Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Salted caramel cupcakes - a taste testing adventure


This post is titled adventure. Because that is sure what it was! I've often pondered why something I adore has little or no affect on others, yet people rave about things I can take or leave - I'm talking about taste!, the taste of things that is (specifically related to cake).
I adore chocolate and mint paired together, yet we never have it here in the house, because I am the only one that thinks so, my hubby thinks its like trying to eat chocolate after you've brushed your teeth and he hates it (I'm not sure what he's on about, the thought of chocolate after brushing my teeth sounds great!)
I decided I would play around with salted caramel cupcakes, as it is a flavour I adore. I found some wonderful natural pink salt and this post grew from that purchase.
I learned an awful lot along the way. I selected a few taste testers at random (well people who were available and near by and would agree to do it), I have had to look beyond my family, as when you're surrounded by sugar all the time, like my family is, they can often complain about having to eat more cake (yeah seriously!) I had wanted to also get feedback on Wilton candy melts taste, so included this on my taste testing sheet (each taster was issued with homework). One of my taste testers is a roller derby skater, so in her honour I made the candy melts in the shape of skates.


I decided to use red velvet cupcakes. Cream cheese is most commonly paired with red velvet, so  I made one cupcake like this, as a comparison (spot #1 in top photo). Rows 2 and three are two versions of salted caramel icing. On one cupcake I sprinkled the pink salt, the other was left plain.

Surprise no#1 I had a total of 9 testers (I was the 9th). The results were wild & varied, but what surprised me was I actually had every single cupcake in the box from 1-5 be the favourite of at least 1 person. I had imagined one flavour of Salted caramel would win out over the other, or that salted would lose to non salted. NOT THE CASE.

Surprise #2 I had a preconceived notion of which flavour I would like, prior to making the icing NOT THE CASE.
My basis for the start of my salted caramel icing was to take a tin of Highlander caramel condensed milk and mix it with, what is essentially a cream cheese icing base. I expected to love this icing best of all - as I love the taste of Highlander caramel.
The reason I thought I would love this best, was the stovetop caramel I made, following a recipe from scratch was a very subtle flavour, I expected when added to icing, the icing would be too subtle for me NOT THE CASE.

Icing recipe #2 was my clear favourite, it tasted divine and was so light & fluffy, the perfect compliment to the red velvet. I also preferred it with the crunch of the pink salt crystals sprinkled over, rather than just plain.


Recipe #1 Salted caramel icing
1t in Highlander caramel condensed milk
150g butter
200g cream cheese
4-5 cups icing sugar

Beat butter & cream cheese together in electric mixer, add caramel. Slowly add icing sugar to combine, until you reach your desired consistency

Recipe #2 Salted caramel icing
Ingredients - FOR THE CARAMEL SAUCE

4 tablespoons water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, kosher or sea

FOR THE FROSTING

180g butter at room temperature
200g cream cheese
4-5 cups icing sugar
3/4 cup salted caramel

Instructions

FOR THE CRAMEL SAUCE

Combine the water, sugar, and the corn syrup in a deep saucepan and cook over medium heat—stir with a wooden spoon to combine
Cover the saucepan and let it cook over medium/medium-low heat for 3 minutes.
After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
Continue to cook until the caramel turns an even amber color then remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 seconds.
Pour the heavy cream into the mixture. Be careful. The mixture will bubble up!
Stir the mixture. Add the butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.
Stirring occasionally, allow to cool until thick and warm, about 20 minutes.

FOR THE ICING
Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
Sift 2 cups of icing sugar into the cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
Add 3/4 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.
Sift rest of icing sugar, in 1 cup increments and beating between each, until you arrive at the thickness and sweetness you desire.

As I previously mentioned, I had a taste tester that chose each and every cupcake as their favourite, which meant none of them could have tasted bad. In fact every tester told me, they actually liked all 5, but had to pick a favourite, as required by their homework.

Some of my questions were ......
Did you prefer the cupcakes salted or unsalted? I had votes for salted & votes for unsalted - the reasons varied. One tester like #1 salted and #2 unsalted. Most agreed the texture of the granules was a nice addition
Can you explain why you prefer one cupcake over the other? The answers on this were quite varied, what one tester liked about a cupcake was what another did not like. One taste tester AKA Grandma Kiwicakes liked salted caramel #1 best "becasue it tastes like Russian fudge" (her favourite) she also preferred it salted
Did you like the red Wilton candy melts? "yes but very sweet, couldn't eat more than 1 at a time", "YES! - it was so good I could eat more" & "YES tastes like white chocolate which I love!" "Yes it had a nice white chocolate taste - not too sickly".

Surprise #3 When you leave salt granules on icing overnight, they actually melt NOT GOOD, so if salting your cupcakes, please do so just before serving.

My final conclusion - I like Salted caramel cupcake icing #2 best and I like salt granules on top. Most of my testers did not agree with me. So in short I will sum up my adventure with some wise words I've heard many times......You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.


You can buy the pink salt I used in this adventure at good deli's & food stores, it is a product of equagold.co.nz
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