Caramel is one of my favorite flavors, and making your own caramel sauce is probably easier than you think. The keys to caramel are attention, timing, and fearlessness. Read through the recipe a few times, then have all your ingredients ready to add. Keep an eye on your mixture, and don’t worry if the mixture seizes a bit when you add the heavy cream – just keep stirring, and it will become smooth. Most of all, don’t be afraid – the worst thing that happens is you have to start over.
I don’t usually include the step-by-step photos in my blog posts, but since caramel-making instructions can be vague, I wanted to give you a visual – pictures are below. Good luck!
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 3/4 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pats
Place sugar in a medium saucepan; shake gently to form an even layer. Add water, but don’t stir; allow the water to completely moisten the sugar, then place over medium heat.
Allow mixture to cook to dissolve the sugar; it will look cloudy (step 1). Once the sugar dissolves completely, allow the mixture to cook on medium-high until it turns an amber color, which can take 5-10 minutes; mine began to turn amber around 6 minutes into cooking and I gently shifted my pan a bit to keep the heat even as the mixture began to darken (step 2). When the mixture is almost evenly browned (step 3 – I pulled mine when all but the very center of my mixture had turned amber), remove from heat. Very carefully add heavy cream, stirring well, then add butter and continue to stir until completely smooth (step 4). The mixture will bubble up when the cold cream hits the hot sugar mixture, so watch out for splashes and be careful not to get burned.
Allow mixture to cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Caramel will last in the fridge for about 1 month.
If I could still eat chocolate, I’d make a batch of this and eat it with a spoon. Made with cocoa powder, this glossy chocolate icing is easy to prepare and makes a wonderful companion for a variety of treats. Today’s batch went onto these chocolate cupcakes with vanilla cream filling, pictured at left.
I’ve made this icing once before and it turned out a bit more drizzly then than it did today, but today’s consistency was much better for my cupcakes. Just be careful to work quickly, as it sets pretty fast. If you’re not able to spread it, add just a bit more milk to thin it slightly, about a half-teaspoon at a time. You can always add more if you need to, but remember that you can never take the liquid back out of an icing once it’s there.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoons milk
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in cocoa powder, then remove from heat.
Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk and stir well until you reach a very smooth consistency; it will become glossy once it’s done. Use immediately, as it sets very fast! Makes enough for about 16 cupcakes.
What can you do with vanilla cream filling? A ton of stuff, actually. This filling is great for various types of sandwich cookies and filled cupcakes…even as its own frosting, if you like.
This recipe makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups, I’d guess – honestly, I didn’t measure the end result. I need to figure out smaller batches, because I always end up making two different treats with it; today’s batch went into both snickerdoodle sandwich cookies and chocolate cupcakes with vanilla cream filling. It’s not as fluffy as the filling you’d get in a Hostess cupcake, but not as dry or dense as the filling in an Oreo cookie – a wonderful balance of both, I’d say!
- 8 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a mixing bowl, beat together butter and shortening.
Add powdered sugar in small batches, beating until combined. Once all sugar is incorporated, beat on medium speed for two minutes
Add vanilla and beat to combine.
If you need to store it before using, do so in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups, plenty for two dozen filled cupcakes or about 48 sandwich cookies.
This summer I made a delicious lemon blackberry cake to test both my piping and filling-making skills. I used frozen blackberries from last year’s crop – our blackberry plants bloom very late in the season – and it turned out very well. If you’re using frozen berries, just let them thaw first.
As with raspberry filling, blackberry filling requires some serious sieving time to remove the seeds. Blackberry seeds are larger than raspberry seeds, so you’ll want to clean out your sieve a few times during the straining process. I also recommend working in small batches, rather than trying to press your entire mixture through the sieve at once.
While my original recipe made about 1/3 cup, the recipe below would yield around 1 cup.
- 18 ounces blackberries, mashed
- 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 6 teaspoons cornstarch
- 3 teaspoon lemon juice
In a medium saucepan, stir together blackberries, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Cook over medium-high heat until mixture boils, then allow to boil for 1 minute, stirring well, until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and press through a fine sieve to filter out the seeds. Allow to cool before using.
Raspberry is a classic cupcake and cake filling, and I always wonder who came up with this idea. Whoever they were, they’re a genius.
Homemade filling does take some time, and the bulk of the work comes in straining your berry mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds. You could leave the seeds in if you want to save time; I’ve certainly done so, but for some treats – like the more delicate lemon raspberry cupcakes pictured in this photo, I think straining is worth it.
If you want to make raspberry filling at a time of year when fresh raspberries aren’t readily available at your local market, you can always use frozen berries. I recommend letting them thaw out first, but you can also pulse them in a food processor to break them down a bit before cooking them.
- 12 ounces raspberries, mashed
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
In a medium saucepan, stir together raspberries, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until the mixture boils, then allow it to boil for 1 minute, stirring well, until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and press through a fine sieve to filter out the seeds. Allow to cool before using; makes about 1 cup.
This frosting, which I first used on cherry limeade cupcakes, could work very well on vanilla, lemon, or chocolate cupcakes. Because it uses the juice from maraschino cherries, it’s a good option for year-round baking, and you can always add the cherries themselves to top your cupcakes or cake if you like.
This recipe yields enough for at least 18 cupcakes, but I believe it could frost about 2 dozen if you use more modest portions on each cupcake than I used on my cherry limeade cupcakes. The recipe can be easily doubled to cover two-layer cakes or sheet cakes.
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice
Beat butter in a mixing bowl for 1-2 minutes. Add 3 cups powdered sugar and allow the sugar to fully incorporate into the butter; this will take several minutes.
Add almond extract and 1/4 cup cherry juice; beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, then add another cup of powdered sugar and additional juice. Beat on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes.
We have lemon curd, so why not lime? I used Martha Stewart’s key lime curd recipe and adapted it using regular limes. I was also surprised to see that this recipe doesn’t require tempering some of the lime mixture into the eggs, then returning the tempered mixture back into the pan for further cooking, like you do with lemon curd.
It does take a while for this mixture to reach the right consistency, so prepare to stand at your stove for about 12-15 minutes. The end result is absolutely worth it, though. You can use this curd in vanilla lime cupcakes, coconut cupcakes, or whatever else your heart desires.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- zest of 1 lime
- 1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 medium limes)
- 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Place a bowl and sieve next to your stove for easy access once your curd is cooked.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, eggs, lime zest, and lime juice. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture holds the shape of the whisk – this will take about 12-15 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in butter a few pieces at a time until butter completely melts.
Strain the curd through your sieve and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
Chill for about 3 hours before using; I chilled mine overnight.