Recipe from The Sugar Cube by Kir Jensen (Chronicle Books, 2012)Can you build your entire reputation on a single cupcake? Yes, you can. And I did. I put these foxy brown beauties on my menu the very first day, and they blew people's minds. They were like a gateway drug, luring people in with their coffee-chocolate-caramel decadence and opening the doors to my intense Ginger Island Cupcakes. Customers who had one came back a day later (sometimes just a few minutes later) to have more. Word spread, reporters came calling, and the rest is history. Now I couldn't take them off my menu even if I wanted to, which I don't.
MAKES 24 CUPCAKES
- 3 CUPS UNBLEACHED ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
- 2 3/4 CUPS GRANULATED SUGAR
- 1 CUP DUTCH-PROCESS COCOA POWDER
- 1 TABLESPOON PLUS 11/2 TEASPOONS BAKING SODA
- 1/2 TEASPOON SEA SALT
- 1 1/2 CUPS BUTTERMILK
- 1 1/2 CUPS WARM STRONG BREWED COFFEE OR FRENCH-PRESSED COFFEE
- 3 LARGE EGGS, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
- 1 TABLESPOON PURE VANILLA EXTRACT
- 1 1/3 CUPS VEGETABLE OIL
TO MAKE THE CUPCAKES: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
- 1/2 CUP STRONG BREWED COFFEE
- 1/2 CUP GRANULATED SUGAR
- 1 RECIPE SEXY BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE GANACHE, WARM
- 1 RECIPE SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE(See recipe below), AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
SIFT TOGETHER THE FLOUR, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, coffee, eggs, vanilla, and vegetable oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until incorporated and there are no lumps. (It's a thin batter, but it will bake up beautifully.)
DIVIDE THE BATTER equally among the muffin cups, leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top. Bake until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 20 to 25 minutes.
TO MAKE THE COFFEE SYRUP: In a small saucepan, combine the coffee and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil for 1 to 2 minutes to concentrate the mixture.
WHILE THE CUPCAKES ARE STILL HOT, brush the tops with coffee syrup. (You'll use most but not all of it. Just discard the rest or use it in a cocktail.) Let the cupcakes cool completely before filling and frosting.
PLACE THE CARAMEL in a squeeze bottle. Insert the tip into the top of each cupcake and squeeze in some caramel. (You'll see them plump up a bit, but don't fill them with so much that the cupcakes split.) Dip the tops in ganache, then tilt to shake off the excess. Let the chocolate set (it will be glossy but not runny) for about 30 minutes before drizzling with more salted caramel to serve.
I've taken to impaling these cupcakes with shards of Ruffles potato chips as a garnish. The chips are quite dramatic, plus I love how they offer a counterpoint of salty crunch to the rich cupcakes.
Salted Caramel Sauce
I take my caramel to the razor's edge between deliciously deep and flat-out burnt. That's because the darker the color, the more complex and slightly bitter the flavor, and this bitterness pairs very well with desserts. It can help cut the sweetness of something or heighten the flavors. Lighter caramel is sweeter and less complex, but if you like your caramel that way, just cook it to a lighter color than I do. I've made this recipe hundreds of times, and I never use a thermometer, and you shouldn't either. Just trust your senses. Watch it closely, and be sure not to walk away from it because it can burn very fast. This is an easy recipe, but it needs your attention from start to finish, and all your ingredients should be prepped in advance. MAKES ABOUT 2 1/2 CUPS
2 CUPS SUGAR
1 CUP WATER
1 1/2 TEASPOONS FLEUR DE SEL
2 CUPS HEAVY CREAM, WARMED (SEE TIP)
1 1/2 TEASPOONS PURE VANILLA EXTRACT
IN A DEEP HEAVY-BOTTOMED POT, combine the sugar, water, and salt and stir until well mixed. Cook over high heat until the sugar starts to color around the edges of the pot, swirling the pan to promote even caramelization of the sugar. (Do not stir or the sugar will crystallize, that is, harden.) Continue cooking, swirling occasionally, until the caramel is very dark mahogany in color and lightly smoking (it should be on the verge of burning), 10 to 15 minutes.
IMMEDIATELY REMOVE THE POT from the heat, and while stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon, add the warmed cream in a steady stream. (Since you're taking the caramel to the dark side, you have to work quickly and begin adding the cream right away to stop the cooking process. But you don't want to add it all at once, so pour it in a continuous, steady stream. Be careful: The mixture will steam and bubble up furiously. I recommend wearing an oven mitt on the hand that's stirring in the cream.) Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl. Stir in the vanilla and let cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour. Refrigerate, uncovered, for several hours to thicken.
WHISK BEFORE USING or transferring to an airtight jar for longer storage. It will keep refrigerated for at least 1 week.
Warming the cream separately helps to keep the caramel from shocking into a hard mass when you add it. Be sure to add it quickly because you need to stop the cooking process as soon as the caramel turns the color you want.
Otherwise, it'll keep cooking, and it can go from perfect to burnt in just a few seconds. If you ever find yourself making caramel and not adding any butter and cream to it, keep a bowl of ice water nearby. Dip the bottom of the pot in the water as soon as the caramel is ready to stop the cooking process.
Be sure the pot is heavy bottomed to promote even cooking, deep enough to hold the caramel when it bubbles up, and light colored (such as stainless steel) so you can see the color of the caramel as it's cooking. When mixing in the cream, use heat-proof utensils such as a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
To ensure that the sugar does not crystallize, you can add a very small amount of fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon) to the sugar mixture before putting it on the heat.