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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bagels2

After almost five years of living in Boston, and about 500 bagels later!, I returned to Brisbane to find no fitting substitute for this chewy and delicious bread.  I suffered terrible bagel withdrawal, but quickly learned to re-familiarise myself with the local offerings instead.

In Boston, I was spoiled for bagel choice.  There were a number of good independent Jewish bakeries around, but Finagle a Bagel was my favourite, most convenient, bagel destination.  Every visit I practically ordered the same thing.  Egg bagel :: toasted :: plain cream cheese.  Simple and delicious.  Occasionally I was tempted by the sweet selections of the chocolate chip and raisin cinnamon varieties.  Either way, my favourite part was watching the bagel selected for you whizzing down the conveyor to be unceremoniously cut by a massive circular saw.

Recently remembering my bagel-y breakfasts in Boston, I jotted down these chewy breads on my to-do list.  With my focus now on baking bread for the month, they have soared to the top of the list.

I am no a stranger to baking bread and have sporadically baked a loaf or two over the last 10 years when time permits.  During that time, however, I have never *boiled* pre-baked bread dough.  And that is exactly what you need to do for bagels.  The characteristic chewiness of the bagel is produced by a quick one minute dip of the pre-shaped bread in boiling water.  (Imagine ‘old school’ round doughnuts frying in a pot of oil, and you get the picture.)

I researched a few recipes and they all seemed similar.  I ultimately decided to go with an adaptation from Martha Stewart as many of her yeasted bread recipes have worked a treat for me in the past.  The process seems quite long, but it is really quite simple.  The time you need to factor, like for nearly all bread making, is for the proofing process.

The end result?  They were no Finagle a Bagel, but they were good.  They were chewy and slightly dense and delicious with a healthy helping of cream cheese on top.

{ Bagels } adapted from Martha Stewart

* Ingredients *

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1-2/3 cups warm water
3 tablespoons sugar
4 ½ cups bread flour
1-1/2 tablespoons table salt

* Directions *

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the yeast and water. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.  Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the dough hook and with the mixer on low speed add the sugar, flour and salt.  Knead for about 1 minute until slightly tacky dough forms.  You may need to add more flour or water depending on what you find.  Continue to knead dough for about 5 more minutes then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place for 2 hours (until doubled in bulk).  Divide dough into 10 equal pieces. Cover with a damp kitchen towel.  Let rest for about 20 minutes.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with oil; set aside.  With lightly oiled hands, roll each piece of dough into a 6-inch rope. Form a circle around your hand and then press the two ends together to seal.  Place the bagels 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Cover with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and let rest until puffed (about 20 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 500 F or 260 C with racks in the upper and lower thirds.  Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil.  Gently drop bagels into the water (as many as will comfortably fit without touching each other). After 30 seconds, use a slotted spoon to gently flip the bagels over — simmer for yet another 30 seconds.   Then, using the slotted spoon again, return the bagels to the parchment-lined sheets. Top them with the seeds or salt .  Place sheets in the oven.  Bake for 5 minutes and then rotate the sheets and reduce the temperature to  350 F or 180 C.   Bake until golden brown for about 10 minutes.  Then flip the bagels over. Continue baking for another 5 minutes. Transfer bagels to wire rack to cool.

{ A little hint … }

:: I used poppy seeds for my bagels as I had them on hand, but take inspiration from Finagle a Bagel for the many flavour combinations available.  The choice is limitless.

P.S. I am submitting these poppy seed bagels to YeastSpotting, the weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes.  To find out more, click here.

Lemon Meringue3

It is birthday time again and occasion to bake a delicious birthday cake.  The lucky beneficiary?  My beautiful sister.

When it comes to desserts, my sister has a fondness for tart and spicy flavours (rather than the chocolately richness I adore).  In the past, I have baked cakes with flavours such as lime, passionfruit, ginger, and cardamom to satisfy her palate.  This year?  Lemon is to be the star ingredient.

I stumbled across the recipe for Lemon Meringue Cake by Martha Stewart while searching for a creamy lemon curd recipe.  I was interested in how the more traditional lemon meringue tart was deconstructed into cake form. 

The cake is quite simple to make, and only requires a little time planning for the few steps involved.  But it is all worth it.  When you get your torch out to brown the meringue, it is quite impressive.  If you love the taste of lemon meringue tart, you will love this cake. 

{ Lemon Meringue Cake } adapted from Martha Stewart

lemon-meringue-cake-slice* Ingredients *

Makes one 17.5cm or 7-inch layer cake

1 stick (125g) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
½ tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cups Lemon Curd
1 recipe Meringue

* Directions *

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180 C or 350 F. Butter two cake pans. Flour pans, tapping out excess; set aside. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven, and let stand in pans until cool, about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove cakes from pans. Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes. Slice each cake horizontally into 3 layers. Place one layer on a serving platter. Spread with lemon curd. Top with second layer of cake. Spread with curd. Repeat with remaining cake and curd, finishing with a layer of cake. Transfer to refrigerator until ready to use, at least 2 hours.
Remove cake from refrigerator. Spread a thin even layer of meringue over sides of cake. Mound the remaining meringue on top of cake. Use a handheld torch to brown meringue.  If you do not have a torch, pop the cake into the oven for 5-7 minutes (watch it carefully!).

{ Lemon Curd }

* Ingredients *

4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

* Directions *

Prepare an ice water bath; set aside. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Add the lemon juice, butter, and lemon zest. Place over a pan of simmering water and cook, whisking occasionally, until thick, about 15 minutes. Transfer bowl to ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Transfer to refrigerator until completely cold, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

{ Meringue }

* Ingredients *

1 cups sugar
4 large egg whites
1 ½ tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

* Directions *

Combine the sugar, egg whites, and lemon juice in the bowl of an electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes.
Transfer bowl to the mixer stand fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for 10 minutes. Increase to high speed and beat until stiff glossy peaks form, 10 to 15 minutes more.