When I set out to make this dinner menu, the one thing I knew was I was making a dessert with salted caramel. I was all set to do a bread pudding with apples and salted caramel, a dish I had never attempted before. Then I learn from my mom that her and my stepfather both HATE bread pudding. So much for that idea. But still the caramel. With apples in my head and the rest of the menu forming around the fruit, I started playing with the idea of apples and caramel–apple pie, cider, hard cider, salted caramel… I wanted to do a cupcake–they just always look so cute! I had a long name at first, hard cider cupcakes with apple pie filling and salted caramel cream cheese icing. Then I dropped the hard cider and simplified. I was making a caramel apple, only in a cupcake form.
There were three major components to the cupcake–an applesauce cake, spiced apple compote and a salted caramel icing. The cake came courtesy of one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. If you’ve never heard of Smitten Kitchen, click the link and go NOW. You won’t regret it. From fabulous desserts to simple sides and complete meals, I use this blog for recipes and a lot of inspiration. The other components came from my own cooking inspiration.
Caramel Apple Cupcakes (Based on Smitten Kitchen’s Applesauce Cake)
- 2 c all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 c packed light brown sugar
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line cupcake trays with 20 cupcake liners. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined. The batter will look a little curdly and uneven but don’t worry, it will all bake up perfectly in the end.
Fill cupcake liners to near top (the cake doesn’t rise much). Bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 17 minutes.
Apple Pie Filling
- 4 apples, peeled, cored and diced
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 4 tbsp water, divided
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
In a small saucepan cook apples, brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of water and cinnamon over medium-low heat, until apples are soft (1o minutes). In a small bowl mix 1 tablespoon water and cornstarch. Add to apple mixture and continue cooking until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. This can be done ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, just bring to room temperature before using.
Salted Caramel Icing
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 8oz low fat cream cheese
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 c caramel
- 2 tsp sea salt
- About 2 c sifted confectioners sugar
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add caramel and salt and continue mixing for 2 minutes. Slowly add confectioners sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time until icing thickens and reaches desired consistency. If icing is still to soft, chill in refrigerator for an hour or so.
ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES: Using a 1″ round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. Fill cupcake with about 1 tablespoon apple pie filling then replace center (cut part of the bottom off if necessary). Ice cupcakes with salted caramel frosting using a piping bag fitted with a wide tip. Drizzle extra caramel on top (a plastic picnic ketchup bottle works perfectly!). Enjoy!