Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

How did Fleur de sel attain such widely held admiration?  One minute it was a speciality product celebrated only by those in the know, next minute it became practically mainstream.

Like many people, I grew up with plain, old table salt. Then, over the years, I have been exposed to sea salt, kosher salt, pink salt, black salt, and Fleur de sel.  I understood the necessity of incorporating salt into baking.  But not until tasting Fleur de sel did I fully appreciate the virtues of salt – and value how extraordinarily well it enhances taste.

From the very first punch of flavour, I was sold.  Hook, line and sinker.  Sprinkled on an indulgence such as caramel or chocolate, one bite and you are simply captivated.  As the taste of the sweet starts to dissolve in your mouth, you are exposed to the light, salty overtone of the salt.  The flavour is aromatic, smooth and distinctive.

These cupcakes are no exception.

During my caramel or chocolate vote, although caramel was crowned the clear victor, there were many requests for a chocolate and caramel combination.  Chocolate and caramel is like a marriage made in heaven, and so caramel month would certainly feel incomplete without it.

All frosted up, these cupcakes are deceptive.  The generous pool of caramel remains concealed until that first, unanticipated bite.  The salted caramel harmoniously melds with the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate frosting.  Lightly sprinkled to finish, the grey flakes, light and almost pearlised, look misleadingly innocent.  When you savour the taste, the irresistable flavour faintly lingers urging you to immediately go back for more.

With ample supply of Fleur de sel de Guérande in the pantry, I suspect there will be more baking experiments to come.

{ Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes } recipe by Martha Stewart

* Ingredients *
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water

* Directions *
Preheat the oven to 180C or 350F. Line mini muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add eggs, buttermilk, oil, extract, and the water; beat until smooth and combined.

Spoon the batter into liners about two-thirds full. Bake approximately 15 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Transfer tins to wire racks and allow to cool for 10 minutes; turn cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 1 month in air tight containers.

To finish, use a paring knife to cut a cone-shaped piece (about 1/2 inch deep) from the centre of each cupcake and throw away the pieces. Spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons warm Salted Caramel Filling into each hollowed-out cupcake. You will notice the caramel will sink into the cupcake a little, just fill it up a bit more. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over filling.

Use a pastry bag with a medium open-star tip and pipe Dark Chocolate Frosting onto each cupcake, swirling tip and releasing as you pull up to form a peak. Garnish each cupcake with a pinch of salt. Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are filled and frosted. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.

Salted Caramel Filling

* Ingredients *
2 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, preferably fleur de sel

* Directions *
Heat sugar with the water and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over high, stirring occasionally, until syrup is clear; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan and stop stirring.

Cook until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. Boil, gently swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is caramelised and just reaches 185C or 360F. Remove from heat and slowly pour in cream; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in salt.

Use immediately; if caramel begins to harden reheat gently until pourable.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

* Ingredients *
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled

* Directions *
Combine cocoa and boiling water, stirring until cocoa has dissolved.

With electric mixer on medium-high, beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa mixture.

Frosting can be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month in an air tight container. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth again.

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