Introduction: Candy Bar Cupcakes, Feat. Peanut Butter, Milk Chocolate, and Salted Caramel!

About: A graduate of Confectionary Arts college; avid reader, snacker and mess-maker. I make cakes, cookies and other sugar-y things for my friends, family, and occasionally paying customers.

This is a very delicious multi-component cupcake. It may seem like a lot of pieces, but individually they are really easy and many can be done ahead of time-- you can make them over the course of a week or so, put them in the fridge, and then put everything together once the cupcakes are baked. It definitely takes some time, but this cupcake is DELICIOUS and will reward you greatly, both after it's made, and during the process when you get to take little snickety scoops of all the different parts.

All the pieces:

1.Chocolate cupcake
2.Italian meringue buttercream
3.Milk chocolate and peanut butter ganache
4.Salted caramel sauce

Step 1:

Step 1: The Cupcake

If you're looking for a way to cut down on the time required, you could use your favourite chocolate cake mix for this, no problem. If you want to go whole hog, this is the recipe I used:

Chocolate Cupcake
Adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Yield: 12 cuppin' cakes

¾ cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

3 tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup whole milk
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Put cupcake liners in a 12-cavity cupcake pan.

Place all the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl along with the butter. Let this mix on low until you have a mixture with a sandy consistency. While the mixer's doing its thing, mix the wet together in a pourable container. Once the dry ingredients are ready, turn the mixer on low and gradually pour in half the milk mixture. Let it combine. Turn the mixer off, scrape down the bowl, and repeat this process with the remaining half. Let it mix for a two minutes more on medium speed.

Fill the liners 2/3 full, then bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely.

Step 2:

Step 2: The Salted Caramel

When you're working with so few ingredients, your end result is going to taste exactly as good as the ingredients you used. Use the best salted butter you can find/afford, and it will make a noticeable difference.

Salted Caramel
Adapted from the amazing Smitten Kitchen blog

1 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter
½ cup heavy cream

Put the sugar in a wide-bottomed pot. Make it a large one, much larger than you think you need, because 2 steps from now it is going to bubble up and you will regret it if you don't. Turn the heat onto medium-high and let it caramelize to a nice, deep amber colour. (We're working with a lot of sweetness in this recipe, so it's nice to have a bit of a bite in the caramel. If you like lighter caramel, feel free not to cook it as long.) Mix in the butter all at once and stir quickly. It will bubble up. Take it off the heat and add the cream. It will bubble up again.  Stir to a smooth consistency and let cool completely. If not using immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap or put in an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

David Lebovitz is a demi-god and has several great articles with tips on how to perfect your caramel making skills, written with much more professionalism, panache and better photos than I can muster, so check one out here if you need help:

Step 3:

Step 3: Italian Meringue Buttercream

I think IMBC is one of the most delicious substances known to man. This recipe makes enough for 24 cupcakes, maybe even more depending on how you frost them. After it's made, you can split it—flavour half with the caramel for this recipe, and refrigerate (for 1 week) or freeze (up to a month) the other half and break it out for something else. I use this recipe so often that I know it by heart; I've always made it using weight measurements, but I've added volume measurements as well.

Two Disclaimers:
1.I highly highly recommend that you make this using a stand mixer; it may be POSSIBLE to make it with a hand mixer, but I've never done it and it is probably a horrible experience.
2.Pouring hot sugar into the moving mixer can be VERY DANGEROUS IF YOU DO IT WRONG. Be very very careful while you are pouring it in. Pour slowly, and pour the stream down the side of the bowl. Do not pour it over the moving whisk or you are going to end up with burning threads of hot sugar all over your kitchen and your self. HEED MY WARNING.

NOTE: This recipe requires the use of a candy thermometer. 

150g of egg whites (about 5)
1 pinch cream of tartar (optional)
300g white sugar (roughly 1 1/3 cup)
50g water (50mL)
454g unsalted butter, room temperature and creamed (1 pound)
1 tsp vanilla

Set the 300g of sugar in a small pot with the water over medium heat. Stir occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved. Use a brush and water to keep the edges of the pot clean from any crystals. Once all the sugar is dissolved, increase the heat to high and bring the sugar to 119 C / 242 F.

The sugar takes a while to come to boil. Put the egg whites in your mixing bowl, add cream of tartar if using, and start whipping to a medium-stiff peak. DO NOT OVERBEAT. If they stop looking shiny, or if you move the whisk through it and the foam seems to kind of break apart, you've gone too far and there's no way to go back. I sometimes add the cream of tartar (a stabilizer) to avoid this, but really you just have to pay attention.  Turn the mixer off if the egg whites reach a medium peak before the sugar is ready.

As soon as your sugar hits 119 C/246 F, take it off the heat. Turn the mixer onto medium speed and start VERY CAREFULLY pouring the sugar down the side of the bowl, well away from the moving whisk. Once all the sugar has been added, turn mixer to high speed and mix until the bowl is cool to the touch (this takes a while.)

Once the meringue is cool, start adding the butter a few tablespoons at a time. Add the vanilla.

It may look soupy while you're making it, but once all the butter is in that should correct itself. If its still soupy, it might be too hot or your mixer speed might be too low.

Once everything's in, keep it mixing on medium for a couple more minutes. Put any that you are not using immediately into an air-tight container and put it in the fridge or the freezer until you're ready to use it.

Step 4:

Step 4: Milk Chocolate-Peanut Butter Ganache

The exact amount of peanut butter in this recipe is up to you. I wanted a strong hit of PB flavour, so I used about 1/3 of a cup.

5 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup peanut butter; a little more or less is fine
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup cream

Place the chocolate, peanut butter, and butter into a heat-proof bowl. Heat the cream in a small pot only until it simmers, then pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, then whisk together until smooth. It will set as it cools.

Step 5:

Step 5: The Garnish

This stuff is totally optional. I was making this for a wedding, so I chose to go with the golden peanuts for a classier look. You can either take peanuts, break them into halves, and then paint them with a mixture of lemon extract and edible gold luster dust, or just chop them small (like sundae peanuts) to sprinkle on top.

Step 6:

Step 6: The Assembly

Take anything frozen or refrigerated out and let it come to room temperature. If you froze your buttercream, this could take a couple of hours. Don't work with it unless it's at room temperature, or it will separate and you will have no one but yourself to blame.

Add about half of your salted caramel to the buttercream and fold in until well combined, OR leave it sort of half-mixed in for a cool caramel swirl running through it.

Spoon your ganache into a decorating bag fitted with an insertion tip. If it's too stiff, just warm it in your hands a bit or pop it in the microwave for 5 second bursts until soft enough. Stab the tip into the cupcakes, do a little swivel to make some space, and fill.

Load a second piping bag with the buttercream fitted with a large star or open tip. Pipe it on there in whatever style you like.

Take your caramel, spoon it into a squeeze-y bottle, and throw it in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to loosen it up a bit. Drizzle it over the cupcakes, swirl it—whatever's your jam. Top with your golden peanut halves or chopped peanuts, or don't. 

Step 7:

Step 6: Eat.

Yeah, you got this. Don't need nothin' from me. 

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