mexican chocolate cupcakes with dulce de leche frosting

I decided that this summer I would try my hand at making some less pedestrian cupcakes. For my birthday, I selected these goodies that I pinned a few months back on my “Things to Bake/Make” board on Pinterest. I also attempted (and succeeded) making Dulce de Leche from “scratch” (i.e. from a can of condensed milk) for the first time. When I originally selected the recipe, I thought I was going to be able to find already-prepared (canned) Dulce de Leche quite readily at my local supermarket, but no such luck. In spite of the extra step, they were undoubtedly the better for my having made my own Dulce de Leche.

I did a fair amount of research before making my own Dulce de Leche. The standard way is to make it by submerging a sealed can of sweetened condensed milk in a simmering pot of water for a couple hours or so, but apparently that technique comes with a fair amount of risk, of the can exploding.  That really didn’t sound appealing to me.  There are other techniques as well, including baking the contents of the can over a water bath (as David Leibovitz describes here) for an hour, or the method I employed: slowly microwaving the sweetened condensed milk at 30% – 50% power and whisking at regular intervals.  I felt the most comfortable with this technique because (a) it seemed to be the least time consuming, (b) it was a warm day and would heat up my kitchen the least, and (c) I felt I had the most control over the process this way.  I didn’t want to burn it or heat it to the point of turning the milk into rock hard candy. Since I would be taking the Dulce de Leche out of the microwave every couple minutes and whisking it, I would have a better handle at its state at any given point. I was really happy with this method and definitely would make it this way again. One tip — place the milk in the biggest bowl that will fit in your microwave. 14 ounces of sweetened condensed milk doesn’t look like that much, but when it starts to boil in the microwave, it really bubbles up. There were times when I was intoning “stop, stop, stop” as the milk rose to the top of the bowl. Fortunately, the microwave power always seemed to cycle off before it could boil over.

Here are directions I used, from Carnation’s site.  They seemed to use the most conservative time and power settings of the different microwaving instructions I’ve read. I cooked mine an additional 2 minutes at 30% power, for a total of 14 minutes at 30%. Note also that after the Dulce de Leche has cooled, you may have to warm it slightly over a warm water bath to make it pliable enough to beat with the cream cheese for the icing.

Pour 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk into a large microwave-safe bowl. Cook on medium (50%) power for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through heating time. Reduce power to medium-low (30%) power; cook for 8 to 12 minutes, stirring with wire whisk every few minutes, until thick and light caramel-colored. 

Note: Microwave ovens may vary; adjust timing accordingly. 

The cupcake and icing recipe is from Jennifer’s Bake or Break blog. The addition of cinnamon to the chocolate batter is what gives them a Mexican chocolate flavor. I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder (a mixture of Dutch-processed and unsweetened cocoa powders) for a darker, richer and mellower chocolate flavor, rather than using the straight unsweetened cocoa powder called for.

I also converted the volume measurements in the cupcake recipe into weights, as I am a compulsive scaler.  Here are my conversions:

  • 8.5 oz. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (I used a slightly heaping 1/2 tsp. of coarse sea salt)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1.5 oz. mixture of Dutch-processed and unsweetened cocoa powder (such as Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder)
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 10.5 oz. granulated sugar
  • 4 oz. light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbs. vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. milk
You can read the rest of the cupcake recipe and the frosting recipe on the Bake or Break site.
To ice the cupcakes, I piped the icing on in a swirl (I don’t really like how it looks when I spread it on with a spatula), using a Wilton #12 round tip.  I had just enough to ice all 24 cupcakes with no icing left over, so ration carefully (and sample sparingly!). To finish, I garnished each cupcake with a piece of chewy caramel candy, cut into quarters. 
The cupcakes were phenomenal.  The cake itself was moist and rich and the icing’s cream cheese-Dulce de Leche combo was a great compliment to the cake — not too sweet and just a hint of caramel-y goodness. My husband took a few into work and they were very well-received. Thanks to Jennifer for a fabulous pair of recipes!

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