Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

The best cupcakes you will have ever tasted, Part I.
(Not even exaggerating)

It was my friend Jiamin's birthday this weekend. So of course, me being me, I made cupcakes.

This is part one of a two part entry titled, "The Best Cupcakes You Will Have Ever Tasted." I went on a cupcake making rampage this weekend and tried my hand at two new cupcakes. Read on and stayed tuned to find out what goes into making the best cupcakes ever!

I was tired of the same old cupcakes and was searching for something new and exciting. I knew I wanted something unique that you can't get at your average bakery. Recently, Kevin took me to Cupcake Royale where I purchased a Chocolate Salted Caramel cupcake. Although the cupcake was too sweet, the flavor combination of chocolate and salted caramel was insanely delicious.

Thinking that this cupcake would be perfect for the occasion, I went in search (as I always do), of the perfect recipe. Hours of researching later, I came upon another blogger's site: Crispy Waffle. The thing that hooked me (and not the other dozen or so recipes that I had read and discarded), was the fact that she used an out-of-the-ordinary buttercream. She built upon a Swiss Meringue Buttercream base to make the salted caramel frosting. (Amazingly enough, the author of this blog comments on the same cupcake & cupcake store that I had previously mentioned... and her assessment is the same as mine!)

I digress: quite frankly, I dislike American Buttercream, which is the run-of-the-mill, super sweet frosting that you get on most cupcakes and cakes. It's a mixture of butter and powdered sugar. A lot of powdered sugar. It gives you the feeling that you're spooning sugar straight into your mouth. Also, if it sits out for too long, it dries out and gets crusty edges! Eww. I usually end up scraping off all the frosting. It's super rare for me to find a cake where I actually like the frosting.

I've known about this Swiss Meringue Buttercream for some time, and had been meaning to try it. But because it's such a pain to make (you'll see why later), I had been putting it off. But since it was Jiamin's birthday, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally try it out.

Step 1: The Cupcakes

On Crispy Waffle's blog, she makes these cupcakes with a vanilla cake. I, however, ever the chocolate fiend, opted for a chocolate cake. I always use this recipe from Williams Sonoma when making these.

It calls for semi sweet chocolate, chopped and melted. That's how you know it's gonna be a good cupcake! These cupcakes will turn out moist and fluffy if you make sure not to over mix. Stop mixing as soon as all the flour is incorporated, or you'll get a super dense and dry cupcake.

It's so important to bake these from scratch, however tempting that box of cake mix may be. There's just something different about home-made ones that give it the extra deliciousness that you can't ever get from boxed cake mix. Plus, the super high quality buttercream you're about to make deserves an equally fantastic cupcake. =)

Step 2: The Caramel

Oh boy, not even try to cover this one up: I failed at this twice before I finally got it right. lol. (Refer to Crispy Waffle's site for the recipe.) Caramel is basically sugar syrup boiled until it's amber. Simple, right? You'd think it would be. But for me, a first timer, it was definitely a challenge. I will try to meticulously document everything that went wrong so that you can learn from my mistakes. =)

So what you do is put sugar and water on the stove to dissolve. Then when it boils, put a lid on it for 2 minutes. Afterward, with the lid off, swirl the pan around until it turns amber. Ok so, my first problem was that instead of "swirling the pan," like indicated in the recipe, I stirred it with my spatula, which made it turn back into solid chunks of sugar! Seriously, swirl the pan when the woman tells you to swirl! And also, I was confused because I expected it to turn amber immediately. But no, it very slowly changed color over a 10 minute period. And all the while, you have to be patient and swirl.

When it's done, it will be a deep amber color (picture on the left). Pretty! On my second attempt, I was super excited because I got it to this stage. However, I made the mistake of pouring it into a pyrex bowl before adding the heavy whipping cream. This cooled it down significantly and didn't allow for incorporation of the cream. Basically what I had was chunks of cooled down caramel floating in cream. What you need to do is leave it in the pot itself and slowly pour in the cream while using an electronic mixer. This makes it so that you get everything incorporated before the caramel cools and sets (pictured on the right). Do it quickly and immediately after you take it off the heat.

One thing that I freaked out about: you might get the amber caramel mixture splashed on something...and the second it cools, it turns rock hard. You try to pry it off with your fingers and it won't budge. I thought I had ruined my pyrex! But don't panic like I did, because apparently it dissolves quite easily if you put it in water for like 5 minutes.

When your caramel is done, set it aside and start on your buttercream.

Step 3: Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Ok so, here's the painful part. For American buttercreams, you put powdered sugar and butter into a bowl, whip it up and you're good to go. But it's also disgusting. lol. This Swiss Buttercream might be a pain, but it's totally worth it. You gotta try making it at least once in your life to see for yourself just how delicious it is. (Refer to Crispy Waffle's site for the recipe.)

Start by combining egg whites, cream of tartar and sugar into your stainless steel stand mixer bowl. (I need to mention that on Crispy Waffle's site, she says to also add water to this, but on the ingredients list, it doesn't call for water. Must be a typo. I ignored it, didn't add any water, and it still turned out great). Submerge your bowl in simmering water and mix with a hand held mixer until the temperature on your candy thermometer reaches 140 degrees.

If you don't have a thermometer, just watch it carefully. It should look foamy when it reaches the right temp- kinda like the foam on a latte. (I didn't have one either, but I went out and bought one for $9, so they're not a super expensive investment.)

After it reaches the proper temperature, transfer it to your stand mixer and beat it on medium speed (I used 6), for about 5 minutes, until stiff & glossy peaks form.

Your stiff peaks should look like this when ready.

Scoop 2/3 of it out into a separate bowl. It should be puffy like marshmallows and be able to hold its form.

Take turns spooning in the butter and extra meringue. It will look scary and curdled at the beginning, but don't worry. It'll smooth out after 5 minutes or so of whipping.

It will look like this when done! Super silky and creamy!

Now add in the caramel from earlier. It will have darkened in color and be more viscous. Mix until well combined.

Step 4: Frost The Cupcakes!

I recently got a giant, jumbo-sized icing tip that I was dying to try out!

It worked really well. The best icing tip I've had thus far. It gave me these beautiful soft serve type swirls!

When you're done frosting, line them up...

...and add a sprinkle of sea salt!

Jiamin later told me that these were the best cupcakes she's ever tasted, which gave me the idea for this post. =) Truthfully, they really were. In fact, they were the best anyone had tasted, out of all who tried them. I think the secret is in the Swiss Meringue frosting. It was so silky and creamy, and subtly sweet. It wasn't over powering, and it didn't mask the flavor of the complemented perfectly. It was light, yet flavorful on the palate.

So perfect.

This is the only buttercream I will ever use for my cupcakes from here on out. It seriously takes your cupcakes to a whole new level. It tastes fancy and gourmet. I doubt many people have tasted a cupcake like this before. And dare I say, it was 10 times better than the one I had at Cupcake Royal. This was the first time in my adult life where I felt compelled to spoon frosting out of the bowl and into my mouth. I might have consumed a spoonful...or ten.

Excited about my new buttercream discovery, I set out to make a different variety to see if it would be just as good...stayed tuned for "The best cupcakes you will have ever tasted, Part II."

Note: for best results, serve immediately after frosting. If they've been in the fridge, have them sit at room temp for 20-30 minutes before serving. It needs to have enough time for the butter in the frosting to soften.

Please click HERE for the recipes shown in this entry.


  1. wow, judy, they look amazing. i don't know how you do what you do.

  2. jing's pretty spoiled these days! =)

  3. Wow it totally makes sense that these heavenly cupcakes took heavenly effort to make! Curious how many hours did it take?! But no doubt they are to die for! Now I learn something new about cupcakes and why these ones I had are so magically delicious!

    Thanks again Judy for making them and made my birthday that extra special!

    =) Jiamin

  4. These look scrumptious and I love salted caramel cupcakes. The fact that you get pieces of salt in between frosting is delicious.

  5. I <3 that jumbo icing tip! And those cupcakes look divine! Gorgeous and delicious. Even though I'm a fan of traditional buttercream (too sweet is a-ok w/ me! haha) I've been wanting to make swiss meringue buttercream to try something different...I will have to give this recipe a whirl!

  6. I think we are on the same cupcake wavelength. I had a friend visit me this weekend and she suggested I make salted caramel cupcakes! I've also been debating about making the swiss buttercream (because I really dislike regular buttercream). I'm a cream cheese frosting girl myself, but I think I'll have to try the swiss buttercream. Thanks for the detailed post! This will be super helpful!

  7. ellen & bryn, let me know how you like it after you try it! =)

    jiamin, it took me about 3.5 hours from beginning to end... mainly because i kept messing up and having to wash my pots & pans to re-do everything. hehe. it was totally worth it though! glad you liked them!

  8. Another glorious recipe! You are the cupcake queen! Thanks for the wonderful frosting recipe and tips!

  9. wow, i cant wait to try this out; the buttercream looks amazing, and i agree with u, the american version is gross :P

  10. I, like you, highly dislike American buttercream because it's too sweet and it has a crusty outer shell. But there is something you can do about both those problems... Sweet and Saucy taught me to mix a American buttercream with Swiss Meringue buttercream. Takes care of the too sweet and the crusty shell :)

  11. Danielle: I've heard of people doing that too! It's a good idea.

    Bryn: This might be a good option for you, since you find it to be "too buttery." =)

  12. I love cupcakes, but generally dislike the frosting (I agree, American buttercream is gross!) I've never heard of swiss buttercream until stumbling upon your blog. This recipe looks absolutely *divine*

  13. The cupcakes look awesome! Where can i buy that tip? I live in Toronto.

  14. i found my tip at a specialty kitchen store. do you have any around where you live? if not, you can order it online, but the shipping costs more than the tip itself! =) you can just google for it. here's a link to a site that sells it:

  15. I've never been a big fan of buttercreams in general and only have had one good recipe for a lemon buttercream (which is mindblowing btw). Now I've tried Martha's swiss buttercream frosting, and found it to be just plain disgusting. Have you ever tried that and if so, how close is Crispywaffle's recipe to that in your opinion? Do you think people like me can mix the blueberry sauce with a cream-cheese based frosting instead?

  16. Sawhster, I can't say that I've tried Martha's SMB recipe, but there are different variations that call for more or less sugar. If it was the sugar content that you disliked, that aspect can be tweaked. But the texture stays consistent, regardless of recipe. I generally don't like the buttercream on its own. It's super bland and really doesn't do much for me. But when you add the flavorings to it.. that's when it becomes super delicious. A good one to try is the Pumpkin SMB that I have listed on my blog. It's a huge crowd favorite.

    I can't speak to adding blueberry to creamcheese frostings. I haven't used cream cheese often enough to know how much the blueberries would dilute it. I imagine it would be fine in small quantities. You'll have to test the consistency by adding small amounts of it.

    Hope that helps!

  17. Hey there! I *just* saw this finally in my links in my blog stats! Thanks for using my recipe! (Since then I've also posted a strawberry buttercream you might want to try once strawberry season comes around): So glad I helped you discover the joy of true buttercream. :)

  18. I know this is an older blog, but here are some tips to make the whole salted caramel buttercreme process easier.

    For the caramel: add a doctoring agent, like lemon juice or corn syrup. It prevents crystallization. Also, after you place the pot on the stove brush the sides with water to remove any sugar that is clinging to the pot. This way you do not have to swirl the pot (something which is actually discouraged in a wet caramel method.

    For the meringue: in most commercial kitchens we do not beat the whites and sugar over the double boiler until it foams that much. It's not necessary since you used a kitchen aid. You can use a regular whisk to prevent the whites from actually cooking/curdling. Also, make sure the water in the pot is NOT touching the bowl. You are using steam to heat the mix not the water. If you don't have a thermometer, a general rule to know when to take it off the double boiler is when you stick your finger in the mix you immediately go "Ouch," as in it is too hot to submerge your finger for a long period of time, but does not cause any serious burns.

    Hope this makes it a little easier for you. And, yes, I am a trained baker and it is my profession.

  19. So I tried making this today. Note: Caramel must be completely cool. It was soup frosting. I just chilled it awhile and rewhipped it and it turned out fine. But... if you ask me it is just "whipped butter" frosting- 2 sticks of butter for 12 cupcakes. That is more than a TB. per person. And yeah, tasted nice and caramely but also... tasted like butter!! (Even my 6 year old had the same comment). I will mess with the caramel and maybe a boiled frosting which is almost the same thing, but no butter. I like it much better-sweet, but not greasy. more marshmallow like

  20. OhMyGoodness!

    I made these yesterday for Easter, and they were phenomenal. As you said, hands down the best cupcakes I've ever had, including professionally made.

    The cupcakes themselves were simple to make - the only alteration I made was subbing in sea salt for table salt. They were dense and rich and delicious - almost like a cakey brownie I would say? They took about 30 minutes from start to in the oven.

    The caramel came out perfectly the first time, thanks in large part to your tips! It was so amazing. I never expected it to really honestly taste like caramel, but it did!

    The buttercream - holy cannoli. I have been in search of the perfect buttercream, and this is it. It's light, fluffy, creamy, not too sweet, not too buttery - just perfect. I made a different variation of a swiss meringue not too long ago that was a) much more complicated, and b) wound up tasting like a stick of butter, basically (possibly like the italian you tried?). But this is going to be my go-to buttercream from now on!

    Oh, the buttercream, from start to finish, took about 30 minutes. I cooled it in the refrigerator for 5-7 mins before piping just to make sure it would hold its shape as it was fairly humid yesterday.

    (I was working on something else, so there were a couple of hours between cupcakes coming out of the oven and their being iced, so they were perfectly cool.)

    Everyone LOVED them. You've made me look really really good!

    Here are some pics:

  21. Oh, and I agree with the baker above - my egg whites didn't get foamy or anywhere near curdling, as I whisked constantly, and i had the water lower in the pan. I just used my candy thermometer & removed them once they reached 140, and my hand mixer did the rest of the work.

  22. "cakey brownie" is a really good way to describe it! they are my go-to chocolate cupcake - i really don't use any other recipe!

    thanks so much for sharing your thoughts - i'm so glad you liked the recipe!

  23. I just made this buttercream, and loved it!!! I doubled the recipe since I was going to make 24 cupcakes. I have to agree with one of the earliest comments, that it is a little greasy, but, I don't really mind it!!! ;-)

    Thanx for your recipes I love your blog!!


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