Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Last weekend was my friend Jeremy’s 30th birthday and he invited several friends to his family’s house on the Cape to celebrate the dirty thirty with a weekend of good friends, good food, kayaking and a hike through the sand dunes (I got tricked into this last one).  Obviously this event called for a special dessert.  I turned to Jeremy (a frequent tester of my baking experiments) for requests and he suggested something autumnal…maybe with apples…maybe salty and sweet.  After making the pumpkin whoopie pies with salty caramel frosting the week before, Caramel Apple Cupcakes immediately came to mind!

I looked online for apple cupcake recipes but ultimately ended up modifying my own recipe for apple cinnamon chip bread (my first ever recipe creation!) to make it a little lighter for cupcakes.  The recipe calls for 1 cup of pureed apples but in a rush, unsweetened apple sauce could be substituted.  I then paired the apple cupcakes with the salted caramel frosting from the pumpkin whoopie pies (luckily I still had caramel leftover).

It ended up being a perfect fall weekend on the cape with high temperatures in the 70s both days- perfect for kayaking, grilling, and walks on the beach.  After gorging ourselves on good wine, cheese, oysters (I’m now an expert shucker!), seafood, and paella, the caramel apple cupcakes were the perfect autumn dessert to end the birthday extravaganza.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup pureed apple (can substitute unsweetened applesauce)
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

For the Salted Caramel Frosting (from two peas & their pod):

Salted Caramel Sauce:
2 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 Maldon sea salt flakes

1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup salted caramel sauce
1 tsp salt

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake pan with cupcakes liners.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, white sugar and brown sugar.  Mix until mixture is smooth.  Beat in egg.  Add pureed apple and stir until well mixed.  Stir in cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Gradually incorporate into the apple mixture.

Pour into prepared pans.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out cleanly.  Let cool completely before frosting.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the salted caramel frosting. First, make the salted caramel sauce. Make sure you have all of the ingredients ready. Once you start the caramel sauce you have to pay close attention so you don’t burn it. To begin, heat the sugar over medium high-heat in the bottom of a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan. When the sugar starts to melt, start whisking the sugar. The sugar will clump up, but keep whisking. It will continue to melt. When the sugar is melted, stop whisking. You can swirl the pan to move the sugar around.

Continue cooking the sugar until it reaches a deep amber color. Make sure you watch the pan very closely. This is where it is easy to burn the caramel. You want the caramel to reach 350 degrees F. If you are new to making caramel, I suggest using a thermometer.

As soon as the sugar reaches the dark amber color, carefully add the butter. Whisk until butter is melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the heavy cream. Whisk until cream is incorporated and caramel is smooth. Whisk in the fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt flakes.  Let the caramel sauce cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Pour the caramel into a large mason jar and cool to room temperature.  Note: makes about 2 cups of caramel so you;ll have leftovers!

To make the frosting: beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add powdered sugar and salt, and mix until completely incorporated. Turn off the mixer, and then add the salted caramel sauce. Beat frosting on low to combine, and then increase to medium-high and beat until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes.

Once the cupcakes are cooled, spread or pipe the frosting onto each cupcake.  For an extra special touch you can decorate with gold sprinkles.

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