Being in the position I’m in can be very stressful, with lots of uncertainty in the future and I’m not the best at dealing with it. That’s why I’m so grateful for wonderful co-workers who help keep me grounded, make me laugh and always know how to calm me down. They are the best; and while terrible at our short lived diet plans, I still love them. Eating healthy is hard when you work in a dermatology office that seems to have an endless supply of girl scout cookies and leftover cake. So when it was my funniest friend’s birthday, I obviously had to make cupcakes, to contribute to the problem.
I toyed with a few flavor ideas, but ultimately decided on turtle because, 1) I had all the ingredients and 2) who doesn’t love a turtle sundae. It’s basically a super moist, yet sturdy, cupcake base, topped with a caramel cream cheese frosting, ganache and a caramel pecan filling. “Some people” were a little worried about how nuts would taste on a cupcake, but I assure you, you have nothing to fear. It was delicious. If I had to make them again, I would probably double the caramel and pipe some caramel filling, or scoop some caramel pecan filling, into the center. I also used low fat sour cream (because it’s what I had), but no one complained :-)!
Makes 2 dozen
For the cupcakes:
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ 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
For the caramel and filling:
½ cup sugar
½ cups heavy cream, warmed
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
¼ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chopped pecans
For the frosting:
12 oz. cream cheese, cold
12 tbsp. (6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp. caramel sauce (recipe above)
2¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of coarse salt
For the chocolate ganache:
2 oz chopped bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 T. butter
- Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth. In another medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk to blend.
- 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. 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. 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.
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 to cool completely.
- To make the caramel, spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium-low heat, watching carefully. When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center. Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir. Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream. Set aside. Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the sauce pan from the heat. (To test the color, spoon a drop onto a white plate or bowl.) Carefully pour half of the heavy cream into the saucepan in a steady stream down the edge of the pan, whisking constantly. The mixture will steam and bubble violently. Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream. Stir in the salt and the vanilla. If any sugar has seized or hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. If you desired, double the recipe and pipe a small dollop of caramel into the center of each cupcake at this time.
- To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, and caramel sauce in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar and salt at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag with a large round tip. Pipe a heavy swirl of frosting over the top of each cupcake. Use the tip of a small offset spatula or a small spoon to scoop an indentation out of the center of the frosting.
- To make the chocolate ganache, chop chocolate and place in a small bowl. Heat heavy cream in a saucepan or carefully in the microwave until hot. Pour over chocolate. Let sit for 1-2 minutes, then stir until smooth. Stir in 1 T butter. Let sit at room temperature until desired consistency.
- In a small bowl, mix together of the caramel sauce and the chopped pecans. Fill the indentations in the frosting with a small spoonful of the caramel-pecan mixture. Drizzle the cupcakes with additional caramel sauce, chocolate ganache, and sprinkle with additional chopped pecans, if desired.
Recipe from Annie’s Eats
Based on my experience thus far in life, I can firmly say that you can never go wrong with pumpkin flavored anything and cream cheese frosting. I made a different version of these cupcakes last year, and there are a few things I liked about each recipe. Last year’s recipe was ridiculously moist, but almost to the point where the cupcakes stuck to the wrapper and couldn’t support the weight of the frosting when you went to take a bite. I liked this new recipe because the cupcakes are a little bit sturdier, and you don’t have to use part of a box of cake mix (what does one do with a left over 2/3 cup of cake mix? ). Plus, when I’m going to the trouble of making cupcakes from scratch I really prefer ones made with unique ingredients that wouldn’t be part of a box mix – like butter instead of oil and buttermilk for some extra moisture. I used to think that recipes that called for buttermilk were a bit annoying because you generally have to buy a whole quart, but I’ve found it lasts a lot longer than milk (like over a month) and I’ve found several other things to do with it in that time – like John’s birthday cake, ranch dressing, and then these cupcakes. But as I said before, you can’t go wrong with pumpkin and cream cheese so if your so inclined, try both recipes!
I actually made these for the children’s Halloween party that our medical school hosts every year. Now technically this party if for children with diabetes, and while you might think cupcakes wouldn’t be the best idea, the point of the party was to help the children learn how to balance their carbohydrates with their insulin. (And it is really hard to find low carbohydrate halloween desserts). So I made a double batch of these cupcakes, and calculated that each cupcake with frosting has 35 grams of carbohydrate. I got about 40 cupcakes from the double batch, and saved a few to take with us to Cincinnati for my now living in Ohio brother and sister -in-law. These went so fast that I’m pretty sure my father-in-law thought he wasn’t going to get one. Apparently they were also a big hit at the halloween party – but really what kid can resist sprinkles?
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: 20-24 cupcakes with piped frosting
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/3 c brown sugar, lightly packed
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
For the Icing:
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1 stick butter (softened)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 10 oz powdered sugar (about 3 cups), sifted
To Make the Cupcakes:
Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners; set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla until fully incorporated.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In another small mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin and buttermilk until smooth.
Turn the stand mixer on to the lowest setting and alternately add the dry ingredients and the pumpkin mixtures to the creamed butter. Start and end with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Spoon the batter into the pans, filling about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool enough to handle and then move to a cooling rack. Store in airtight containers until frosted. Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator.
To Make the Icing:
Cream the butter, cream cheese and vanilla together on high speed. Add the powdered sugar, a small amount at a time and blend until smooth and creamy. To ice the cupcakes using a pastry bag, chill icing in the refrigerator or freezer for about 15 minutes in order to harden the icing enough to frost. Alternatively, frosting can be added immediately to cooled cupcakes using an offset spatula.
Icing inspired Ina Garten