Salted Caramel Cupcakes with Sugar Halos

We’re back! Boards are over. As soon as we got back to school we started scheming about our next baking adventure, and to make things even better, Sam came back to school to find a library of absolutely amazing cookbooks from her new sibling-in-laws (congratulations on your marriage Sam and Chuck!!!). We spent a whole night just flipping through all of the books planning for our next big plan: dropping out of school and filling our days with frosting, cakes, and sugary designs.
Wait a minute, what’s that thing in the background? That would be a sugar halo.
Okay sorry – enough with the up close pictures (Ha! yeah right, many more to come) but let’s give you a little background about these cupcakes. On a recent trip to NYC, Sam picked up a little jar of fleur de sel – a sea salt with a high moisture content and thus perfect for sprinkling onto moist baked goods. We wanted to make something with this fantastic ingredient so we decided to make some caramel candies and sprinkle fleur de sel on them butt….
Caramel is really hard to make. Especially caramel candies. The candy thermometer was out. We cautiously watched our bubbling sugar pans for our sugar to turn a “dark, amber, golden, brown” and then we added a cream mixture and it would bubble up violently and then we had to bring it up to a “soft ball” candy stage…and one degree too much and bam, burnt caramel. So, the candies didn’t work out, but we managed to pull ourselves together to make enough homemade caramel to lace the frosting and fill the cakes and we still used the high quality salt to give these cupcakes a hint of saltiness. Let me tell you – the product was delicious.
Since we were already working with finicky sugar, we decided to go ahead and make some sugar halos as well. It’s basically the beginning steps of making caramel but before adding the cream component you stop the cooking process by dunking your pot in ice water and then immediately starting to make designs onto some prepared parchment paper. This part is optional but we were so enamored by the techniques in these awesome books that we had to try it. By the way, did I mention that these babies are filled with homemade salted caramel?

Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Cake adapted from: Sprinkle Bakes (Awesome book!)

Makes 15 cupcakes

For the brown sugar cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (we used fleur de sel!)
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk at room temperature

Preheat your oven to 325F.

Mix together your flour, baking powder and salt – set aside. In another bowl, cream your brown sugar with your butter until light and fluffy. Add in your eggs one and a time and then finally your vanilla. Add your flour mixture slowly, alternating with your buttermilk until everything is incorporated.

Fill your cupcake tin with your liner of choice! Fill them halfway with this deliciousness and bake for 25 minutes. Wait until they are cooled and then carve out little cones from the top of the cupcake and wait until you are ready to fill them with your caramel. We’ll do that next!

Salted Caramel Filling
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter, cubed
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream at room temperature

Alternatively, you an put a caramel candy into your warm cupcakes and they will melt inside and this step can be skipped! 

Melt the sugar over medium high heat and whisk the sugar as it melts. Cook until it’s a deep amber color but keep a very close eye on the sugar. It goes from deep amber to burnt within seconds.

Add the butter and stir it in until melted. Pour in your heavy cream and whisk until it’s a smooth sauce and then cool.

Now you’re ready to fill your cupcakes! You can put in as much or as little as you want but we did about a teaspoon per cupcake.

Salted Caramel Buttercream
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Time to make more caramel! Bring your sugar and water to a slight boil over medium-high heat. This time though, do NOT mix. If you must mix, swirl the pan gently. Wait patiently until you are at that deep amber stage and then go go go! add the cream and vanilla extract and remove from heat. Mix until smooth and let cool until at room temperature. Please sample the caramel, it is delicious

Meanwhile, prepare your buttercream base by creaming together your butter and sugar until nice and fluffy! Add in your salt then once your caramel is cool just mix it into the buttercream and watch as threads of caramel swirl through and disappear into yumminess.

Salted Caramel Halos (optional)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cups cold water
2-4 tablespoons sanding sugar

Here we go again! But first some prep work. Lay out some parchment paper and spray down with some oil. Fill your kitchen sink partway with ice water.

Bring your sugar, water, and salt to a slight boil over medium-high heat and wait for it to turn just amber brown. This will take longer than the other sugar preparations since there is just more water and sugar. Once you are at that stage, plunge your pan into ice cold water to stop the cooking process and use spoons to swirl whatever patterns you wish onto prepared sheets of parchment paper. While still warm, sprinkle your sanding sugar all over your halos to get that gorgeous sugary effect.

Whew! You’re done! but it is YUMMY. Worth it and now we are a little closer to being candy makers.