Gimmie Samoa These Cupcakes

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So, I’m super confused. It’s still February, and I went to the pool this weekend. Meanwhile, all of my friends back in DC still have blizzards on the brain. It’s not spring, but it’s certainly not winter – at least not how I’ve come to think of it the past 5 years of my life. I knew I wanted to finally get back into my baking groove, but what does one bake in such a seasonal twilight zone? I’m all over here ready to break out the bright, fruit-forward flavors, but most of the country is still craving cold(er) weather confections.

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Oh, I guess I should rewind a bit. Ok, a lot. I should rewind a lot. I kind of failed at life as far as blogging is concerned in 2015, but let me tell y’all, it was quite the year. So, about that crazy work trip to Arizona I told you about last January. One of the nice young gentlemen I worked with while I was out there? I mean, I knew we clicked, but yeah – we ended up staying in touch and striking up a relationship, got engaged in December, and I up and moved across the country to Phoenix just after Christmas. New fiancé, new city, new apartment, new job (don’t worry, still in politics!). Combine those 8 months of back and forth cross-country traveling with a flurry of my best friends’ weddings/bridal showers/bachelorette parties, and I was rarely at home long enough to even unpack, let alone bake. I mean, when I logged into WordPress, I even had a draft blog post of my sweet friend Christyn’s bridal shower cupcakes sitting there from almost a year ago. A YEAR. It was such a wonderful year, but yeah, #p2pfail.

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Having neglected you guys for way too long, I had all these plans to bust back onto the scene with a themed post perfectly paired with my move to Arizona. You know, something all cute and cactus-y and southwestern (i.e., something not solely reserved for summer). And then it was upon me: that annual rush to the nearest pig-tailed elementary schooler donning a signature green or brown vest, cheerfully selling little bites of heaven in colorful boxes for a nominal fee. I mean, at that point I really didn’t have a choice about what to bake. Nevermind that I now live in Phoenix and need to be bathing suit ready by, well, yesterday. It’s for the kids, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the one that keeps that poor little girl from selling the most cookies and winning that trip to astronaut camp she’s been dreaming about since last year. With sales commencing this past week, I figured I’d better stop eating them and get to actually baking with them, like I lied to told myself I would. And now here we are.

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It’s funny how I wanted nothing to do with Samoas when I was younger, and now they’re my everything. Ok, maybe that’s a tad dramatic, but then again, these cupcakes kind of are everything. Fluffly vanilla cake dipped in silky chocolate ganache, topped with caramel buttercream and garnished with toasted coconut, caramel and more chocolate ganache, I should get an honorary Girl Scout badge for making them.

As much as I would love to, I cannot take credit for these. When I started hunting around for different recipes to bring this idea to life, I came across a picture that exactly mirrored the one in my head. Jaclyn over at Cooking Classy, you nailed it sister. All the elements of a classic Samoa, without actually using the cookies themselves (translation: you can still make these if you polish off the box before getting around to pre-heating the oven. Not that I would know.). Her recipes were great and easy to follow, and there were no crazy surprises (come on, we all have experienced a good #pinterestfail or twelve).

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While these did take some time to fully complete, they were so fun and the final product is beyond worth it. These were a lazy Sunday project, so I was able to spread the different phases out to make them a little less daunting. I baked the cupcakes in the morning, did some things around the house while they cooled (i.e., watched my fiancé build my patio furniture [insert smiley angel emoji]), and then moved on to the ganache, caramel and icing. I will say, the trickiest part is the homemade caramel, but if you’re up for it, I would strongly encourage you to avoid using the pre-made stuff and give it a shot! Since it’s both in the icing and drizzled on top, the real thing made SUCH a difference. I’ve admittedly burned caramel every time I’ve attempted it, but this time it was right on point. For me, the trick is to obsessively watch it (seriously, do not walk away) and remove it from the heat a little before you think it’s done. All caramel recipes tell you to remove the pan from the heat when it’s a “dark amber” color, but I find that the dark side of “medium amber” is the sweet spot. As long as you’ve studied the directions and have all the ingredients measured and ready, it really isn’t as tough as you think!

These are delightfully decadent, and sure to satisfy your Samoa sweet-tooth all year round. They’re bound to give you a sugar high that rivals the pig-tailed elementary schooler’s that sold you the cookies in the first place, but in the absolute best way. Scout’s honor.

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Girl Scout-Inspired Samoa Cupcakes (from Cooking Classy)

INGREDIENTS

Vanilla Cupcakes

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter (softened)
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup buttermilk

Chocolate Ganache 

1 cup chocolate chips (either semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips work!)
1/4 cup heavy cream

Caramel Sauce

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp salted butter
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp heavy cream

Caramel Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (I used 1/4 cup unsalted 1/4 cup salted)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp caramel sauce
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Garnish

1 cup toasted coconut, cooled and slightly crushed into smaller pieces

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Make the cupcakes. Preheat oven to 350 and line a cupcake pan with 12 liners. In a mixing bowl, add flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add butter and sugar and beat until pale and fluffy (this should take around 3 minutes). Add vegetable oil and mix until incorporated. Next, add your eggs, one at a time, mixing until just incorporated after each addition.

In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together milk, buttermilk and vanilla. Working in batches and beginning and ending with the flour mixture, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. Transfer the batter to cupcake liners, filling each until it’s 2/3 full. Resist licking the bowl. Bake for 16-19 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow them to cool in the cupcake pan for a few minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

2. While the cupcakes cool, let’s tackle the caramel. Make sure you measure out all the ingredients and have them readily accessible before you start. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat sugar and water over moderately high heat, whisking constantly to dissolve sugar. Once the mixture reaches a boil, stop whisking and allow mixture to boil until it reaches a medium to dark amber color, carefully swirling pan occasionally (this may take a few minutes, just be patient and watch it carefully). Once the desired color is achieved, immediately add butter. When butter is fully melted, immediately remove the mixture from the heat. Wait a few seconds, and then carefully pour in the cream, immediately whisking to combine (there will be pretty intense bubbling and steaming, so be careful!). Whisk constantly until mixture is smooth. Allow caramel to cool several minutes then pour into a glass jar to cool completely.

3. Time for the ganache. Add chocolate chips and heavy cream to a small microwave safe bowl. Heat the mixture on 50% power in 20-second intervals, stirring after each addition until completely melted and smooth. Give it a good stir so that it cools slightly before dipping cupcakes. When cupcakes are cooled, dip the top of each one into the ganache until fully coated, allowing the excess to drip off. Set on a wire rack to cool for 10-20 minutes, or until fully set.

4. Once the caramel is fully cooled, go ahead and make your caramel buttercream. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, whip butter on medium-high speed until pale and very fluffy (about 5 minutes – go ahead and get lots of air incorporated in there!). Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, and beat on medium speed until the mixture comes together. Add your completely cooled caramel sauce and vanilla, and mix on medium-high until pale, light and fluffy. If the frosting is a little thick, you can add another 1 Tbsp of caramel sauce as needed to thin it out.

5. Time for finishing touches. Toast your coconut in a skillet, just until it starts to become golden and fragrant. Remove from heat and, once cool, transfer to a cutting board to chop into smaller pieces, if desired. Transfer buttercream to a piping bag fitted with piping tip of choice, and pipe buttercream onto the completely set cupcakes. Top with a spoonful of toasted coconut, and drizzle with remaining caramel and chocolate ganache.

6. Brace yourself, and enjoy!

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