I've already discussed the phenomenon known as coffee shop-stage fright. But I'd like to delve deeper into this issue. When I order a frou-frou drink, it's a treat. I am treating myself for doing good things like pilates, yoga, or for allowing someone to pull in front of me on the highway. And even though I feel that I've earned the right to a calorie-laden caffeinated cup of 16oz bliss, I cringe when asked if I'd like whole milk or skim.
Of course I want whole milk, I just don't want to have to say that I want it.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with blurting out "umm...whole, please". But my inner voice, who sounds a lot like an angry drill-sergeant, yells at me about the logic behind drinking a days worth of calories vs. eating them. (I stand firm in my belief that they're not the same.)
If I say skim (because I refuse to call a drink 'skinny), I've sealed myself into the category of 'delusional'. Because with all that syrup, whipped cream, and caramel...does it really matter anymore? Skim is just a way of making myself sound healthier to the person I'm ordering from.
80% of the time I'll go with the skim and wonder why I'm suddenly in a bad mood and drinking something that I didn't really want.
So much over-thinking makes me crave cupcakes. I don't allow the sergeant to come near my baking.
Even if you're not a fan of pumpkin (I'm not), I think you'll love these cupcakes. The pumpkin flavour is there, but it's subtle, just enough to remind you that it's fall and that you should be enjoying this kind of stuff. Plus, they're moist! Nothing is more disappointing than a beautiful cupcake that tastes like cardboard.
As for the frosting. It's heaven, pure heaven. If a frou-frou coffee drink wanted to be reincarnated in an edible form, it would choose to return as this frosting...atop these cupcakes.
It's sweet, it's salty, it's buttery and it makes you feel chefy the way only caramel-making can do. You deserve this frosting.
Pumpkin Cupcakes (cupcake recipe adapted from David Leite via smitten kitchen)
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 Tablespoons (that's 1 stick), of unsalted butter softened to room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar [Note: The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup, which I think would be a tad too sweet.]
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt, at room temperature [Note: The original calls for 1/2 cup of buttermilk...which I didn't have on hand. Both will work.]
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Line cupcake pan(s) with 18-20 liners. [Note: I managed to scrape up 20 cupcakes, but if you can only get 18, no worries. Just be sure to fill any empty muffin tins with water before baking.]
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper. Whisk and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or any bowl large enough to accommodate everything if you're using a hand-held mixer), beat together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes on high speed).
Scrape downs the sides of the bowl and, one at a time, add the eggs, beating well after each addition (about 1 minute on medium speed).
Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine.
Alternate adding the flour mixture and yogurt (or buttermilk, if using), beginning and ending with the flour. When using this method of incorporating dry and wet, always start and end with the dry.
Once everything has been combined, beat in the pumpkin on low-medium speed, until the batter is smooth.
Fill each liner to about 3/4 full. Lightly rap the pans on the counter, just to release any air pockets. So as not potentially set your oven on fire, be sure to add a bit of water to any unused tins.
Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow the cupcakes to rest in the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Cool completely before frosting.
Salted Caramel Frosting [Note: If you plan on piping the frosting, you may want to double the recipe. I had about 5 naked cupcakes that required some serious bowl-scraping to frost. This was sad, as it left me with nothing to lick.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (that's a 1/2 stick), of unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sea salt
8 Tablespoons (that's 1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3-4 cups confectioners' sugar
Prepare the caramel: Roll up your sleeves and take a deep breath. You can do this!
Have the cream and butter measured out and set aside, but within reach.
In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water. Stir them up a bit, just to combine. Turn the heat to medium-high (or just medium if you're nervous...I still get butterflies when making caramel). Using a wooden spoon, stir just until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and allow the mixture to come to a boil. If one spot appears to be boiling faster than the rest, gently swirl the pan around using the handle. Continue to boil until the mixture turns a deep amber colour (but not too dark). Once the colour begins to change, keep a close eye on it...it can go from amber to black in a matter of seconds.
Once it's a rich shade of amber, remove the pan from the heat and immediately (but carefully) add the cream and butter. The caramel will spit and sputter at you, so try not to look it in the eye. Stir vigorously until smooth..if it seizes up on you, just keep stiring and it should iron itself out. Stir in the sea salt. Set the pan aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (a hand-held will work too), beat the 8 Tablespoons of butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add about 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar and beat on low to combine.
Add the cooled caramel and continue beating until combined.
Slowly add 2 more cups of confectioners' sugar. (Don't add it all at once or it'll explode all over the kitchen.)
If the frosting looks too thin, add another 1/2 of sugar, until it comes to a thicker consistency. If it's still too thin, blame the caramel, and stick the frosting in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes.
Spread, pipe, slather the cupcakes as desired! Sprinkle with brown sugar or anything else you can think of!
Makes 18-20 cupcakes