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Dozen Flours

Sincere Acts of Sweetness

November 29, 2008

Caramel Cupcakes with Browned Butter Caramel Frosting

As with most things lately, I procrastinated in making this month's Daring Baker's Challenge. It's been a busy, month filled with baking many things, some of which I have yet to find the time to post! Lately I've been a little uninspired by the last few savory DB challenges, but I was eager to rejoin the group when I read that this month's challenge was bringing sugar back to the table.
This month's challenge was hosted by Dolores of Culinary Curiosity and co-hosts Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food. Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go also helped by providing gluten free baking instructions. The recipe they selected was a favorite of Shuna fish Lyndon of Eggbeater. She found the recipe in the SF Chronicle.

First let me say that when all was said and done, I liked the way the recipe came out, but I was not a big fan of the way the recipe was written. Perhaps it's because Ms. Lyndon is a professional pastry chef (she's worked at The French Laundry and Citizen Cake) but I got the impression that it was written down in a hurry or for an audience of other professional chefs. Personally, I like recipes that have lots of good information. I think maybe I've been ruined by Dorie Greenspan's style, but to say "a splash of vanilla" really put me off a bit. I also found the instructions for making the caramel sauce difficult to follow. The recipe said to boil the sugar until it was dark amber in color but when I heated my sugar to that point, it tasted burnt and bitter and I had to throw it out and start over. I would have appreciated having the exact temperature provided.

The batter was definately yummy (I sure sign of a good tasting cake in my opinion) and the frosting was really something special. Just for something different and to break-up the sweet caramel flavor, I added good quality apple butter to the centers of the cupcakes. It wasn't so much that it was overwhelming but I think it added a little something extra to the little cakes.

The challenge included instructions for making caramels, but I thought that the cake and frosting was caramel enough. Here's the cake and frosting recipes with some "Julia" commentary included:

Caramel Cake with Browned Butter Caramel Frosting
Yield: 18 cupcakes or one 9" cake

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash of vanilla (I used 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F.Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan or put 18 cupcake lines in a cupcake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until it's smooth - about 30 second. Then to that add the sugar and salt. Mix on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform (about 2 minutes).

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

For the cupcakes, fill the cups about 3/4th of the way full. Drop 1 teaspoon of good quality apple butter in the center of each cupcake and swirl with a toothpick. Bake cupcakes 17-22 minutes until toothpick entered into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber. (Note, when I followed these directions, the caramel was bitter and was basically burnt. Instead I cooked the sugar until it turned a golden honey color)
When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. (Note: First, remove the pot from the flame. Place a piece of heavy foil over the top of the pot, loosely sealing it. Cut a hole in the center using a knife. Use this hole to pour the water into the molten caramel. It will still sputter but it will keep you safer as well as your kitchen.)

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (Be sure to dip a a spoon into cold water first, dry slightly and then dip into the sugar, then test it between your fingers.)

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Browned Butter Caramel Frosting
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted (I only used 1/2 lb)
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste)
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter over medium heat until brown, stirring a few times to kick up the dark brown bits that form on the bottom of a pan. Remove the browned butter from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool for another 10 minutes. (Note: Be sure to put the butter in the saucepan first on a cold burner and then heat. Don't heat the pan first and then add the butter.)

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add vanilla and mix until smooth.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.


  1. I really like how you aplied the frosting, and the caramel in the batter was a great idea!

  2. That frosting is a work of art ;-)

  3. Beautiful frosting job, and I agree - the frosting was absolutely wonderful. Definitely one I'll have to make again.

  4. The cupcakes are adorable. Glad to hear that you would make it again!

  5. Great job, Julia! The addition of apple butter sounds and looked yummy. I also thought your ruffled flower design for the frosting was pretty neat.

    I'm actually thinking of giving this cake a whirl so thanks for the "Julia" commentary!

  6. Oh I want one! They look scrumptious!This is definitely a recipe I will have to try...the browned butter frosting sounds like a nice change.

  7. Simply amazing Julia! So delicate, dainty and preciously soft... almost like the real thing! WOW, I'm floored with your pipping bag talents!

  8. The frosting was a huge hit, wasn't it! I loved the idea for it. I agree that the recipe was a bit 'chefy' ( I think I can say that without drawing criticism since I'm trained as a chef, too!).

    Now that I work as a recipe writer, it irks me when yeilds aren't perfect. So, although I like the frosting, having too much to frost the cake, irked me as a recipe writer.

  9. Your cupcakes look great, you've got a great blog!! I scrolled down and saw your lady bug cupcakes they're beautiful!!! I've always wanted to work with fondant but never have. Do you have any tips???

  10. you know i was just wondering if you had fallen off the face of the earth, and then there you go with this lovely dessert! the caramel looks sooo tasty - and the cupcakes are gorgeous :)

  11. What a pretty way to pipe the frosting! I agree with you on the caramel directions - you shouldn't cook the sugar until it's dark amber. Lovely work though!

  12. I like your addition of the apple butter, that sounds delicious!

    I am still thinking about this cake, and resisting the urge to go get a piece...

    Love your frosting job!


  13. Yum! Those look awsome! I agree, I like a little more detail in my recipes too.

    I wasn't a big fan of the frosting, but I agree, the cake batter was great. Great post!

  14. These look super-duper. I want one!

  15. Julia - these are gorgeous. Brown butter frosting???? That sounds terrific.

  16. I love the way your cake looks! Beautiful. Love your blog.


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