Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

I have always loved cooking and baking.

I've always put the two together and said I loved them both. Probably equally.

But not anymore. I think I have finally decided that my favorite of the two is baking. It is so, so much fun!

As I told a friend recently, there are a lot of variables when it comes to baking. There are all kinds of things you can do differently that will change the outcome of what happens when you bake. There are also things beyond your control, like the way your oven heats, that also affect your baked goods. The best thing to do with those things beyond your control is to experiment and learn what you can do to still get what you want with what you've got. For example, in one of the apartments we have lived in, our oven heated too warm. We experimented and finally learned that the best way to get things to turn out the way we wanted was to turn down the temperature 25 degrees before baking. No more burning or over cooking. Perfect.

As far as variables that you can affect, there are all kinds of secrets out there about what to do/not to do for your baking to be a success. I won't pretend to be an expert on any baking secret, but I have found a few things that really help with baking.

Number one: people like shortcuts. They like cutting corners, taking the easy route, simplifying things. And, hey, I'm all about simplicity! Life is way too complicated as it is, no use making anything more complicated than it has to be. However, when it comes to baking, cutting corners is a bad idea. If a recipe says to add and beat eggs one an at a time, do it one at a time. I know, it takes a whole two minutes longer. Must save those minutes, right? Wrong! In baking, it really does make a difference. Pinky swear. Now, let me just say that I am almost the complete opposite when it comes to cooking. Experiment, change things up, do things differently, whatever! But when it comes to baking, just follow the recipe instructions.

Number two: margarine cannot always be used as a substitute for butter. I am a total advocate of saving money and I totally get that margarine is so much more affordable than butter. And I'll be totally honest and admit that I use margarine in place of butter almost any time I make cookies. But I also almost always use real butter in cupcakes and frosting recipes. It truly does make a huge difference.

Number three: mixing sugars and fats {i.e. - sugar and butter or sugar and oil} needs to be done thoroughly. While you're beating the two together, if you mix it long enough {sometimes it only needs a minute or less, but longer than just enough to mix them basically together}, you'll notice that the color starts to change. That's a good thing and it's what you want. I don't know the science behind it, but it creates wonderful things in your oven. Not all recipes need this much mixing, but every time I've done it this way, I end up with a better product.

That's enough "secrets" for today. Let's get on to these cupcakes, shall we? These cupcakes are so good. Seriously, I had about five different people ask me for the recipe within a couple days. I made two batches of these cupcakes within four days. They are just that good.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes
Recipe from Crazy About Cupcakes, page 53

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium sized tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped small

Preheat the oven to 350. Insert liners into a cupcake pan.
In a large bowl (I use my stand mixer) beat together the brown sugar, oil, cinnamon, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed. I usually mix it for at least a minute, or longer if it needs to be mixed more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition.
In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. I always sift in my first cup of flour and then add the baking powder and salt to the second cup to sift with the flour.
Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. I add about a 1/4 or 1/3 of the dry mixture at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat until well blended (don't forget to scrape your bowl!). Stir in the apples.
Fill the cupcake liners one-half to three-quarters full with batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pan {I've tried cooling my cupcakes in an airtight container before to preserve the moistness, but I generally find that cooling them in the pan works just as well}.

To assemble Caramel Apple Cupcakes:
Once all your cupcakes have cooled, poke three holes in the tops of each cupcake using the handle of a serving spoon {it's best if your handle is nice and round so you get good holes}. Make up a double batch of Caramel Sauce {or do like I did and make one batch for pouring over the cupcakes and then another for drizzling - whatever your preference}. Pour the caramel sauce over each cupcake, being sure to fill up the holes really well. Once you've filled up each cupcake, go back and pour caramel sauce over them again. Did I mention that this isn't a cupcake for sissies? 'Cuz it really ain't. Yes, pouring caramel sauce over cupcakes twice might seem awful indulgent. But it is oh, so good! And somewhat necessary, that first round gets soaked up pretty quick. The second round gives it a nice soaking and really gives the cupcake that caramel flavor.
Now make up some Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting. Pipe it onto your cupcakes. Don't be stingy, now. Pipe it on nice and high {my husband keeps telling me that cupcakes don't need that much frosting. But come on! They look so awesome!}. If you'd like a little tutorial about piping frosting, check out Your Homebased Mom. She has a nice video tutorial with some good tips about cupcakes. Then spoon the remaining Caramel Sauce over the top of the cupcakes {I prefer to put the sauce into a squeeze bottle and drizzle it over with the small nozzle - this really gives me control of how my cupcakes look}. And lookie there - you've just made yourself a gourmet cupcake! Enjoy!

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