Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream
Well, I did it. After many, many unsuccessful, albeit well-intentioned attempts, I finally got it done. It took a great deal of bravery on my part, but somehow I made it through the process without falling to pieces or passing out.
Yes, I chopped 6 inches off of my hair.
You ladies will understand how I feel. Michael Bolton would probably understand too. Cutting a sizable chunk of length from your hair is no easy feat, especially when your hair has been at the same comfortable length for the past 8 years.
I tend to be a very impulsive person, which can prove to be both a positive and negative attribute. On the plus side, I shop for clothes and shoes quickly, which is great because I don't really like to shop (I know, how very un-girly of me.) On the minus side, sometimes the results of my rash decision-making take a bit of getting used to. Such is the case with my hair. Did I mention that I darkened it a bit too? My appointment was originally for a trim. Like I said, impulsive.
The change in my hair probably doesn't come across as all that dramatic to anyone other than myself. I guarantee that if I hadn't mentioned it to Eric first, he wouldn't have been able to pinpoint exactly what was different about my look. I was actually fine with the new do as I exited Color Salon, rocking expertly coiffed tresses that only hairstylists can achieve. The shock came when I washed and styled on my own for the first time. "Style" being a term that I use loosely, since I have absolutely no cosmetology chops whatsoever. I'm so used to brushing and drying my long locks that the difference in length suddenly became vividly apparent. Oh dear, what did I do? I had absolutely no idea how to work with my new hair, immediately foreseeing weeks of baseball caps and (very short) ponytails in my future to make up for a string of perpetually bad hair days.
I'm sure that I was overreacting, which I tend to do sometimes (right mom and dad?) In a matter of weeks, I'll probably be well-acquainted with the new style, and maybe I'll even grow to appreciate the shorter length=greater efficiency aspect. But at that point, I was not happy with the shear madness of my decision. I needed to lose myself in an activity (baking of course), and I needed some comfort.
I needed a cupcake, but not just any cupcake. I needed a cupcake that smelled, looked, and tasted like the holidays--a double dose of comfort if you will. A cupcake with hints of ginger, cinnamon, and clove, studded with crystallized ginger and raisins and swirled with a rich caramel buttercream that had been on my mind for weeks. Ah, yes! I needed a gingerbread cupcake!
This recipe is actually the result of a second attempt at this idea. The first go-round I prepared the batter using butter instead of safflower oil. As I have found with many cake, cupcake, and gingerbread recipes, the butter produces a drier texture than one prepared using oil. Although butter might yield a more desirable flavor, in this case any difference would be overshadowed by the spices and molasses, so I opted for the oil. In other cases, such as vanilla cupcakes, I tend to go half-sies, using 50% butter and 50% oil. That seems to work well. I just hate a dry cupcake, don't you? Bleh.
The addition of the soaking syrup is something usually reserved for layer cakes, but in this case, it adds an extra layer of ginger flavor as well as another source of moisture. I picked this trick up complements of another recipe from Mr. Bobby Flay. Here are a few extra tips for making these triple-ginger treats:
- The cupcakes are best eaten the day that they are prepared, but they will keep, tightly covered at room temperature, for 2-3 days.
- Crystallized ginger, also called candied ginger, can now be found at most grocery stores, but in various sections. I have found it mixed in with the dried fruit and nut, in the produce section, or in the baking section. The best solution is to ask! Trader Joe's carries crystallized ginger at the lowest price that I have found so far.
- Although adding the crystallized ginger and/or golden raisins to the batter is optional, I would highly recommend it. Not only does it add texture and a punch of contrasting flavor, but it helps to keep the cupcakes moist.
- The buttermilk in the cupcake batter may be replaced with sour cream or yogurt.
- When preparing both the buttercream and the syrup, be sure to stir the sugar until it has dissolved, otherwise it will develop a grainy texture.
For the soaking syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 (2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger
For the cupcakes
1/2 cup canola or safflower oil
3/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger or golden raisins (optional)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten in a heatproof bowl
1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1-1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
Chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
Prepare the soaking syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 5-6 minutes, until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and allow the ginger to steep for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line a 12-cup cupcake tin with paper liners. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the oil with the brown sugar and molasses at medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the buttermilk.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, beating until combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger and/or raisins.
Divide the batter among the prepared cupcake liners, filling each just about halfway full. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 15-18 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack set over a piece of foil.
Discard the ginger from the syrup. Brush the syrup generously over the tops of the cupcakes, allowing it to soak in before applying a second coat. Let the cupcakes cool completely.
Prepare the buttercream: In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, stir together the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high; boil the mixture until the syrup turns a deep amber color, swirling the pan occasionally, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the cream. The mixture will bubble vigorously. Stir the mixture over low heat until the caramel bits dissolve.
Very gradually, whisk the hot caramel into the beaten eggs. Cool the mixture to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the cooled caramel. Add enough of the confectioner's sugar to achieve a smooth and spreadable consistency. Pipe or spread the buttercream on the cupcakes. Garnish with chopped ginger and serve.