High Altitude Baking: Brown sugar babycakes with dulce de leche frosting (recipe)
Editor’s note: High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Smooth, sweet and caramel-flavored — the frosting is the star of this little production. But don’t sell the cake beneath it short; it’s moist and slightly dense, with a brown-sugar taste that complements the topping perfectly.
I turn to this recipe when I want something that’s easy to make, travels well and has wide appeal. The cakes come together quickly (they don’t require creaming), and the frosting ingredients are simply beaten to a velvety smoothness. I like to make these in the smaller, 2-inch size. Devoured in two or three bites, they leave you licking the frosting off your lips and wanting just a little more, the perfect response to a tasty dessert.
Brown Sugar Babycakes with Dulce de Leche Frosting
(Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and higher. Makes about 10 standard cupcakes or 18 2-inch cupcakes.)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick)
½ cup dark-brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1/3 cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 cup bleached, all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
Moisturizing syrup, optional
¼ cup superfine granulated sugar
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon caramel flavoring or vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon salt
Generous ¼ cup canned commercial dulce de leche, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Crushed English toffee, optional
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the cupcake pan(s) with paper liners, and lightly grease them with a vegetable oil-flour spray.
Step 2: Make the cake: Cut the butter into 8 pieces, and place them in a microwave-safe mixing bowl. Microwave at a medium temperature, just until the butter is fully melted (don’t let it get very hot or boil). Remove from the oven, and immediately sprinkle in the brown sugar, whisking vigorously. Continue to whisk until well combined and smooth. If the mixture isn’t close to room temperature, set it aside until it is.
Step 3: Add the egg, milk, vanilla, baking powder and salt, and whisk again until blended. Add the flour, and whisk only until no signs of it are visible and the batter is smooth. Don’t overmix.
Step 4: Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake liners, filling them ¾ full and smoothing the top. Place the pan(s) in the oven, and reduce the temperature to 335 degrees. Bake until the tops rise a little, color slightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Start checking at 15 minutes, but use visual indicators for doneness rather than a specific amount of time.
Step 5: Remove from the oven to a cooling rack. After about 4 minutes, remove the cupcakes from the pan and let them cool completely on the rack.
Step 6: Make the moisturizing syrup, if using: Boil the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat, add flavoring, and cool to room temperature. Brush a thin coating over each cooled cupcake, and when it’s absorbed, brush again. You may have some left over.
Step 7: Make the frosting: With an electric mixer, beat the butter briefly. Add the cream cheese and salt, and beat until very smooth and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the dulce de leche and vanilla, and beat until smooth and light.
Step 8: With your mixer at low speed, add confectioners’ sugar, ¼ cup at a time, until the mixture thickens and holds soft peaks (you may not use all the sugar). Beat for 2 to 3 minutes at medium-high speed to get a velvety texture. Taste, beat in more dulce de leche if desired, and add more sugar if needed to return to the proper consistency. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until it will pipe easily and hold a piped shape. Use a pastry bag with a closed star tip or spread with an offset metal spatula to frost the cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle crushed toffee on top, if desired. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at email@example.com.
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