So, I was afraid this might happen.
I’m back on a cupcake kick again. Last month when I made these, I warned you about my baking in cycles. Well, this month another friend had another birthday at another bar, and another fresh batch of homemade cupcakes crashed the party.
I might be getting back on the cupcake train, but as you may have heard, a lot of Americans have had enough and want to get off. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the news broke recently that Crumbs cupcakes has shuttered their doors after being kicked off of the Nasdaq stock market. I’m not going to claim that I also predicted this, but I did say that the cupcake trend was over. And I was right. The Crumbs legacy has come to an end, but that’s not to say that the cupcake’s legacy has. While the trend is over, the cupcake itself is not.
So the cupcake is no longer the celebrity of the dessert world. So what? That’s okay. Actually, I’m pretty happy about it. That means that now we can get back to enjoying the cupcake for what it is instead of what it represents. We can get back to just eating cupcakes because they’re good, and fun, and portable, and perfectly portioned; and stop eating them because they’re hip, and trendy, and expensive, and pretty, and because you saw Carrie Bradshaw eating one that one time.
While I’m on the subject of eating cupcakes for all the wrong reasons, let’s go back to Crumbs for just a moment. Brace yourself though. I’m about to say something scandalous and potentially polarizing.
They were just terrible. Like, the worst. I know some people liked them, and I know the media is mourning their loss as they would the loss of a beloved celebrity, but this was one of those tacky celebrities that were famous for being famous, not for having any real talent or substance. People ate Crumbs because they heard that they were great. They saw their friends on Facebook taking a selfie with a cupcake the size of their head. They saw that the chain was everywhere and thought they had to be doing something right, but the only thing Crumbs was doing right was marketing. The cupcakes themselves didn’t live up to the legend, and eventually, finally, that caught up to them.
Crumbs cupcakes were stale and dry and tasteless, that is, unless you consider SWEET a flavor. They were piled high with mountains of thick, pasty, tooth-rottingly sweet frosting, and they were gigantic for no good reason. Those cupcakes could have fed a family of four.
The only thing better than a bad cupcake is a HUGE bad cupcake, right? right? Ugh.
If you were one of the Crumbs lovers in the world, I’m truly sorry, but this is a good thing! There are plenty of other bakeries out there making way better cupcakes than Crumbs ever did, so please don’t mourn too hard. The way I see it, the fall of the famous-for-being-famous cupcakes empire is a step forward. Now we can start our journey away from eating cupcakes because they’re trendy, pretty sugar-bombs, and get back to loving cupcakes for being tasty little single-serving cakes. Delicious, wonderful, festive, easily transported tasty little single-serving cakes.
If you’re like me, rather than hunting for a great bakery, you’d probably prefer to make your own cupcakes. Instead of mourning, why not celebrate by firing up the oven and making something tasty at home?
The birthday girl who inspired these cupcakes is crazy about salt. She’s the kind of gal who eats (salted) tortilla chips with a salt shaker in hand. So, for her birthday I thought salted caramel was the obvious way to go. What better way to make our salt-fiend friend happy on her birthday?
Boy did these cupcakes ever deliver. Not only was she was thrilled, but so was everyone else, including the bartender. They combine super chocolatey cake, creamy homemade salted caramel sauce, and a tangy velvety cream cheese icing. Then the cherry on top of it all is a chocolate covered salty pretzel!
The cake itself is delightfully chocolatey and just sweet enough; with a soft, moist crumb and a tender, almost springy texture. To pack as much punch into the cake as possible, I injected them with a little bit of caramel sauce using a marinade injector. It sort of melts into and moistens the cake, rather than creating a pocket of caramel. If you don’t want to do this, or don’t have a way to make it happen, it’s totally fine. The cake is really wonderful on it’s own, I just have a tendency to take things further than necessary.
The salted caramel sauce here is super easy to make and completely delicious. It’s creamy and sweet and buttery and rich and pleasantly salty. You’ll want to make it first so it has time to cool down while the rest of the components come together.
As if there wasn’t enough flavor in these cupcakes, I decided to go with a tangy cream cheese icing with plenty of sweet and salty caramel sauce whipped in. The end result is creamy and soft and full of rich caramely punch, backed up by that distinctive cream cheese twang. The one problem with cream cheese icing is that it tends to be so soft that it’s hard to pipe because it wants to kind of sink into itself. You can add more sugar to stiffen it, but then it ends up being too sweet, at least that is, for my taste. If you want to pipe this icing though, I’d recommend refrigerating it for at least an hour beforehand. Otherwise just slather it on with an offset spatula.
Just to drive the sweet and salty point home, I topped each finished cupcake with a salty chocolate covered pretzel, drizzled even more homemade caramel sauce over the top, and finished with a tiny sprinkling of flaky crunchy fleur de sel.
Devil's Food Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Icing
recipe from Brown Eyed Baker2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)
Add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large heavy saucepan, and heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. You’ll see that the sugar will begin to form clumps, but that’s okay. Just whisk regularly-ish and as it continues to cook it will melt back down.
Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.
Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, cook the sugar until it reaches 350 degrees F.
Immediately add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will once again bubble up.
Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate.
Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into a glass jar or heat proof container to let cool to room temperature. You can refrigerate the sauce for up to 2 weeks. You might have a little extra after making these cupcakes. You won’t mind, I promise.
Devil’s Food Cupcakes
Recipe from Ad Hoc at Home
1 2/3 cups cake flour
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp unsweetened dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sour cream
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 Tbsp melted unsalted butter, cooled
1/2 cup salted caramel sauce, optional
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare your muffin pan with paper liners. Sift all dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer, place on mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix buttermilk and sour cream. In a separate bowl, combine eggs and butter. Alternately add sour cream mixture and egg mixture to dry ingredients with the mixer running on medium low just until mixed. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake about 20 minutes, turning pan midway through cooking time. The cupcakes are done when a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove cupcakes from the tins and cool to room temperature on a cooling rack. If desired, once cooled, inject centers of cupcakes with a little salted caramel sauce. You can do this using a bismark tip (which is basically an injector tip for a piping bag), a marinade injecting syringe, or by making a small hole with an apple corer or paring knife. Top with salted caramel icing, recipe below.
Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Icing:
recipe from Brown Eyed Baker
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup salted caramel sauce
4 cups powdered sugar
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.
Salted Caramel Sauce
Fleur de Sel (or other flaky sea salt)
2 to 3 dozen small chocolate covered pretzels
To finish, pipe frosting (I used an Ateco #846 tip) onto the top of each cupcake (or use an offset spatula to spread the frosting). Top each cupcake with a chocolate covered pretzel, drizzle with some additional salted caramel sauce, and sprinkle with a pinch of fleur de sel.