Normally I at least feel like a Martha in training. An almost, but not quite. Good, better best, never let it rest. Till your good is better and your better is the best! For better or worse that little sing song-y phrase is implanted in my head. It has been since childhood. So I drive myself a little nutty trying to be the best I can be.
These cupcakes were an episode in humility. What started as an attempt to fill my cupcakes with homemade marshmallow and bitter caramel, swiftly turned into minimizing the stickiness of my kitchen. I had marshmallow in my hair, maybe a little caramel too. There was marshmallow all over the counters. Caramel all over the stove. Marshmallow on my toes. Sprinkles on the floor. Marshmallow underneath my sweatshirt. By the time I finished these cupcakes I was in desperate need of a shower, the floor needed mopping, and the counters needed scrubbing. AND I had to do laundry. Actually it was pretty impressive.
I also have to let you in on a little secret. This was my second attempt at this month's marshmallow cupcake hero. Yes, Laurie, and TW picked the super challenging MARSHMALLOW as the secret ingredient. Totally off topic, my sister M's first word was marshmallow. The first try at this month's cupcake hero, I tried to infuse a yellow cupcake with the subtle flavors of lavender and honey. But the cream cheese frosting completely overpowered the entire marshmallow experience. We ate them, but they didn't seem right.
But these cupcakes, (once I blacked out the memory of my sticky sticky kitchen) were delicious. They were marshmallow yet grownup. The bitter caramel balanced the sweetness of the marshmallow. And the hint of orange elevated it to a new level. The marshmallow heart on top, which were formed after I gave up on trying to make peeps (that could be how I got marshmallow in my ears) turned nice and crispy. I could have just eaten a bunch of those hearts with the spot of caramel. Except after two tries at marshmallow cupcakes, I'm really done with marshmallows for a while.
Bitter Caramel and Marshmallow Cupcakes
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
grated zest from one orange
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp orange extract
6 large eggs
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 18 cupcake cups with paper liners
Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and zest together and set aside.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed beat butter until creamy, about 4 minutes. Add sugar gradually until fluffy, another 4 minutes. Beat in orange extract. Then add eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl before adding another egg. Add the flour in 4 additions, beating just until smooth on low medium speed after each addition.
Divide batter evenly among the cupcake wells. Bake for about 22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center shows a few moist crumbs.
Cool cupcakes in pans for about 1 minute. Then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
2 Tbsp gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
3/4 cup boiling water
2 cups sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Soak the gelatin in the cold water until it has taken up all the water. Boil the sugar and water to the soft-ball stage (238°F). Add the vanilla and salt to the gelatin. Pour the syrup slowly over the gelatin, beating constantly with an electric mixer. Continue to beat until marshmallow has cooled and is thick and white. Put half of the marshmallow in a oiled gallon sized Ziploc bag. Spread the other half of the marshmallow thinly on a well buttered cookie sheet that has been generously coated with colored sugar. Don't worry if the marshmallow doesn't go all the way to the edges of the pan. Just try to get a smooth, fairly thin sheet of marshmallow. Generously coat the top of the marshmallow with more colored sugar.
Bitter Caramel Sauce:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp Triple Sec (or Grand Marnier)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup whipping cream
juice of one orange
Combine sugar, 1/2 cup water, triple sec, and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber, almost brown color, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully add cream. Stir sauce over low heat until any caramel bits dissolve and sauce is smooth. Add juice and stir again until smooth.
Bitter Caramel Buttercream
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) room temperature butter cut into small pieces
3 Tbsp bitter caramel sauce at room temperature
Place egg white, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer over a simmer pot of water and whisk gently until sugar is dissolved and mixture reaches a temperature of 140°, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whip by machine until thick and cooled. Beat in the butter a little bit at a time, continuing to beat until creamy and smooth. Beat in the caramel sauce until combined.
Using a small paring knife cut a cone out of the top of each cupcake being careful to set the tops aside in an order such that you can put the top to each cupcake back on it's original bottom. Fill each cupcake hole with a scant 1 tsp caramel sauce. Have a partially filled glass of water nearby and snip a corner of the Ziploc of marshmallow with kitchen shears. Allow excess oil to drain out. Then using like a piping bag, fill each cupcake hole with approximately 1 1/2 tsp marshmallow. Use the kitchen shears wetting them in between cupcakes to snip the marshmallow so that you don't get strings of marshmallow going from cupcake to cupcake. Once all the cupcakes are filled replace the tops on the cupcakes. It may be necessary to cut the bottom of the cone off so that the top lies flat. Spread with buttercream to cover. The buttercream will cover any marshmallow strings or uneven tops. If you are going to pipe the buttercream on top of the cupcakes you will need to make a double batch of the buttercream. About now you will really feel the urge to have a drink or scrub yourself, but resist the urge because you aren't done yet.
Take a small heart shaped cookie cutter to the thinly spread colored sugar covered marshmallow and cut enough marshmallow hearts to have a 1:1 ratio of hearts to cupcakes. Place one heart on each cupcake and add a drop of the bitter caramel sauce to the center of each heart.
Now go clean the kitchen and take a shower.