A Caramel Macchiato cupcake is a perfect sweet treat for Fall.
Fall is officially here, and it has turned quite chilly outside, at least where I live. It’s definitely the kind of weather where I seek out toasty beverages to warm my bones. Normally, I am a straight coffee kind of gal, but this past week, I decided to try a caramel macchiato. Man, was it good! For those of you who are unfamiliar, a caramel macchiato is a coffee drink with milk and vanilla topped with foam that has espresso poured through the foam and a caramel drizzle on top. I love how each of these flavors are delicious in their own right, and yet, when they come together, something magical happens to my taste buds.
I was inspired. My wheels started turning immediately, trying to figure out how to transform this tasty beverage into a cupcake. I love taking a favorite food treat and turning it into an unexpected cake or cupcake flavor. For me, it is very much a creative process, starting with decisions of the flavors and textures that I want to highlight. I knew that coffee had to be the “star” of the cupcake, with a hint of vanilla, and I wanted the frosting to have a creamy, light caramel flavor with a bit of a “frothy” texture.
Mission accomplished. This golden brown cupcake is moist and has a vibrant coffee flavor with just a whisper of vanilla. It is frosted with a creamy, light Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream. The flavors complement one another beautifully, yet each flavor has real depth, just like the coffee beverage. I decided to garnish my cupcakes with coffee beans, but you could drizzle some caramel sauce on top, if you prefer. Enjoy!
Caramel Macchiato Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
dash of salt
1/2 cup boiling water
5 teaspoons instant coffee
1/4 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, pour the boiling water over the instant coffee, stir the mixture, and let it cool. Combine the coffee with milk. In separate bowl, beat butter and granulated and brown sugars with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then, beat in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with coffee-milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour.
Your batter should be smooth but somewhat thick. Before you scoop your batter into the cupcake tins, you may have to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. After doing so, just run your mixer for a quick bit to combine this flour with the batter.
Fill the cupcake tins three-quarters full. Bake for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cupcakes comes out clean. Brush each cupcake with simple syrup (recipe and directions below).
For the coffee simple syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (vanilla extract will work, too)
What is vanilla bean paste? It is made by scraping vanilla beans into a sweet, thick syrup. See all those lovely little vanilla beans? It has a stronger and richer vanilla flavor than vanilla extract. While you can use vanilla extract in this recipe, why not try something new? You can buy vanilla paste at Williams Sonoma or online. It is a bit more expensive than pure vanilla extract, but not that much more. I pinky-swear that it will be totally worth the few extra bucks. A little jar will last you a while, too.
Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat on the stove. Stir continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Use a toothpick to poke several small holes into the top of each cupcake.
Take a toothpick and poke several holes into the top of each cupcake. This will allow the brushed simple syrup to soak into the cupcakes.
Take a pastry brush and generously brush the simple syrup over each cupcake.
Dip your pastry brush into the simple syrup and then brush each cupcake. You want to cover each cupcake completely, but don't over-do it. Please do not skip this step! The simple syrup will keep your cupcakes moist and will add further flavor.
Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.
Adapted from Flour Child
For the Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
4 large egg whites
1 cup of lightly packed brown sugar
3 sticks of unsalted butter, cold and cut into tablespoons
1/2 tablespoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
1 tablespoon half and half
At first blush, this frosting may seem a bit complicated to make. I promise you that it is really quite simple, and the results are divine! First, place the egg whites and the brown sugar in a heat-proof bowl to your stand mixer and place the bowl over a pot of boiling water on your stove. Stir continuously until this mixture reaches 160 degrees (use a candy thermometer) and the brown sugar has dissolved.
I simply placed my Kitchen Aid mixing bowl on top of a sauce pan that was half filled with water. The stove heat was set on medium-high. This technique actually has a name—bain marie, which means to gradually and gently heat your ingredients to a fixed temperature in a water bath. It’s French. Now, don’t you feel kind of fancy?
Remove from heat and place the bowl under your stand mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Beat the mixture on high speed until it holds stiff peaks. Continue beating the mixture for about 5 minutes, until it is fluffy. Then, remove the whisk attachment and place the paddle attachment onto your mixer. Start your mixer on medium-low speed (4 on your Kitchen Aid), and add several butter tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.
After all of the butter has been added, the frosting will appear to separate. Bump up the speed on your mixer to a medium high speed (6 on your Kitchen Aid), and keep beating for about 3-4 minutes. It will come together beautifully.
After you have added all of your butter, your buttercream will begin to separate and will look like this picture. Hang in there, and keep the mixer going for another 3-4 minutes. It is about to come together to make a beautiful, smooth frosting.
Then, reduce your mixer speed to the lowest setting (2 on your Kitchen Aid) to eliminate any air bubbles. Finally, stir with a spatula until the frosting is smooth. Frost your cupcakes and add your desired garnish.
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook