Salted Caramel Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Frosting

Super moist carrot cupcakes are topped with a homemade salted caramel sauce and creamy, vanilla bean mascarpone frosting.  These cupcakes take carrot cake to a new and delicious level!

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I know, I know….another cupcake recipe.  I say that like there’s something wrong with that, when there’s nothing bad about these little gems.  I guess I just feel like I’ve been posting cupcakes quite a bit lately?  That’s because there have been a lot of birthdays, and I always volunteer to make the dessert because I don’t make cupcakes for no reason and I need to get my fix.  I’m not the kind of person that will go to a cupcakery and indulge in a cupcake on some random day as much as I love them.  There needs to be an occasion, and this past weekend there were two family birthdays — my husband and his brother — so these were absolutely necessary. 😉

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Carrot cake has always been one of my favorite cakes, and everyone in the family seems to enjoy it too, thankfully.  I’m always on the lookout for the next great recipe, and I found another one on Smitten Kitchen.  These cupcakes are so moist and delicious that I had one every day until they were gone, which was 3 days in a row.  I changed the recipe up a little bit, mostly by adding coconut (of course I did!), omitting raisins and pecans, and instead of grating the carrots, I processed them into tiny bits in the food processor.

carrot bits

This was so much easier, and by doing this, the carrots are in nice, small bits throughout the cupcakes, which I love. 🙂

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I know I’ve been on a salted caramel tear as of late.  That started with my Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Chocolate Buttercream, and it shows no sign of going away any time soon.  Since I started making caramel, it’s one of my new favorite things to do. 😉

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Of course you can buy salted caramel sauce for these cupcakes, but it’s so easy to make your own.  It’s just sugar and water and about 10 minutes of your time at the most.  The best part about making your own is, you get to decide how dark you like your caramel.  The darker it is, the less sweet.  I opted for medium amber color here because I wanted the caramel a bit on the sweeter side since I was salting it.  Sweet + salty = balance. 🙂

caramel collage

When making caramel, just make sure to melt the sugar in water on low heat until it’s clear, or the sugar has melted like the photo in the top left.  Once it’s clear, turn the heat to high and don’t stir!  When the bubbles get big and lazy, it’s getting close.  Once the mixture begins to color around the edges, swirl it around ever so gently.  When it’s a nice amber color, it’s ready.  Just remember that it goes from light to dark very quickly, and it will continue to cook once it’s off the heat.  If it’s too dark, it could burn, so you need to get it off the heat just before it becomes the color you’re after.  Comprende? 🙂  Add a pinch of sea salt and stir it up, then let it cool.  How much salt you add is completely up to your taste buds.

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Now that we’ve finished talking about the cupcake and salted caramel frosting, let’s move on to this luscious vanilla bean mascarpone frosting.  It was my first time making a frosting from mascarpone cheese, and it certainly won’t be my last.  I also added some low fat cream cheese to the mix for extra tang, and beat it until it was smooth as possible.  The mascarpone doesn’t really look smooth, however — it almost looked like over-whipped whipped cream.  No worries, though — I beat in the butter, then the confectioner’s sugar, and cranked up the mixer to high for a bit.  It still didn’t look smooth, but no matter.  I googled some mascarpone frosting recipes and they all pretty much  looked the way mine turned out. 🙂

As for the vanilla bean in the frosting, I opted for vanilla bean paste.  I discovered vanilla bean paste last year at Whole Foods and haven’t looked back since.

vanilla bean paste

This paste gives you the vanilla bean flavor and the gorgeous specks that you want, and it lasts so much longer than vanilla beans.  Another bonus is that  you don’t have to scrape out any seeds this way, which is always nice in my book. 🙂

These cupcakes are great at room temperature or right out of the refrigerator.  Yesterday before I devoured my last one, I realized I hadn’t taken a photo of it cold, with the caramel nice and set up.  I took my big bite, then I took the picture.  I hope you don’t mind. 🙂

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Salted Caramel Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Frosting
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Super moist carrot cupcakes are topped with a homemade salted caramel sauce and creamy, vanilla bean mascarpone frosting. These cupcakes take carrot cake to a new and delicious level!
Serves: 24 cupcakes
Ingredients
For the cupcakes:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1¼ cups canola oil
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature*
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 13 ounces carrots, stemmed, peeled, and finely chopped in a food processor (3 cups)
  • ¾ cups sweetened, shredded coconut
For the Salted Caramel Sauce:
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 drops fresh lemon juice*(optional)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • pinch sea salt, to taste
For the frosting:
  • 4 ounces ⅓ less fat neufchâtel cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or the seeds from one vanilla bean)
Instructions
Prepare the cupcakes:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two standard muffin pans with 24 paper liners, or spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and canola oil vigorously until foamy, about 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, until well incorporated. Stir in the flour mixture until just blended. Do not over mix or the cupcakes will be tough. Fold in the orange zest, carrots, and coconut with a rubber scraper just until distributed. Using an ice cream scoop, pour the batter into each prepared muffin cup, about ⅔ full. Bake on the center rack in the oven, rotating the pans halfway during baking, for 15-20 minutes. When the cupcakes are done, they will be lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pans on a wire rack, then remove from the pans and cool completely.
Prepare the salted caramel sauce:
  1. Place the sugar, water, and drops of lemon juice in a small saucepan and stir until it resembles a paste. Heat over low heat until the sugar has melted and the mixture looks clear. Increase the heat to high and cook without stirring until large, lazy bubbles appear, the mixture begins to color lightly around the edges. Gently swirl the mixture around in the pan until it is a light to medium amber color. The caramel will continue to cook and darken once you remove it from heat, so be careful not to overcook. Add the butter and cream very slowly, stirring until incorporated. Be careful not to add the cream too quickly as the caramel may bubble up. Stir in the sea salt to taste and allow to cool.
Prepare the frosting:
  1. Place the cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until smooth. Add the mascarpone and butter, and beat until combined. The mascarpone may look curdled a bit, but this is normal. Turn off the mixer and scrape the paddle and down the sides. Add the powdered sugar, and mix on low speed until incorporated. Turn the mixer up to high and beat until creamy and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla bean paste until combined.
  2. Place the frosting into a large piping bag fitted with a large tip and pipe around the the edges of each cupcake. Fill the center with the salted caramel sauce. Cupcakes are great at room temperature or right out of the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Notes
*To make eggs come to room temperature faster, place them in a bowl with very warm water and they'll room temp in about 10-15 minutes.

*Use lemon juice in your caramel to help prevent the sugar from crystallizing.

Store salted caramel sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Fill your caramel pan with water and simmer over low heat to remove any caramel stuck to the pan. Use a pastry brush, dip in the water, and brush off any caramel stuck to the top.

The frosting recipe provided was just the right amount for 24 cupcakes with barely any left to spare. If you want more frosting, consider doubling the batch!

Cupcake recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Cupcake inspiration and salted caramel sauce recipe adapted from Tante Marie Cooking School, San Francisco, CA..

Frosting by Flavor the Moments.