After receiving an invite to a ladies' party, I wasn't even considering what delectable food I'd be bringing. That conundrum lasted all of 5 minutes when I began salivating over a previously unread "Recipe of the Day" from Chow in my inbox. Oh yes...this was serendipity. Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting!!! Who doesn't like a little salty with their sweet? What girl doesn't like a cupcake? Thus, it was decided I would bring cupcakes.
I'm not going to write up the recipe because I essentially followed the Chow recipe with one exception (follow link above for recipes). With my cupcakes I used both half of a vanilla bean and about a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I wanted the bean flecks for a nice look but I knew I'd get better vanilla flavor out of the extract. The batter turned out very yummy. The smell of these things baking alone could bring quarrelling lovers back into the arms of love. Provocative scents aside, these cupcakes did become somewhat dry once cooled. However, I sampled one while it was still warm and it was a very good cake, even sans frosting. If I made these again I'd either pull them from the oven a minute earlier or add another egg to the batter.
I didn't read the comments on the recipe for the frosting until after I already made the super yummy salted caramel buttercream. Thus, I missed out on a couple of recommendations, one I definitely agree with. The frosting could stand to be slightly more caramelly than the recipe turns out. When making again, I will increase the ratio of caramel to butter. However, the buttercream I ended up with was definitely decadent.
It also proved a fun addition as an internal filling for these slightly dry cakes, per the recommendation of JTK. To perform this twinkie-reminiscent feat, I slaved like a surgeon to carve a small piece off the top of each cupcake, piped in some frosting, and placed the tiny top back on. I will concede, it wasn't as stressful as surgery, but it was definitely above and beyond what I'd planned for my baked treats. To finish them off, I piped more frosting on the top, and adorned with a few delicate silver dragees and a sprinkling of finishing salt. A less-than-perfect baked creation in light of the dryness and the caramel factor...but still mmm-mmm good.