Mike works as a patient advocate at the VA hospital here in Pittsburgh. You’d expect him to have a social work background, but you’d be mistaken – he actually worked in public affairs for most of his career and handled a lot of congressional inquiries in his first few years there before transitioning into advocacy. Right now, he’s on the front lines of the corona virus, screening each employee and patient who comes through the VA’s doors.
One of Mike’s good friends at work is the VA’s director of infection prevention, Dr. Brooke Decker. The world really needs her right now, so I figured she could use some cupcakes. These peanut butter caramel treats incorporate two of her favorite flavors, and I’m happy to say she loved them. I’m really grateful to her, to Mike, and to all of the health care professionals who are working through this unprecedented and surreal experience. Stay safe, everyone.
For the cupcakes
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
For the frosting
- 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter, to taste
- 5 vanilla caramels, unwrapped, slightly flattened, and cut in half diagonally
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake tin with paper liners; this recipe yields 10 cupcakes.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until very light and fluffy. Add egg and beat to combine, scraping down your bowl, then add vanilla and beat to combine.
Add flour mixture and buttermilk in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour and scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be kind of fluffy.
Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared pans, filling about half-full.
Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. My cupcakes were done around 17 minutes.
Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from tin; cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, place butter in a mixing bowl and beat with the paddle attachment for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon heavy cream and beat well to combine. Add 1/2 cup of peanut butter and beat to fully combine; taste and add additional peanut butter if you’d like; my recipe had about 3/4 cup in it because I wanted a really peanut buttery flavor.
Fit a large piping bag with a large star tip (like the Wilton M1) and pipe generous blobs of frosting onto the top of each cupcake; rather than swirling my piping bag, I just held it above each cupcake and piped a generous portion in the middle of the cupcake, allowing it to fill out nearly to the edges. Place a caramel wedge in the center.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days; caramels will start to soften and get sticky, but that’s okay.