So here’s a confession: I had what felt like a large number of kitchen fails for about a two-month stretch during October and November of last year. We’re talking mis-measuring ingredients, baking too long, not baking long enough, not accounting for size very well…..things I felt were pretty basic just weren’t coming together. Kind of a bummer. Not devastating – I mean, it’s just baking – but it started to
make me cry a lot wear me down just a teeny tiny bit.
But then you get over these things. Because you need a creative outlet. And you
want some cake. Also because you’ve committed to make dessert for some dinner or another.
And honestly, with holiday baking on the horizon, I knew the best thing to would be stick with it and practice. So I stuck with tried and true recipes for the holidays (because honestly, who doesn’t love a chocolate chip cookie at the end of the day?) and started to build my confidence again.
I feel like this frosting was the culmination of me getting back into the swing of baking, especially now that I’m much more adjusted to my new kitchen layout, plus getting back to more of a fearless nature in the kitchen. We’re talking burn sugar three times, clean the burnt sugar off the saucepan like crazy and still stick with it kind of fearless.
The recipe isn’t perfected yet, but still worth sharing as I experiment. Also, it was still very good, so it might just be your thing if you like a light caramel flavor.
I also tried a new chocolate cupcake recipe. They’re the fabulous cupcake base of these super fabulous cupcakes from the marvelous Joy the Baker. Sidenote: Read her blog. It’s really really good and she takes fantastic photos. Anyway, so the cupcake recipe was new and kind of tried and true, because my friend Jackie had made them. And if it passes her chocolate cake test, then it’s a sure thing. Side-Sidenote: Read her blog too!
The real fun here was the frosting.
I had been craving something with salted caramel for quite some time. Not for any specific reason, but in general I swoon over things with a sweet/slightly salty combo.
With that in mind, I set out to make caramel frosting. Making it up as I went along. And having a lot of fun in the process.
Because it’s a work in process, I sadly do not have a specific recipe to share. But if you’d like to know the general framework and experiment on your own, below please find my rough guidelines, sort-of recipe for caramel frosting.
Next time I’ll probably increase the amount of caramel for a stronger flavor. But after having to clean burnt sugar from a pot twice, I was pretty happy with the outcome. And even more happy to be creative in the kitchen again. I’ll be sure to share any tweaks I make as I perfect it.
For the frosting base
5 large egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 sticks of unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the caramel – adapted from a class I took at The Chopping Block in Chicago:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
It’s necessary to make the caramel in advance to allow it enough time to cool. Combine the sugar and the water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup caramelizes to a deep amber color. Do not stir it while it’s boiling and be extra careful because the mixture gets very hot.
Remove from heat. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the caramel and whisk until smooth. Put to the side and let cool.
To start the frosting, follow the process for Swiss Meringue Buttercream. When you get to the step where you whip the meringue after taking it off the heat, note it won’t get as full and fluffy because there’s less sugar.
Add in the butter according to the directions. For me, it looked like all of the frosting would separate because of too little sugar. But if you continue whipping the frosting while adding the butter, it all comes together. This time around I think it took over ten minutes because I added the butter really slowly.
Once all the butter is added, add in your vanilla and caramel. I added my caramel in three batches to make my mixer’s job a little easier and also to track and adjust the caramel as needed based on the flavor. I ended up adding the entire batch of caramel and actually wished I had more so the frosting was more caramel-y.
Once it’s all done, pipe it onto some cupcakes and sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt. My advice – be generous with the frosting and sparing with the sea salt.