Against my better judgment, I recently joined Pinterest, teh intarwebz latest Extreme Time Waster.  Between finding and pinning all things fancy footwear and frilly frocks to my boards, I have been accumulating a wide array of recipes, including one for a cupcake so delicious it inspired my coworker to inform me that if I were to bake cupcakes full time, she would gain 50 pounds.

Now THAT’S an endorsement.

The culprit of my coworker’s brush with diabetes is a dark chocolate cupcake filled with salted caramel and topped with salted caramel buttercream frosting…the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

The slightly ridiculous step I took in making this cupcake was subbing out one third of the sugar in the cupcake batter for Splenda.  The boy is diabetic, and I am permanently on a diet, so sugar isn’t exactly a good thing for either of us.  Fun Fact #1: you can sub out up to two thirds of the sugar called for in recipes for cakes, cookies, and sweet breads for Splenda and still have a delicious final product.  Fun Fact #2: you can’t sub out any of the sugar in caramel or buttercream frosting, because you will end up with something not even vaguely resembling caramel or buttercream frosting.

Fortunately, I have enough common sense to know Fun Fact #2, so full sugar was used in both the caramel and the frosting.  But apparently I don’t have enough common sense to realize that the caramel and buttercream sort of defeat the purpose of using Splenda in the cake.

At any rate, this cupcake is a winner with a capital win.  The scariest part is of course making the caramel from scratch, but I have been informed that this recipe uses the “easy” version (sugar and water).  Just be patient, and watch it closely once the temperature finally passes 300 degrees so you end up with delicious caramel rather than a burned, scorched mess.  And when frosting the cupcakes, be generous–the frosting is delicious, and there’s plenty of it to go around!

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Filling and Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 heaping cup cocoa powder (the darker, the better)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (can sub out up to 2/3 for Splenda if wanted)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup warm water
Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and water to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the paddle, mix together the wet ingredients on low speed until smooth and combined.
Meanwhile, while the wet ingredients are blending, mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the blended ingredients approximately one cup at a time, continuing to mix at low speed until combined.
Spoon the batter into lined muffin tins, filling each liner approximately two thirds full.  Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.  Transfer the tins to wire racks and let cool for 10 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from tins and allow cupcakes to cool completely on the racks.

Once the cupcakes are cooled and the caramel is prepared (see below), core the center of each cupcake, disposing of the cores (in your mouth, perhaps?).  The cupcakes are now ready to be filled with the salted caramel filling.

Salted Caramel Filling

  • 2 1/2 cups sugar (no Splenda!!)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan and stir to combine, heating over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until the syrup is clear, or it starts to slightly boil, whichever is sooner.  At this point, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and stop stirring.

Cook the mixture until it comes to a boil (you can wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush if desired).  Allow the mixture to boil, stirring gently occasionally, until the mixture is caramelized and just reaches 360 degrees F.  Remove from heat and slowly pour in the cream (mixture will steam, hiss, and spit, so be careful!), stirring with a wooden spoon until smooth after each addition.  Stir in the sea salt so that it is dispersed evenly throughout the caramel.

Allow caramel to cool for 15 minutes.  If it begins to harden, you can reheat it gently until it is pourable.  Spoon caramel into the cored center of each cupcake, then repeat after filling each cupcake (caramel will sink, you may have to repeat up to three times). Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the filling in each cake.  The leftover caramel will be used in the frosting and to decorate the cupcakes (see below).

Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting

[You can make the buttercream frosting, sans the caramel, before making the caramel filling, or you can make it during the 15 minute rest on the caramel.  I personally prefer to make it before making the caramel to ensure the caramel does not have to sit too long while making the frosting.]

  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 stick unsalted butter [yes, for real, this is one recipe where you DO want unsalted butter!]
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 – 4 cups powdered sugar
  • Around 1/2 cup leftover caramel sauce from above (can use more to taste)

Beat the butters and salt together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, on approximately medium speed.  Reduce the speed to low; add the vanilla, and then add the powdered sugar approximately one cup at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined.

Add the caramel and beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes until the frosting is light and airy.  Taste the frosting and adjust the powdered sugar, sea salt, and caramel as needed.  You can also add more powdered sugar to make the frosting stiffer after the caramel is mixed in, if needed, or you can refrigerate the frosting for 15-20 minutes if it looks like it needs to set a bit.

The frosting is now ready to use.  Grab a pastry bag and a big tip, and have at it!  I like to pipe a dollop of frosting into the cored center to bring up the height of the middle of the cake (the caramel having invariably sunk again), and then frost the cupcake.  You can use a teaspoon to drizzle the leftover caramel over the frosted cupcakes for that “fancy cupcake flair,” if desired.

Cupcakes are now ready to enjoy.  They are best eaten the day they are made, but will keep for an extra day or two if stored in an air-tight container.  But beware–they might make you gain 50 pounds!

-Adapted from 20 Something Cupcakes.