I don’t make enough fun-flavored cupcakes…. I tend to stick to vanilla. But there are just so many great Fall flavors that it’s hard not to indulge in the specialty cupcake frenzy and whip up something extra special this time of year. It was between apple, pumpkin, or spice cake. Since I already have so many big plans for pumpkin this year, apple it was. But not just any kind of apple cake- an apple cider cake. Apple cider takes the flavor of apple to a whole new level. A more concentrated, spiced level, if you will.
But guess what? I didn’t have any apple cider. I had to get a bit creative with a substitution. Yes, you could probably use just plain ol’ apple juice, but the flavor will definitely be weaker. And if you don’t have time to make homemade apple cider, which I didn’t, you really only have one other option- homemade spiced apple concentrate. That’s right. Very simply take some 100% apple juice, maybe about 2 1/2 cups and simmer it on low with a cinnamon stick or two, until you’re down to the 1 cup of liquid needed for the recipe (similar technique used for Cooks Illustrated Apple Cake). Perfect solution. Not to mention how incredible it makes your kitchen smell…. Mmmmmm.
You can choose to keep things simple with this cupcake by frosting it with plain vanilla buttercream. You really can’t go wrong with that. Although if you have the time and inclination to do so, you should definitely try this Salted Caramel Buttercream. It’s divine. I’ve seen three types of salted caramel buttercream recipes out there- one that uses melted caramel candies, one that uses real caramel, and this one, which is like a pseudo-caramel since it’s not prepared or cooked in the traditional way. I went back and forth between using the real caramel recipe and this one which is pretty much a short cut. I figured the short cut version would appeal to more people since it’s more novice baker friendly. And guess what? The results were still nothing short of fantastic! Just be sure to let your caramel cool as much as possible before adding it to the frosting. I’m talking hours. I made mine up before I even made my cupcakes. If you add warm caramel to the buttercream, you’re going to end up with soup, not frosting.
- For the Cupcakes:
- 1⅔ cup all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup apple cider
- For the Buttercream:
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup butter
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup heavy cream, or as needed
- 1 pinch salt
- ¾ cup (1½ sticks) salted butter, softened
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- Preheat oven to 325°F and line muffin tin with cupcake liners.
- In a large separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.
- In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl and paddle. Mix in vanilla.
- Add ⅓ of the flour and mix on low until just absorbed. Mix in ½ the apple cider, then ½ the remaining flour mixture, the last of the apple cider, and then the rest of the flour. Mix each until just barely absorbed. Scrape down sides of bowl and give it one final stir to make sure the bottom is evenly incorporated.
- Fill cupcake liners ⅔ full and bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes then remove to cool completely on wire rack.
- For the Buttercream: To make caramel, place the brown sugar, ½ cup butter, corn syrup, and vanilla into a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes; remove from heat and allow to cool to warm (not hot) temperature. Add enough cream, a little at a time, until the caramel has the consistency of honey. Mix in the pinch of salt, and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Beat the salted butter with confectioners’ sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy; slowly add and beat in the caramel, a tablespoon at a time, beating until the frosting is smooth.
- There will probably be leftover caramel which you can use to drizzle on top or swirl into the cupcake batter and bake. OR poke holes in cupcakes and allow some caramel to soak in.