I, like many people, love that fall’s arrival means the season of pumpkin everything. Pumpkin is one of my all-time favorite flavors. I’m pretty sure one of the main reasons I’ve always loved Thanksgiving is that there’s always pumpkin pie. My husband and I had a November wedding, and we even served pumpkin cupcakes from Tacoma’s Corina Bakery at the reception! I had never personally made pumpkin cupcakes, so I decided to try my hand at making my own. They turned out great. And what’s tastier than maple cream-cheese frosting to top them off?
Another treat I’d never tried making before? Caramels. I haven’t delved much into candy making, but I got it stuck in my head that I needed to make some pumpkin caramels. So I set off on a quest. Truth be told, it took me five attempts to get these caramels right, and I nearly lost my mind! It was certainly a learning experience, but I think I’ve got it down now. There’s a lot more finesse and precision involved in making candy, but I was determined to figure it out and not give up. Making caramels definitely has a higher degree of difficulty than whipping up some cupcakes, but you’ll totally impress all your friends when you bring handmade pumpkin caramels to the holiday party this fall.
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1¼ cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep cupcake pans with 18 liners. Beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter and sugar mixture, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth.
- Distribute the batter among the cupcake liners, filling about ¾ full. Tap the filled pans once on the counter to release air bubbles.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small cubes
- 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (I used Starbucks Via)
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup pure maple syrup
- Beat butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for about
- 1 minute on medium, until smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat until the mixture is smooth and lump-free.
- Dissolve the espresso powder in the vanilla, and add it to the mixture. Add the maple syrup and continue beating until smooth and well-blended. If the frosting isn’t firm enough to spread, you can stick it in the fridge for a bit.
- You can either pipe the frosting on (I used a Ziplock bag with the corner snipped off), or just slather it on. I also dusted a bit of nutmeg on the top, but cinnamon or raw sugar would also look (and taste) divine.
- 8-by-8-inch pan
- Plastic wrap
- 1 quart heavy saucepan
- 2 quart heavy saucepan
- Heatproof silicone spatula
- Candy thermometer
- Cutting board
- Parchment paper
- Chef’s knife or pizza wheel
- Cellophane or waxed paper
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup, or molasses
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- ⅛ teaspoon allspice
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 ¼teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ cups cream
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ cup pureed pumpkin
- Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with plastic wrap. Mix together corn syrup, golden syrup/molasses, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice into a paste in a 1 quart saucepan. Add butter, kosher salt, pumpkin, and cream, and cook over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, decrease the heat to low to keep it warm.
- Meanwhile, caramelize the sugar in a 2 quart saucepan. To caramelize sugar, heat the empty saucepan over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Then pour about an ⅛-inch layer of sugar into the pan. Whenever you first notice a darkened spot of brown caramelized sugar, begin stirring in that spot with a silicone spatula. Gradually swirl the surrounding sugar into the liquified caramel. Add another ⅛-inch layer and gradually stir it into the caramelized sugar.
- Keep adding layers gradually, making sure not to add too much at once. The sugar should stay mostly liquid. Stir the sugar so it cooks evenly until all the sugar crystals are dissolved.
- When the sugar has fully caramelized, turn off the heat. Slowly and gently add the cream mixture into the caramelized sugar, while stirring. The mixture will bubble up pretty high; be careful of spatter. Return heat to medium high and stir constantly and gently until it reaches 248 degrees. If you don’t heat it high enough, the caramel won’t thicken. (Too high and it will thicken too much and be hard.) Pour into the prepared pan, and cover with plastic wrap. Let set at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, at room temperature.
- Unwrap the caramel and place it on a cutting board covered with parchment paper, to keep it from sticking. Use a chef’s knife or pizza wheel to cut the slab into 1/2-inch-wide strips, and then cut each strip into 2-inch-long pieces. Wrap each piece individually in cellophane or wax paper. Makes about 64 pieces.