These richly flavoured cupcakes are delicious with a cup of coffee to cut through the sweetness
• 100g unsalted butter
• 170g dark muscovado sugar
• 2 eggs, at room temperature
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 200g self-raising flour
• pinch salt
• 1-2 tablespoons water or milk, (optional)
For the salted caramel:
• 140g caster sugar
• 100ml water
• 75ml double cream
• 1 level teaspoon flaked sea salt
• 1/2 vanilla pod
For the buttercream:
• 170g unsalted butter, softened
• 200g icing sugar
• squeeze lemon juice
1 Heat the oven to 180°C. Line the muffin tin with paper cupcake cases.
2 Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl, with an electric whisk or wooden spoon, until pale and fluffy. (This takes a while, so persevere.)
3 Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly using a fork, to break up.
4 Add the egg to the creamed mixture in additions, beating well between each addition, then beat in the vanilla.
5 Sift the flour with the salt over the mixture and carefully fold in, using a large metal spoon or a spatula, trying not to beat out any air. The mixture should be a soft, dropping consistency. If it is too thick, add a little water or milk to loosen it slightly.
6 Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, filling them about three quarters full. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 12–15 minutes, or until they are well risen, golden brown and spring back when pressed gently with your fingertips. Remove from the oven and transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool.
7 Meanwhile, to make the salted caramel, put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and place over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, using the handle of a wooden spoon to gently agitate the sugar and to prevent it from ‘caking’ on the bottom of the pan.
8 Try to avoid splashing the syrup up the sides of the pan. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and bring the syrup to the boil, without stirring.
Boil until the sugar turns a deep golden brown colour.
9 You may need to swirl the pan very gently from time to time, but do not stir.
10 Immediately pour the cream into the caramel, taking care as it will sputter and spit. Add the sea salt and the seeds from the vanilla pod and swirl the caramel in the pan to distribute the flavourings.
11 Pour the caramel into a jug and allow to cool to tepid while you make the buttercream.
12 Put the butter and icing sugar in a medium bowl and, using an electric whisk or a wooden spoon, beat together until pale and fluffy. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and beat again briefly.
13 Check the caramel is tepid and thickened to the consistency of golden syrup. If it is too hot, it will melt the butter and curdle the icing. If too cold, it may set in lumps in the buttercream.
14 Pour the caramel into the buttercream and beat the mixture, using a wooden spoon, until thoroughly incorporated.
15 Put this caramel icing into a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle and pipe onto the cupcakes. Or, spread the icing on top of the cakes, using a palette knife dipped in boiling water. Allow the icing to set for 10–15 minutes before serving.
Recipe courtesy of Leiths School of Food and Wine, extracted from How to Cook Cakes. Photography by Peter Cassidy © Quadrille