Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream & Sea Salt

Almost every time I bake something and post a picture of it to social media (usually Instagram or Facebook), my sister will comment with, “why don’t you ever make these when I’m around?!” Well, little sister… A) we live seven hours apart so you’re not around too often, and B) you never ask. This past weekend she came down to visit, so I asked her what she wanted. Her response: “something with caramel,” which led to me searching through past recipes and my baking Pinterest board.


I ended up using three different sources to make these cupcakes. I combined two recipes just for the buttercream alone. I seriously thought it was going to end up a flop (more on that later), but the whole cupcake ended up turning out really well! Good thing because my sister was flying in the next day and I didn’t feel like starting completely over at 9PM. Speaking of time…I have realized that I’m just going to have to start baking during the day on the weekends to get better food photography. While the lighting in our kitchen is great in person, it’s not very useful with taking photos of food in the evening. And that way I could play more with staging. Yes.

I took all but three cupcakes into work with me last week because Lord knows I’ll eat all two dozen of them if they sit at the house. My boss came up to me after eating one and said, “So, those cupcakes. I thought it was going to be sugar overload, and then I got a bite with some of that sea salt. Oh man, it was good.” Thanks boss :) I was actually a bit concerned that I wasn’t going to put enough sea salt on these, so I put some on top of the batter before sticking them in the oven. I definitely think this helped.


You can see the pieces of sea salt at the top once they’ve finished baking. Glad those pieces didn’t fall into the batter.


As for the buttercream…this version of the frosting’s recipe needs a bit of explaining. The batch of the caramel buttercream only made enough frosting for one dozen cupcakes. I thought I had messed up the homemade caramel while making the frosting and didn’t want to go through that process again. So me wanting to be overly cautious, decided to make a traditional vanilla buttercream with the second batch and then combined the two. And guess what? It was really good! However, I did use store-bought caramel topping to drizzle the tops of the cupcakes. My caramel making abilities only go so far.

Chocolate Cupcakes
Original recipe from Annie’s Eats
Makes two dozen

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2¼ cups flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
¾ cup sour cream
sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and line cupcake pans with paper liners.
2. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth. In a second medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend.
3. Combine the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the butter is completely melted. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is cool, about 4-5 minutes.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture until smooth.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated.
6. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Let cool in the pan about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Caramel Buttercream Frosting
Original recipe from Sprinkle Bakes
(Use the following recipe below and double for two dozen cupcakes. OR To make the frosting the way I did, make one batch of the frosting below and mix with this Martha Stewart recipe, cutting the MS recipe amounts in half. OR Just make the full MS buttercream recipe. It’s yummy any of those ways.)

¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick salted butter
1 stick unsalted butter
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
Sea Salt

1. In a saucepan, stir together granulated sugar and water, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber color (this part may take longer than you think, so be patient). Remove from heat and slowly add in cream and vanilla, stirring until very smooth.  Let caramel cool for about 20 minutes, until it is just barely warm and still pourable.
Note: If you pour the cream too fast, the caramel will harden instantly. If this happens, I found it helps to stick the mix in the microwave to melt and become stir-able again.
2. In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and salt together until lightened and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add sifted powdered sugar. Mix until thoroughly combined.
3. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the caramel. Beat on medium high speed until light and airy, and completely mixed (about 2 minutes).  Mixture should be ready to use without refrigeration. If your caramel was too hot when added, it will cause your icing to be runny. If this happens refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
Note: If you make the half and half buttercream like I did, I made the frosting above and put it in the refrigerator while I made the Martha Stewart vanilla buttercream. Once you’ve finished with the vanilla buttercream, combine the two batches into one bowl and mix well.
4. Top caramel-filled cupcakes with frosting.
5. I then used store bought caramel sauce and drizzle a small amount overtop of the frosting. If you double the caramel buttercream frosting, you may not need to do this step.
6. Sprinkle a few pieces of sea salt on top of each cupcake for added flavor if desired. (I did this)



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