Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes
It seems like once the weather cools down everyone wants to jump right into pumpkin season. Don’t get me wrong, I love pumpkin as much as anyone else, but to me September is apple season.
I was thinking about how often apples get overshadowed by pumpkin a few weeks ago when my husband asked me if I wanted to attend a dinner party with some of his coworkers. “Hrmmm. Maybe…”, I said. “They asked us to bring some kind of food to share”, he said. That was all I needed to hear. Not one to pass up an opportunity, I agreed, “I’ll go… but only if I can bring dessert.” I had visions of apples and caramel and cupcakes swirling in my head.
It took me a while to decide on an approach for these cupcakes. Did I want apple cupcakes with caramel frosting? Caramel cupcakes with apple frosting? Would there be enough apple flavor? I was imagining cupcakes that tasted like apple pie (but without the yucky crust) so they really needed to taste like apples.
Ultimately, I decided the best way to pack that punch of apple flavor into a cupcake was to use apple pie filling. Cinnamon cupcakes would compliment the apple filling without overwhelming it, and caramel frosting would be the icing on the cake (ha ha).
I was apprehensive while putting these cupcakes together. I’m not going to lie – they’re pretty labor intensive and not exactly easy. I had doubts about whether they would be worth all the effort, whether they would taste as good as I imagined they would.
In the end, they didn’t.
They tasted approximately a million times better than I had imagined.
I was hoping for good cupcakes, but these were amazing. Fantastic. They got rave reviews at the party, but I thought maybe everyone was just being nice. Until I tasted one myself. I believe I uttered the phrase, “OMG. These are my new favorite cupcakes ever… and they’re not even chocolate!” So yeah. They’re that good. Totally worth every minute they took to create. You won’t find cupcakes like this in a box at the grocery store!
Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes
Printable Recipe (Includes all sub-recipes)
Makes about 24 cupcakes
There are several steps to complete before assembling the cupcakes, but some can be done a day ahead to speed things up. The caramel and apple filling can both be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Let them come to room temperature (or gently warm caramel) before using. You won’t need the whole batch of caramel, so feel free to half it if you don’t want a bunch leftover. Any leftover pie filling or caramel sauce makes a fantastic breakfast/snack mixed with Greek yogurt, or a delicious topping for ice cream!
Working with completely cooled, use a small paring knife to cut out a cone shaped wedge from the center of each cupcake. (Like when cutting the lid off of a jack-o-lantern.) Save the “lids”. If needed, scrape out a little bit of cake from each hole to make more room for filling – just don’t go too far or your cupcakes will fall apart. Fill each hole not quite to the top with Apple Filling (about 1/2 tablespoon). Replace “lids”, trimming off the bottoms of the “lids” if necessary.
Pipe frosting on cupcakes. Drizzle with caramel sauce.
Serve same day as assembled, or freeze for long term storage.
Makes about 2 cups
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.5 pounds (approx.) Honey Crisp apples (about 4 medium), peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add apples, sugars, lemon juice and cinnamon. Cook until apples are tender and release their juices – about 10 minutes. In a small bowl or glass, combine cornstarch and water. Add to apples and stir, cooking until thickened. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. (Cover and refrigerate overnight if making ahead.)
Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce
A word of caution: Making caramel is tricky. Have patience and have all of your ingredients ready to go. Caramel also gets very, very hot. Much hotter than boiling water. It will spatter, so be careful. Wear long sleeves, use a deep pan or pot, and do not try to taste the hot caramel no matter how much you want to! David Lebovitz has some great tips for making caramel.
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Measure heavy cream in a measuring cup. Scrape out vanilla bean seeds and add to cream. Set aside.
Spread sugar in an even layer on the bottom of a heavy, tall-sided sauce pan or pot. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring gently with a heat-proof spatula or whisk to promote even browning, until sugar melts. Once the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring.
Watch carefully. When the caramel turns a rich amber color and smells like caramel, remove from heat and immediately whisk in cream. (Caution: Caramel will bubble violently!) If any sugar has hardened, return to low heat and whisk until smooth.
Cool to room temperature. To store or make ahead, transfer to an air-tight container and keep refrigerated. Caramel can be re-warmed in microwave or in a saucepan over low heat, if needed.
1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.
Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat eggs and sugar until thick ribbons form, about 5 minutes. Add flour mixture and beat on low just until incorporated. Add milk mixture and vanilla, and beat until blended.
Divide evenly among baking tins. Bake at 350°F for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Caramel Swiss Buttercream Frosting
It’s very important that your caramel be no warmer than room temperature when you add it to the frosting, or your frosting will melt.
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup Vanilla Bean Caramel sauce (above), cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
Place a saucepan with about 2 inches of water over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer. Combine egg whites, sugar and salt in the metal bowl of a stand mixer. Place bowl over pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until mixture an instant-read thermometer reads 160°F. (Sugar will be dissolved and mixture will start to resemble marshmallow fluff.)
Remove bowl from heat and attach to stand mixer. Beat with the whisk attachment until stiff meringue peaks form and the outside of the bowl no longer feels warm, about 10 minutes. Switch to paddle attachment. On low speed, add one cube of butter at a time, waiting until incorporated before adding the next. Once all butter is added, on low speed slowly pour in caramel. Add vanilla and continue beating until smooth. (If frosting curdles, just keep beating! If frosting is soupy, place mixer bowl in fridge for 10-15 minutes and beat until smooth. Repeat if necessary.)