a basic buttercream. Add the sugar to the butter in small increments and mix well. It's going to look like little peas for a while, but just keep going until it looks like the above picture.
Fold in the caramel and then mix at high speed. It's gonna look like whipped cream. This frosting is crazy fluffy. At this point, I didn't think it would be stiff enough to pipe, so I let it chill in the fridge for a few minutes, but I also think I might have overmixed it a bit. If your frosting ever seems a bit soft, and you don't want to add more powdered sugar, just let it chill a bit.
I don't have a lot of experience with the round tip, so it took me a few tries to get a good rhythm going. Festive sprinkles however, will always hide your mistakes. This frosting was so fluffy, I was able to pipe them really tall, like hi-hats. My mother says they remindeed her of snow covered trees. I'm okay with that.

Applesauce Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream {Printable Version}
Yield: 17 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
For the frosting:
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
1 cup salted caramel sauce*
Preheat oven to 350˚. Line 2 muffin tins with 17 cupcake liners.  In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl with electric beaters, beat together the butter and sugars at medium speed until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix well. Fold in the flour mixture alternating with the applesauce. Add the vinegar and continue to mix until the flour has been fully incorporated. Be careful not to over mix. Fill the liners about ¾ of the way full, about two tablespoons of batter, and bake for 15-16 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.
For the frosting: in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with electric beaters, gradually add the powdered sugar to the butter while beating on medium. Continue to mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold in the caramel sauce. Beat on high until smooth and fluffy.
*If using pre-made caramel sauce, heat one cup of the sauce in a small saucepan over low heat and mix in 1 tsp. sea salt. Let cool completely before adding to the frosting.

Recipe by Kim

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