Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cupcake Wars: Cinema Concession Stand

Coca Cola cupcakes with cola caramel filling and buttery buttercream frosting, garnished with sea salt and popcorn.

Last year my friend and I duked it out cupcake style in our own little Cupcake Wars challenge. She lives about 1000 miles (1500km) south of my little hamlet so we had to rely on the discerning palates in our own neighborhoods to let us know how we fared.

The theme: cinema concession stand. We both had to come up with a cupcake that included both the salty and sweet goodness of going to the movies. I played around with some of my favorite movie treats: licorice and peanut m&m's, popcorn and peanut butter cups, sour candies and chocolate covered peanuts. But I couldn't imagine a good, edible cupcake with any of those combinations. Then I thought, "What is the most classic movie treat?" Buttered popcorn and Coca Cola.

I found a Coca Cola cupcake recipe that originally had cocoa in it, but I didn't add the cocoa because I didn't want it to interfere with the cola flavor.

I made a cola caramel by reducing two 237mL bottles of Coke in a medium saucepan down to one third. Then added:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Stirred to combine and then brought it to a boil over high heat until it reached 350 degrees on a candy thermometer. (it took about 10 minutes)

While it boiled I gathered:
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (warmed up)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
When the caramel mixture reached 350 degrees, I removed from heat and allowed it to cool for 1 minute. Then I carefully added the hot cream to the caramel and stirred to combine. I then whisked in the sour cream.

When the caramel cooled I poured it in a squeeze bottle and with an apple corer I popped out "divots" in each cupcake. I filled the hole left behind with the caramel and then replaced divot.

 I upped the butter in the buttercream because I didn't want to use butter flavor extract. I haven't found a butter flavor extract that doesn't taste chemically:
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups sifted icing sugar
  • 1/2 heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla

I beat the butter in a stand mixer until fluffy and slowly added the icing sugar  and cream, alternating between them, but ending with sugar. I added the vanilla at the end and beat until I was happy with the consistency.

I garnished the frosted cakes with coarse sea salt and then added freshly popped, cooled popcorn. I didn't butter the popcorn because that would have made the cake and popcorn too soggy. I was hoping the buttercream would be buttery enough to carry the butter flavor.

 My dear judges were brutally honest. They liked the presentation and could taste the cola, but too much frosting made it too sweet and there wasn't enough saltiness to offset the sweet. If I ever do them again, I will cut down the icing sugar by one cup and up the butter by 1/2 cup and maybe even salt the popcorn as well.
One of my brave judges!

My warring friend did a southern caramel cake and frosting garnished with a chocolate covered peanut and caramel corn on top. She said her cake ended up being a bit crumbly and her frosting too messy, so for this war we declared a draw!

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