vegan dulce de leche cupcakes

Even though at the time it felt as though the sky was falling, I think turning thirty was one of the best things that ever happened to me. So I am pleased to welcome my bestie of hella years to the club. Hooray! You made it! Good job!

Every birthday is worthy of a sweet treat. But the big birthdays call for something fabulous. So I made sure to pull out all the stops. There was a serious debate going on in my head for days. Cupcakes or a cake? Chocolate cookies? Marshmallow frosting? Caramel?

And then I had an epiphany. A dulce de leche cupcake epiphany.

I actually already had a dulce de leche moment a few months ago. I tried the whole canned condensed milk in the crockpot thing, which probably would’ve worked out if I had let it cook for an additional hour or two. Then I went the store-bought route. And put it in everything. I put it in cupcakes. I put it in frosting. But I just wasn’t satisfied with the results. And because I gained a few pounds that week as a result of my overzealous taste testing, I decided I had to move on.

But while I was looking for caramel recipes the other day, I found this recipe for vegan dulce de leche sauce. And I knew I was onto something. The perfect dulce de leche cupcake was just around the bend.

It begins with a super moist, super chocolatey cupcake. Then a little well is created in the center of said cupcake. The well is filled with dulce de leche sauce. And the whole thing is topped with a cream cheese-dulce de leche frosting, which will knock your socks off. It’s quite the package, this little cupcake. It’s just what I wanted.

Thanks for being born, pal!

vegan dulce de leche cupcakes

makes 1 dozen cupcakes

for the dulce de leche sauce:

from Terry Hope Romero via Shine

makes about 1-1/2 cups

1 cup soy creamer or rich soy milk

4 teaspoons tapioca flour or arrowroot powder

1⁄2 cup brown rice syrup

1⁄2 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated vegan margarine

1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

In a measuring cup, whisk together 1/4 cup of the soy creamer and the tapioca flour and set aside. In a large saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of soy creamer, brown rice syrup, and brown sugar.  Bring to a slow boil over medium heat. Stir in the margarine and reduce the heat to low. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture should resemble a thick caramel sauce and easily coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Whisk the tapioca flour mixture again and stir it slowly into the simmering sauce. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens even more, simmering for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Let cool completely before using in frosting or cupcake filling.

for the chocolate cupcakes:

adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1 cup soy milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract or chocolate extract  or more vanilla extract (I used 1/4 teaspoon of almond and chocolate)

1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or natural ( I used Dutch-processed)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, other extracts, and espresso powder to the  soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients in two batches to the soy milk mixture and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay).

Pour into lined muffin pan, filling three quarters of the way. Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

for the dulce de leche cream cheese frosting:

adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, softened

1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon dulce de leche sauce

1-1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, cream together the margarine, cream cheese, and dulce de leche sauce until just combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar in 1/2 cup batches. Add the vanilla and mix until smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cupcakes:

Using the small end of a large pastry tip, insert into the center of the cupcake and remove a small hunk of the cake to create a well.

Fill the well with a spoonful of the cooled dulce de leche sauce.

Fill a prepared pastry bag with the the dulce de leche cream cheese frosting. Pipe the frosting on top of the cupcake.

Repeat with the remaining cupcakes.

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pumpkin layer cake with caramel cream cheese frosting

It’s really starting to feel like November around here. Just the other day I was musing about how sunny and glorious it was as I crossed the Bay Bridge on my way home from work. And now I’m wearing leg warmers in bed.

November. Goodbye, daylight. Hello, scarves and coats and extra layers. Goodbye, stone fruit and tomatoes. Hey there, pumpkin recipes.

This one caught my attention as I was flipping through the pages of Bon Appetit Desserts, in search of a cake to bake for Rodney’s birthday. It sounded promising – pumpkin and spices and a caramel cream cheese frosting. And it was good. But it needed a little bit of a boost. So I made it a second time and doubled up on the spice and added an extra spoonful of sugar, which seemed to do the trick.

I wish I could tell you that this cake is full of pumpkin flavor. But it’s not. It’s a subtle pumpkin cake, which makes it an excellent platform for this insane caramel cream cheese frosting. And candied orange. Seriously, the caramel cream cheese frosting is a winner on its own; it’s like your favorite cream cheese frosting, but with a deepness and complexity that only caramel can provide. And the candied orange adds a bit of brightness and texture that really ties it all together. Something about this cake just screams autumn. It’s here. Get used to it.

pumpkin layer cake with caramel cream cheese frosting

adapted from Bon Appetit Desserts by Barbara Fairchild

serves 8-10

for the frosting:

4 cups powdered sugar, divided

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

for the cake:

3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin

1-1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1-1/4 cups vegetable oil

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel

for the garnish:

candied orange peel*

*Candied orange peel is available seasonally at most grocery stores or year round at specialty shops. Or you can make it yourself. (I’ll post a recipe soon. Promise!)

For the frosting:

Sprinkle 1/2 cup powdered sugar over bottom of small nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until sugar melts (do not stir). Continue cooking until sugar turns deep amber, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Carefully stir in 1/2 cup cream, vanilla, and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir until any caramel bits dissolve. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon cream. Strain into small bowl. Cool caramel to room temperature.

Sift remaining powdered sugar into medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Beat in cooled caramel. Cover and chill frosting until firm enough to spread, about 2 hours.

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides, tapping out any excess flour. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the pumpkin, sugar, and oil. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate between additions. Mix in orange peel. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Divide batter between the prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 33 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Invert onto rack, then turn top side up and cool completely.

Using long serrated knife, trim rounded tops from cakes. Place 1 cake layer on cake plate, cut side up. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over the bottom layer. Place second cake layer, cut side down, atop frosting. Cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting, creating a smooth surface.

Sprinkle candied orange peel over top of cake. Cut into wedges and serve.

If you plan to make the cake in advance, cover with cake dome or large bowl and chill. Let stand at cool room temperature for 2 hours before serving. Can be made up to two days in advance.