Today’s cupcake was a bit daunting. When it came to C, I wanted to copy Dahlia Bakery’s Caramel Popcorn cupcake. I thought it might be a bit ambitious for my limited skills.
I decided to use Michael Chiarello’s Polenta Birthday Cupcakes that I found at Foodtv.com. Original recipe is here. I altered it slightly by using part brown and part white sugar and substituting medium grind cornmeal for part of the polenta, hoping to increase the caramel taste and texture. It also called for gray salt, which I don’t keep on hand, so I used table salt.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup polenta (I used Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits aka Polenta)
- 1/4 cup medium grind cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups sugar, plus a pinch for whipping egg whites
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 2 mini cupcake pans with 24 paper mini muffin cups each. Sift together the flour and baking powder and stir in the polenta and salt.
In a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. With the mixer running add the egg yolks, 1 at a time. Beat in the milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. With the mixer on low speed add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until just incorporated.
In a clean, dry bowl whip the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Add a pinch of sugar while the whites are mixing. Add half of the whites to the mixture and beat with the paddle. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the remaining egg whites with a spatula to incorporate air and lighten the batter.
Spoon the batter into the lined muffin molds to fill the cups about 2/3 full.
Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center. Cool the entire pan on a wire rack for a few minutes before removing the individual cupcakes. Cool the cupcakes completely to room temperature before frosting.
The recipe actually made 48 mini cupcakes and 6 regular sized ones. I burnt the regular ones a bit, so I thought those would be good for tasting since they weren’t very presentable. Both Mr Shuck and I thought they were very tasty. The corn flavor was evident. The top was a bit crunchy. There was a little crunch in the cupcakes from the cornmeal. Fabulous texture!
So….I was originally going to try to make a Salted Caramel Buttercream. This involved making caramel. I was willing to try, so I combined 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a pot and brought it to a boil.
I continued to boil the syrup until it was dark amber in color, then removed it from the heat.
Next, I added almost 3 tablespoons of heavy cream. The mixture bubbled up like mad. I wish I had been prepared with the camera. After it settled down, it looked very caramely. I think I’ve stated before that I don’t really like “real” caramel. I haven’t changed my mind.
I let the caramel cool whilst I decided what I was going to do with it…..
I still felt a bit intimidated by the meringue butter cream, so I went to my old standby: gravy frosting.
I mixed 6 tablespoons AP flour with 1 cup of whole milk. I added about 2 tablespoons of the caramel to the milk mixture and cooked over medium heat until it was thickened, then poured it into a bowl. I covered the bowl with some wax paper and put it in the frig until it was cool. Meanwhile, I set out to make pureed popcorn. I put some Uncle Woody’s Caramel Popcorn in the food processor and ground it up thoroughly, then poured the ground popcorn through a sieve and collected the popcorn “dust” in a bowl. I probably ended up using about 1/2 to 3/4 cup finely ground popcorn.
To make the frosting, I creamed 2 sticks softened butter with 1 cup superfine sugar and beat on medium high for about 6 minutes until fluffy and smooth. I add the cooled “gravy” and beat until fluffy and combined. I added more caramel to taste and dumped in the popcorn dust and combined. When smooth and fluffy, I stuffed it into a piping bag.
I tested one of the mini cupcakes and it seemed a bit dry. I had read about using sugar syrup to keep cakes moist, so I mixed a little of the caramel with a little water and brushed mixture over the tops of the cupcakes. (I don’t know if they will be moist tomorrow, but they are definitely sticky!). I piped on a swirl of frosting and Mr Shuck helped by topping each one with a kernel of Uncle Woody’s.
Final photo credit to Mr Shuck.