This said I have never thought my process of baking to be in any way professional. I have never had any training other than watching my Granny Joyce throwing together a sponge from a recipe ingrained into her psyche, or Nigella sexily spooning glossy globs of batter into shiny golden cases. This has all changed now. I have a new found caking confidence, I feel I can take on those more exotic recipes whose many many steps used to make me recoil in fear. This confidence is all due to the lovely glossy lady shown in the photo below... sorry for the awful quality.
Meet Dita, my newly acquired KitchenAid mixer. She's gorgeous yes? I feel I can write about her on a food blog much more easily than I can talk about her in person. There is only a small section of the world that can comprehend and understand spending £350 on a mixer, and that small section does not include a lot of my friends and colleagues. Pete only gets it because of the sheer amount of times I have ranted at him about how amazing they are and how I've wanted one since I was nine years old (yet again, Nigella's fault). But now his ears and my vocal chords may rest as she inhabits our kitchen, glinting away on the worktop and making my life a hell of a lot easier.
And so here is the first recipe I tried out with her, originally from Southern Living. I know salted caramel may sound a little scary to some, but just think of peanut butter cups - the slight salty edge offsets the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly.
115g (half pat) butter, softened
100g full fat cream cheese, softened
285g caster sugar
165g packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
375g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
200ml sour cream
60ml plus 2 tbsp whipping cream
Salted Caramel Buttercream Ingredients
115g (half pat) butter, softened
75g full fat cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
400g icing sugar
3 tbsp plus 1 tbsp milk
20 caramel toffees
Sea salt flakes
Caramel toffees, chopped
A little extra dark chocolate, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 180 C /350 F.
Mix butter and cream cheese until well combined and creamy, then beat in the sugars until light and fluffy (around 2-3 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each and then add the vanilla extract.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture alternating with the sour cream, beating well after each addition and then for a further 3 minutes. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners filling each to around 2/3 full.
Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean with no liquid batter attached. Let cool completely.
Put the chopped chocolate and 60ml of whipping cream into a microwavable bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove and stir, then cook for a further 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave, add the further 2 tbsp cream and whisk until it slightly thickens. Dip the tops of the cupcakes in the ganache and let stand for at least 30 minutes to set.
Salted Caramel Buttercream Method
Mix butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract and salt until creamy and well combined. Gradually add the icing sugar alternating with the 3tbsp of milk until smooth.
Place the caramel toffees and further 1tbsp milk in a microwavable bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds, remove and stir, heat for a further 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before adding to the buttercream and mixing until silky smooth.
Pipe or spread onto the cupcakes and then top with a sprinkling of sea salt flakes and chopped toffees and a drizzle of dark chocolate.
I didn't think the actual cake recipe used here was all that good. They were quite dry despite the use of sour cream which usually moistens cakes up, and I felt they had a too pronounced eggy flavour that I wasn't keen on. Next time I think I'll use Ina Garten's chocolate cupcakes or my secret mudcake recipe to knock up the cocoa factor a notch.
I used Maldon salt which I crushed up a little in my pestle and mortar as it has a lovely rounded flavour that I thought would work perfectly with the sweet caramel toffees. Maldon salt is available in all major supermarkets and comes in a little green and white box, if you can't find it any good quality sea salt will do.
Irish butter toffees are my favourite and so were the ones I used. It is basically any chewy butter toffee that you need so that they melt, not a hard one like Werther's Original.
Try your hardest not to open the oven door until the minimum cooking time has passed, this will stop any heat escaping which could make the cupcakes sink.
As I had some caramel buttercream left over and needed to make a cake for an afternoon tea session with my lovely friend Polly, I added some crunchy peanut butter to it along with a little additional milk to loosen the mix and used it to sandwich together the layers of a chocolate cake which I then covered in chocolate fudge frosting. It went down a storm, so I suggest you do the same if you have any spare!!!