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Caramel Cupcakes

I can’t help but stay smitten with cupcakes. Today, it’s caramel cupcakes. Once caramelized, sugar is more than just sweet – it adds a new dimension to little sugary cakes, appealing to kids and grown-ups alike. (To go with-a shake of sprinkles for the kids, a hot cup of coffee or tea for the grown-ups.) In the cupcakes, brown sugar mimics the flavor of caramel, but you can make your own for the frosting itself using sugar, water, and a few drops of lemon juice to help prevent crystallization. (It’s easier than it sounds!)

If you want to make your cupcakes ahead of time, bake, cool and freeze them, then frost them frozen – it’s a bit easier to do while they’re still firm. Spread it on with a knife, or if you want a bakery-style effect and you don’t have a decorating bag, spoon your frosting into a heavy-duty zip-lock bag, seal, snip off a corner and squeeze it out in a swirl atop your cupcakes. This method works for big and small cupcakes, and you’ll have no mess to clean up – simply toss the bag in the trash afterward.

Caramel Cupcakes

OK, the cupcakes themselves get their caramelly flavor from brown sugar, but it’s easier than making caramel for the cupcakes, and you won’t tell the difference once baked.

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low just until incorporated; add half of the milk and beat just until blended. Add another third of the flour, the rest of the milk, and the rest of the flour mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined.

Divide the batter between 12 paper-lined muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are springy to the touch. Tip them on their sides to help them cool completely before frosting them.

Caramel Frosting

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. water
a few drops of lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar

In a medium heavy saucepan, heat the sugar, water and lemon juice over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cook, without stirring but swirling the pan occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture turns deep golden. Remove from heat and whisk in the cream – carefully, as it will splatter! Some of the caramel will harden – that’s OK – just set it aside and stir occasionally until it dissolves again and the mixture is smooth. Cool completely.

Beat the butter until fluffy; add half the powdered sugar and half the caramel mixture and beat until smooth. Add more sugar and caramel until you have the consistency you want – it should be smooth and spreadable.

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