Caramel Craze and Memorial Daze

It’s starting to feel a lot like summer



This past weekend, to the dismay of the entire cast and crew of my dysfunctional household, our backyard neighbors hosted their annual Memorial day children’s

bonanza.  Replete with a gigantic bounce house (I swear they started blowing that sucker up at nine AM), approximately thirty wee little tots under the age of seven, and innumerable honking bicycle horns, Sunday was looking to be a very dismal day.  That is, until I remembered my AP Chemistry project that was due after the long weekend: the assignment was to explore the chemistry of an edible compound, and most importantly, bring in samples.  My partner and I chose caramel.  (Just kidding.  I’m way too bossy to let someone else choose.  I chose caramel.  He agreed, especially when I promised him all the leftover samples.)  It wasn’t exactly the prospect of doing a chem project that excited me (yuck!), but rather the fact that I had a concrete purpose to bake.  

So I made these suckers.


Oh yeah.  Uh huh.  Those would be salted caramel cupcakes with salted caramel filling, a salted caramel cream cheese Swiss meringue buttercream, and a hard salted caramel topper.  Upon describing them to my classmates, I was met with whining protestations: “Why is there so much salt?!” “Is there any sugar?!”


Um, yeah.  There was plenty of sugar.  I made so much caramel, I swear I went through five pounds of sugar, thanks to the fact that I burned a few batches, letting them get to “monkey blood” stage AKA too dark for even that wonderful burnt caramel taste. 
I don’t care how or why this happens.  I only care about how it is getting to my mouth.

 I could tell you oh-so-much about caramelization and all of the wonderful chemicals produced in the poorly understood process, but to be honest, it’s a lot more boring than making or tasting caramel.  And that’s coming from a self-proclaimed chem geek.  

*Insert your favorite four-lettered word here*
By the way, try not to be as greedy as me.  Sugar burns hurt.  

Burned caramel and fingers aside, the project went off without a hitch, despite the ten decibel screaming that permeated my kitchen for twelve straight hours.  

I guess I’m glad I didn’t choose to study soufflés.

(Pourable) Salted Caramel
 makes 3 cups 
2 cups sugar 
1 cup water 
generous 1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
 2 cups heavy cream, warmed 
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 
Combine the sugar, water and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot.  In a separate pan, gently warm the heavy cream with the vanilla.  Don’t stir the sugar mixture.  Shake the pot once in a while to help the sugar and salt dissolve.  Allow to cook, shaking occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until the sugar has turned a deep amber color.  Immediately (you want to stop the cooking), but slowly, pour the cream mixture into the sugar, in a steady stream.  Be careful, as it will bubble up furiously.  Stir the caramel with a long spoon until it is smooth and homogeneous.  Pour into a heat-proof dish and allow to cool. 

Caramel Cupcakes:  

makes 24 mini cupcakes + 6 regular sized cupcakes  
 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel 
1 1/2 cup buttermilk or milk 
1 egg 
generous 1 tablespoon vanilla 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
1/3 cup caramel sauce (see above) 
Sift flour, sugar, and baking powder into a bowl.  In a stand mixer, mix the buttermilk, salt, egg, vanilla, and vegetable oil.  Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet, alternating with the caramel sauce.  Mix only until everything is incorporated.  It will be a thin batter.Bake at 350°F for 12-18 minutes, depending on what size your cupcakes are.  Check them often; when they are done, they will be springy, deeply tanned, and ever-so-slightly sticky.

Caramel Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Frosting 

adapted from Bravetart’s SMB
makes 5-ish cups
5 oz egg whites
5 oz sugar
pinch salt
1 pound butter, cubed and slightly softened
1/3 cup caramel sauce (see above)
5 oz cream cheese
6 oz marscapone
Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a clean, clean, clean bowl.  Set over a pan of simmering water, or a bain marie, and cook until the temp registers 145°F.  Remove from the double boiler and whip until stiff, glossy peaks form and the outside of the bowl is neutral to the touch.  (If you are super impatient, ahem, stick the bowl in the fridge for a minute.  It will cool down, but won’t deflate.)  Now, with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, add in the butter, one cube at a time.  Once the buttercream is smooth, mix in the caramel.  It may look curdled: don’t panic! add in the cream cheese and marscapone in small batches until all is incorporated and smooth.  

Hard Caramel Topper

from Sprinkle Bakes (for that matter, these cupcakes are entirely inspired by her beautiful “Triple Salted Caramel Cupcakes”!)

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
3/4 cup water
2-4 tablespoons of large-crystal sugar, mixed with 1/4 tsp fleur de sel

Lay out a large piece of parchment on your work surface and spray with cooking oil (such as canola). Put sugar, salt and cold water in a heavy pan; do not stir, but shake until the sugar has begun to turn light amber.  Remove from heat and, after stirring briefly, dip a spoon in the caramel and let it drip onto the paper, forming abstract shapes (or beautiful rounds like Heather’s!).  After a few minutes of leaving the caramel to dry, sprinkle the sugar/salt mixture over the caramels.  Once they are dried, gently lift them from the paper and adorn the cupcakes.

Assembling the cupcakes: once they are cooled, cut a small round from the top, and fill with a small amount of caramel sauce.  Put the top back on, and frost.  Top with the hard caramel!

I also made these delicious Salted Butter Caramels from David Lebovitz, but I replaced half of the cream with fresh peach juice, to make peachy, buttery, caramels that were to die for.  

Mr. Bear needed a bath


I know the caramel sauce makes a lot more than you’ll need for the filling, frosting, and batter, but trust me: I have a wonderful re-purpose for them coming soon!  Here’s a hint: it’s cold, creamy, and caramel-y.  


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