I managed to completely drop the ball on this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge Post.  I made these in the middle of November, yet never wrote about them, and here I am, a day late!

This month marked my first sweet challenge, and I was super excited about that.  It definitely posed a challenge for me, as I have never worked with caramel before.  And let me tell you, it can be a fickle creature, until you learn exactly what it is you are supposed to do.

The cupcakes and icing were both very very sweet, but without an overpowering caramel taste.  My husband happens to dislike caramel, but he ate these (I don’t know if I told him exactly what they were, I might have just shoved one in his face and said “try this.”).  I liked them, and now that I know the secret of the caramel, it won’t take me as long next time.

This recipe comes from Shauna Fish Lydon of Bay Area Bites.  The hosts this month were Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and as always, our gluten free master, Natalie of Gluten a go go.

Without further ado, the recipe.

Caramel Syrup

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides (larger than you think you will need, this will boil up like no one’s business), mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame and cook (and DO NOT stir it) until smoking slightly: dark amber.

The syrup is what I had the most trouble with, it took me 3 tries.  The trick it not to touch it at all, just let it boil and do its thing until it reaches the desired color.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water (since I didn’t want to splatter this everywhere, someone had suggested covering the pot with tin foil, making a small hole, and pouring the water in through that.  It worked beautifully). Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Cake (or in my case, cupcakes)

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan (or you can make cupcakes).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light