When it comes to baking and cooking, do we go through 'phases' in the same way teenagers sometimes do? Or am I too easily obsessed with things once I figure out how to perfect them? Lately I can't seem to get enough caramel. I have always been a dark chocolate fan. When presented with a choice, I've always gone with fudge over caramel when it comes to sundaes, mochas over caramel macchiatos. But ever since I became comfortable with making homemade caramel, I can't get enough of it.
Unless I have specific requests, I don't make anything more than once. These donut muffins are one of the few recipes that I have made several times just due to the fact that I love them so much. They are so easy to put together and they really do have the flavour and texture of an actual donut. Plus you don't have to worry about messy oil splatters.
Since this recipe is as comfortable to me as an old pair of jeans, I thought it would be perfect to try with my new obsession. I cannot imagine what is not to like about a buttery, sugar coated donut stuffed with creamy caramel.
You can use any filling in these muffins. I have used chocolate sauce, raspberry jam, and bananas. But I think that the caramel was the clear winner. Since I like my caramel on the salty side, it pairs perfectly with the sugary muffin. During the baking process, the caramel sinks through the muffin batter and makes a hole at the bottom. This sticky bottom soaks up the butter which in turn is the perfect magnet for the sugar bath. Once the muffins have cooled off, the edges take on a marvelous crisp shell which protect the soft, moist crumb waiting inside. Even before you reach the caramel, you will be on a cloud of happiness. The creamy, buttery caramel center just pushes these muffins over the edge and you may not want to share them with anyone except your various personalities.
Muffin Ingredients: (recipe adapted from Baking Bites)
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk or half & half
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar, for rolling
1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon
Caramel Sauce Ingredients: (recipe from Simpy Recipes)
1 cup of sugar
6 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp. of sea salt
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Muffins: Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a muffin tin with cooking spray or vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, beat together sugar and egg until light in color.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Pour into egg mixture and stir to combine. Pour in vegetable oil, milk and vanilla extract.
Divide batter evenly into 10 muffin cups or ~24 mini-muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Take a small spoonful of the caramel sauce (recipe follows) and let it drip into the top of each muffin.
Bake for 15-18 minutes for standard-sized muffins or 11-12 minutes for mini-muffins, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
While muffins are baking, melt butter and pour remaining sugar into a small bowl.
When muffins are done, lightly brush the top of each with some melted butter, remove from the pan and roll in sugar. Cool on a wire rack.
Caramel: First, before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go - the cream and the butter next to the pan, ready to put in.
Heat sugar on moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart or 3-quart saucepan. As the sugar begins to melt, stir vigorously with a whisk or wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. You can swirl the pan a bit if you want, from this point on. Note that this recipe works best if you are using a thick-bottomed pan. If you find that you end up burning some of the sugar before the rest of it is melted, the next time you attempt it, add a half cup of water to the sugar at the beginning of the process, this will help the sugar to cook more evenly, though it will take longer as the water will need to evaporate before the sugar will caramelize.
As soon as all of the sugar crystals have melted (the liquid sugar should be dark amber in color), immediately add the butter to the pan. Whisk until the butter has melted.
Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat. Count to three, then slowly add the cream and salt to the pan and continue to whisk to incorporate. Note than when you add the butter and the cream, the mixture will foam up considerably. This is why you must use a pan that is at least 2-quarts (preferably 3-quarts) big. (Check here for an explanation of why adding the cream makes the mixture bubble up so much.)
Whisk until caramel sauce is smooth. Let cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then pour into a glass mason jar and let sit to cool to room temperature. (Remember to use pot holders when handling the jar filled with hot caramel sauce.) Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Warm before serving.
*I made the sauce before the muffins. I left it in the pan and kept stirring it from time to time to keep it from becoming too hard.