Cupcakes, Two Ways…

Actually, while the cupcakes themselves come in two varieties, Chocolate and Vanilla, both welcome the public the same way, with a rich dulce de leche cream frosting sprinkled with chocolate shavings and caramel bits.  There should be a deeper meaning in all of this, but that’s a discussion best left to the philosophers.

We’re here for the food, aren’t we?  Dulce de leche definitely is the star here, setting the tone for the entire treat, and what a treat it is.  Dulce really is, at its heart, caramelized vanilla.  Though making it is a day-long process, it’s entirely worth the effort, as the vanilla takes on a rich depth that sooths the taster and satisfies to the core.  Think French Vanilla ice cream folded in on itself.

In a way, today’s entry is a tribute to two readers in particular who have been here since nearly the beginning.  “Z” introduced so many people, the Terrified Amateur included, to dulce de leche when she brought into the office homemade treats she learned to create in her native Brazil.  The memories still delight – obrigato!.

Another reader is especially fond of cupcakes and celebrates a birthday, so if you happen to check out the blog today (Saturday), Happy Birthday!

The recipes for today’s feature come from various sources.  The dulce de leche formula is Alton Brown’s and is replicated below, with minor revisions.  The chocolate cupcake recipe was introduced in the March 2015 issue of Food & Wine.  Finally, the vanilla (formally dulce de leche) cupcakes and the unambiguously, and in fact exuberantly,  dulce de leche frosting came from a site called bake happy.

There were a few tweaks which may be improvements; those of you who work in the office and who will taste the results will judge their merits.  With a view to enhancing the cupcakes’ moistness, I added chocolate ganache to the chocolate variety, and boozed up its vanilla counterpart with a splash or two of sherry.  The dulce was made with one of the extraordinary Tahitian vanilla beans left over from a couple recipes ago.  Finally, the chocolate shavings and caramel bits were a personal twist.  Pulverizing Werther’s to create the latter was fun!

Definitely, these were fun recipes to make.


Dulce de Leche

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (*1)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (*2)

Combine the milk, sugar and vanilla in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.  Add the baking soda and stir to combine.  Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally.  After an hour, extract the vanilla bean and continue cooking until the mixture has taken on a caramel color, about two hours.


1 – Split the bean nearly its entire length, but stop just short of the stem end; this will make it much easier to extract the bean later.

2 – Skip it.  The baking soda’s sole function is to reduce over-bubbling, but this isn’t an issue if you use a slightly larger-than-necessary saucepan.  Plus, you’ll avoid slight traces of baking soda’s off-putting taste.


Chocolate Cupcakes

  •   4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake pan with 12 liners.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, oil and water.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the melted butter mixture and beat until smooth.  Add the egg and beat until incorporated, then add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Pour into the cupcake liners, filling each three-quarters full.

Bake the cupcakes at the center of the oven for about 25 minutes.  Allow cupcakes to cool before frosting.


Dulce de Leche Frosting

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons dulce de leche

Mix together ingredients until smooth.  Start at a low speed to avoid dispersing the powdered sugar, then increase speed as the mixture begins to incorporate.  Pipe frosting on to the cupcakes.


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