A Few of My Favorite Things: Salt, Homemade Caramel, and Dark Chocolate

4 Apr

My love affair with dark chocolate did not begin over night.  It’s one of those love stories that starts with hate that slowly but surely melts into passion.  Chris and I have made salted caramel frosting several times, but always with vanilla or almond cupcakes.  This time, I needed chocolate, but I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of a typical chocolate cupcake.  I wanted something dark and rich.  Have you had those salted dark chocolate bars?  I wanted to take that experience and put it in a cupcake.  Unsure of how the dark chocolate would affect the consistency of a cupcake, I searched the internet for a recipe, and found one to my liking (I wish I could give credit where it is due, but I can’t remember which recipe I ended up using).

The first step involved melting the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler.  I, unfortunately, am not at a point in my life where I own a double boiler, so Chris helped me improvise.  We took one of our Pyrex bowls and put it over a sauce pan with some water.  Same process right?  Well thankfully it worked just fine.

Next we had to select the right cocoa powder from our cabinet.  I would have loved to have used something like Dagoba, but Ghirardelli worked just fine.  The recipe called for dutch-processed cocoa powder.  We weren’t sure exactly why or what this was, so we looked it up.  It turns out that the  dutch process neutralizes acids in the chocolate, which results in enhanced color, smoother flavor, and better solubility.  It does not react with baking soda, so it is used only with baking powder (unless the recipe has enough acid from another ingredient).

After mixing everything together, I separated the batter into 12 cupcake liners.  The mixture was gooey and difficult to work with.  I made a mess, but Chris and I gladly sampled any drippings that landed on the pan but not in the cups.  It was good, bitter, but good.

While the cupcakes were baking, I started the caramel.  That word, “caramel,” always evokes memories of high school.  I went to Mt. Carmel High School.  That’s Car-Mel NOT Car-A-Mel.  I’d always cringe when they announced us at tournaments as though we were a gooey candy.  The ingredients for Car-A-Mel are so simple, but the timing is so important and so difficult.  I burned my first batch, and had to toss it and try again.  You can see how dark I let it get.

The second batch turned out better.  I probably could have left it on the heat a bit longer, but the golden color you see below is preferable to the near black you see above.  I love that moment when you add the cream to the boiled sugar and water.  You can literally see it start to form the creamy goodness that we know as caramel.

I added the second batch of caramel to the butter cream frosting just in time to go on top of the slightly cooled dark chocolate cupcakes.  Another part of the process that was a bit messy and full of samplings.  I usually use an icing bag, but this time I chose to apply the frosting with a spatula.  I was really super careful because the cupcakes were so delicate.  The tops kept falling off bit by bit as I spread the frosting.  If you look closely you can see one of the decapitated cupcakes in the pan just below my hand.

Last but not least, Chris helped me top off each cupcake with a bit of kosher salt.  Voila, the finished product.

The cupcake was really good and it paired perfectly with the icing.  It was more like a brownie/cupcake hybrid, in that it was a little dense but still moist and delicious.  Chris liked them, but preferred some of the lighter fluffier cupcakes we’ve made in the past.  Perhaps we’ll try brownies next time.

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