Dark Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes – Dark chocolate cupcakes are oozing with salted caramel sauce and topped with dark chocolate frosting, more caramel, and finished with sea salt.
Chocolate and caramel don’t get enough praise, if you ask me. It’s always peanut butter and chocolate or strawberries and chocolate or even marshmallows and chocolate getting all the love. But there’s something about caramel and chocolate that is just as powerful. Even more, the pair of salted caramel and dark chocolate can move mountains.
I am guilty of not featuring these two together more often so I’m here today to share a recipe that highlights the sweetness of the salted caramel with the richness of dark chocolate. It’s a recipe for my Dark Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes. The cake and frosting are dark and rich, but don’t worry – they get perfectly tamed by the salted caramel inside the cake and drizzled over the top. A sprinkle of sea salt takes them to a whole other level.
Making the dark chocolate cupcakes
This cupcake batter is so rich and chocolatey, thanks to the Dutch-processed cocoa powder. To balance out the rich flavor and deepen the flavor of the chocolate, hot coffee is added in (but you can also just use hot water if you’re worried about caffeine). You won’t taste the coffee after the batter is baked in the oven. But you will taste a rich, yummy chocolate cupcake with something extra that you can’t quite point out. Hint: it’s the coffee.
The batter is placed in lined muffin tins (not too full or they’ll overflow!) and then baked. Remove them from the oven and let them cool while you make the caramel sauce.
Homemade caramel sauce
Making caramel sauce at home can sound intimidating. But it’s really super easy! And even better, if it doesn’t work out the first time, it doesn’t take long to make so you can always try again. Just make sure to get some extra ingredients, just in case.
To start, the sugar is caramelized in a saucepan over medium heat. It’s a fun process to watch but it does take some time, about 5 minutes. After that, add in the butter and whisk it into the sugar as the butter melts. Very carefully and slowly add in heavy cream to butter caramel and then mix together. Let it boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat. Add in salt and then set it aside to cool slightly before using.
Once it’s cooled slightly, it’s time to fill the cupcakes. Cut a hole in the center of each cupcake and fill with about 1 teaspoon of caramel sauce. Set them aside while you make the frosting.
Dark chocolate frosting
The frosting is made from butter and chocolate and sugar. The butter is whipped with a paste of cocoa and water. Once smooth, sugar is added and whipped together. Finally, melted chocolate is added and mixed together to give that frosting a deep brown color.
Now it’s time to finish the cupcakes. The frosting is pretty light in texture so it can easily be spread on with a spatula. Then, drizzle on some more caramel and finish with some sea salt.
Tips and Tricks
- To make the batter easy to pour into the muffin cups, I used a large measuring cup with a pour spout. This also made it easy to fill the cups to the exact height, without overfilling.
- Flaky sea salt is different than table salt. You may find it as fleur de sel or maldon sea salt flakes.
- It’s very important that you let the melted chocolate cool slightly before adding to frosting. Otherwise, it will melt the butter.
- Making caramel is an easy process but you can’t leave it unattended. It can burn quickly so if you turn away for a second, it may just be long enough for it to burn.
Dark Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
- ¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ tablespoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- ¾ cup hot coffee (or water)
- 5 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the salted caramel sauce:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter salted, sliced
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the dark chocolate frosting:
- ¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- ¼ cup hot water
- 2 sticks buter unsalted, softened
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 6 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate melted and cooled
- flaky sea salt
To make cupcakes:
- Prepare 20 cupcake molds by adding cupcake liners to them. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with paddle attachment until combined. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg.
- In a small separate bowl, whisk milk, coffee (or water), oil, and vanilla extract. With mixer on low, add wet ingredients ⅓ cup at a time. Mix until smooth. Scoop into prepared cupcake tins about 2/3 full. Place into preheated oven to bake for 17 minutes or until tooth pick comes out clean when inserted in the center. Remove from oven and let cool completely before adding caramel and frosting, about 30 minutes.
To make caramel sauce:
- Place sugar in medium saucepan and heat to medium. Stir occasionally with a silicone spatula (make sure it can handle high heat temps!). As the caramel begins to liquefy, scrape from the bottom and mix back into the granulated pieces. The sugar will clump but eventually it will melt again and turn a deep amber brown. Make sure you are still stirring so it does not burn.
- Once the sugar is melted, add butter and stir until butter is melted, about 2-3 minutes. Use a whisk to incorporate the butter with the sugar.
- Very, very slowly, add the cream to the sugar mixture while whisking. The mixture will start to bubble violently, but keep stirring and it will calm down. Allow it to boil for 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and stir in the salt. Transfer to storage container (such as a mason jar) and allow it too cool for at least 30 minutes before using.
- Once the caramel has cooled down, carve out a 1-inch circle about 1/3 through the cupcake from the center of the cupcakes and discard cake pieces. Fill the centers with about a teaspoon of caramel sauce. Set aside and then make the frosting.
To make the chocolate frosting:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat hot water and cocoa powder until a paste forms. Add in butter and whip until creamy, about 3 minutes. Once creamy, add sugar and a pinch of salt and continue whipping. Finish with melted chocolate and whip together.
- To frost the cupcakes, spoon on frosting on to the top of each cupcake. Gently spread with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Finish with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of more caramel sauce. Serve immediately.