Every year, I try to do something different and creative for each of my family member’s birthdays. Plastic worms crawling out of a dirt-coloured cake? Done that. Purple purse cake with blue licorice handles? Yup. Playmobil rock climbers using candy handholds on a cake resembling an upright slab of granite? Check.
I have to confess, I was starting to run out of ideas… until I turned to cupcakes. There are zillions of things you can do with cupcakes (caterpillars, flower bouquets, apples with pretzel stems and green candy leaves, just to name but three) so I am once again excited about birthday baking.
For my daughter’s special day, I whipped up a batch of her favourite vanilla cupcakes and then popped the baked cupcakes into old-fashioned paper sundae cups I found at my local large grocery store. I thinned out the buttercream frosting a little so it could be piped on to resemble whipped cream, topped ‘em with caramel sauce and a cherry and served them to the beaming birthday girl. I think she actually thought they were ice cream sundaes right up until she took her first big spoonful. You can use your own favourite cake batter and frosting recipes to make these beauties. Heck, you can even use a boxed mix, tub o’ frosting and jar of prepared caramel sauce – no judging! The birthday person will be so impressed by how gorgeous they look, they’ll never know if you cheated just a tiny bit.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature *
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
* If you forgot to take the eggs out of the fridge a few hours before baking, don’t worry! Just put them in a bowl of lukewarm water for 15 minutes to quickly bring them up to room temperature.
3 cups confectioners' (icing or powdered) sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 to 3 tbsp whipping cream
½ cup white sugar
3 tbsp butter
¼ cup heavy (whipping) cream
In a large bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one), combine the eggs and sugar. Beat until light and frothy (2 – 3 minutes), then gradually add the melted butter and vanilla then beat for 2 minutes longer.
With mixer on medium speed, add half the dry ingredients. As soon as they are incorporated, add all the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Mix only until well combined; don’t overmix the batter.
Add vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the cream. Continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed to have it the right consistency for piping (a tiny bit runnier than you would for spreading on a cake).
While cupcakes are cooling, prepare caramel sauce by putting sugar in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot. Over medium heat, warm sugar until it melts. Swirl pot occasionally to ensure even heat distribution. The sugar will turn golden brown as it melts and caramelizes. When sugar is completely melted and golden, add butter. The mixture may foam up as the butter melts. Stir with a metal spoon. When butter is melted, add cream – watch for foaming again. Note that when the cream is added, the sugar will likely seize up and become a hard, sticky mass; it will melt as you continue to heat and stir the sauce (so be patient).
Continue stirring until sugar has melted and sauce is thick and golden. Transfer sauce to a heatproof jar or jug and store in fridge if not assembling cupcakes within 6 hours. The sauce (which is fabulous on ice cream) will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks; it can also be frozen.
To use sauce that has been in the fridge, reheat gently in the microwave until just melted (but not hot). The sauce will take on a thinner consistency when warmed. Stir to thoroughly mix before pouring.
To assemble, remove paper liners from cupcakes. Place each one inside a sundae cup and pipe room-temperature buttercream frosting on top to resemble whipped cream. You can use a piping bag or a sealed ziplock bag with a corner snipped off. Drizzle with caramel sauce and add a cherry on top.
Makes 12 cupcake sundaes.