Blame it all on Bingo. No, not Bingo the game but Bingo the dog. You know Bingo, right?
He's the dog on the Cracker Jack box, along with Sailor Jack. I think those two characters played a large role in my current love of all things sweet and salty.
When I was a kid my two brothers and I really did walk to school. It wasn't always 5 miles uphill in the snow both ways, but I do remember that it was a pretty good hike.
We would pass from our predominantly French neighborhood to the upscale homes near my godmother's house and then on to the Italian area of town where our school was located.
We would walk by fences heavy with runner beans and backyard bathtub Madonna shrines. On the corner was a small Mom and Pop store with an eye-catching display of candy right near the door.
If we had managed to save a dime or two, we would stop for candy to eat on the way home. I was partial to Charms pops, Charleston Chews,and Cracker Jack. Cracker Jack was extremely popular because you got a prize along with a whole boxful of sweet, crunchy, salty popcorn.
With two older brothers around, getting a whole boxful of anything for your very own didn't happen very often. If you rationed carefully, the box could last for 2 days, and if you didn't wash your hands, the tattoo you got for a prize could last for a week.
Nowadays I can get my Cracker Jack fix by making Carol's Caramel Corn, but I still love all things sweet and salty. The world is full of these tasty treats, so I must not be alone in my obsession. My current favorite is combining salt and caramel, with a hint of chocolate.
Check out this recipe for Salted Vanilla Caramel Icing. It really scratches the sweet/salty itch.
Place 1/2 cup chopped caramel and 2 tablespoons heavy cream in a small saucepan. Melt together over low heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.
The caramel sauce will be thin and fluid, dropping easily off of a spoon. Set aside to cool slightly.
To make caramel/chocolate swirled icing, you'll need some chocolate ganache.
Melt 6 ounces of milk chocolate by pouring 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of very hot heavy cream over it.
Whisk the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is fully melted. Place in the fridge or freezer until the consistency of chocolate pudding.
Back to the caramel. In the bowl of your stand mixer combine:
Using your whisk attachment, blend together for one minute.
Pour in your cooled caramel. It should be slightly warm to the touch, but neither hot, nor cold and stiff. Like the little girl said, "It's just right."
Could you use a homemade caramel here? Absolutely. Keep the consistency in mind though, or you may need to adjust the confectioners' sugar.
Can you use store-bought caramels? You betcha. You'll need about 15 pieces. If the caramels are very soft to begin with, decrease the amount of cream by 1/2 tablespoon.
Mix on low speed for 1 minute to combine the caramel with the dry ingredients.
**update** If at this point the mixture seems too thick, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of milk or cream until it is a more blend-able consistency.
Increase the speed to high and whip for 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes. I found whipping for less time left small bits of solid caramel in the icing and didn't produce the smooth, creamy texture you want.
Oh so lovely, fluffy, and enticing. You can smell the vanilla and caramel as the icing whips, and each little stolen fingerful hits your palate with that sweet/salty combination of goodness.
Deep dark chocolate cupcakes from PJ's Bake Sale Cupcakes are perfect bases for this sweet icing.
A drizzle of extra caramel sauce flows like golden lava over the swirls of icing. It was all I could do to keep from making a fool of myself crooning over this cupcake in a back corner of the test kitchen. My Precious...
Hey, remember that chocolate ganache chillin' in the freezer? Take it out and whip it at high speed until it's light and fluffy.
Using a pastry bag with a large tip, fill half the bag with the vanilla-caramel icing. Not half top to bottom, but half side to side. You'll be putting the chocolate icing next to it.
Fill the other half of the bag with the chocolate whipped ganache. It's OK if it's not perfectly even; that gives the swirls character.
Practice piping a few lines or stars on parchment until you get a fairly even amount of each icing coming out at one time.
Check it out! As both icings flow out of the bag they connect and flow in a way that you just couldn't do by hand. For more color contrast, you could use a dark chocolate ganache instead.
Both of these icings are on the softer side, so I recommend keeping them in the fridge. Take them out about 10 to 15 minutes before you want to serve them so they can soften up.
Of course, if you do want to ice your cupcakes by hand, you certainly can. This one reminds me of a classic black and white cookie, but taken to a whole new level.
Think of the taste possibilities here. A bite of just chocolate and chocolate, a lick of salty vanilla caramel, nibbling around the edge for an ever-changing sensation. I think I need some quality time with this cupcake.
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