A Tale of Two Caramels

September 15, 2017




I want to make delicious things.  That's all I want to do, put amazing flavors and textures together, put them in someone's mouth, and watch them enjoy the thing I made.  That's the rush.  So the days when I have what I think is a BRILLIANT idea for some cupcakes and despite my best efforts it just doesn't work out?  Those are the hard days.  Perfectionism is not tasty, folks.


So brown sugar is, to me, one of the drop-everything-I-must-eat-it flavors.  Call a thing brown sugar flavored and it suddenly takes on this shine and sparkle.  The brown sugar beckons me into its sweet, cozy embrace and I'm 6 again (or 7 or 8 or 38) and stealing a bit of cookie dough from my mom's mixing bowl.  Heaven.  Anyway, when I was thinking about what sort of bakey thing to make next, naturally my good buddy brown sugar dropped in for a spell.


I've been making a lot of these cupcakes lately, a vanilla cupcake recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook that I've doubled and tweaked along the way.  A little extra salt here, a little almond extract there.  No matter what I've done to it, the recipe has produced a lot of reliably tasty cakes.  Wouldn't it be AMAZING, I thought to myself, if I tried making these vanilla cupcakes but instead of white sugar I used BROWN sugar??  Wouldn't that be just the absolute most? (when I am alone in my head I get very excited about things)  So I gave it a shot.  And I don't know where the idea came from, but I decided I was going to fill those cupcakes with some sort of caramel sauce.  But huh...I've never really made a caramel sauce and I'm not sure we have all of the ingredie...(right here.  This is where I went off the rails)...nts.  Maybe if I substituted milk for the heavy cream in this recipe and more brown sugar (yeah baby!) for the white sugar and crossing my fingers for the other very necessary things that go into it.  Maybe I can craft a brown sugar caramel sauce suitable for filling cupcakes through sheer force of will!  (spoiler alert:  I can not)


Do you know what happens when you heat up a saucepan full of  brown sugar with butter and a little 1% milk because that's all you have on hand?  Nothing good, that's what.  I'm sure there is a very interesting chemistry-laden explanation for everything that went wrong there, but what happened was I ended up with a gritty, syrupy, buttery thing that is definitely not caramel.  And I really don't know why -- I must have been having an out-of-body experience at the time -- but I still used it!  I dutifully carved little holes in the tops of my happy looking brown sugar cupcakes and scooped the buttery grit into them.  And it sat there and solidified and basically I ended up with a very nice cupcake with a wad of brown sugar in the middle of it.  Intriguing and weird (and not un-tasty), but not at all what I was going for. 


So I had to try again, I had to do better.  And it's a boring moral of the story, but the moral is use the actual ingredients specified in the recipe if you want the recipe to turn out.  Because today I made these chocolate cupcakes and this caramel sauce (I promise I will make the caramel filled chocolate skulls in that recipe next time) and I used all of the ingredients specified (well, most of them) and ended up with some delicious chocolate cupcakes with gooey sticky caramel filling and chocolate cream frosting (whip some cream and add a little cocoa and powdered sugar until it's delicious.  You'll know.)  And for at least one evening, my critical inner voice is quiet because her mouth is full of yummy cupcakes that worked just the way I wanted them to. ✦     

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