Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes (Mystery Box Challenge)

UPDATE: I was in the top 5 entries based on total votes, but did not win the random drawing. Thanks so much for everyone who supported me by voting! XD

Now let's chat about these cupcakes. I tell ya, I never expected popcorn to show up at all on this blog, much less in a cupcake. Taking inspiration from unexpected sources is not uncommon here (remember the apple and brie, mojito, or Ferrero Rocher cupcakes?), but I just happen to hate popcorn. I mean, toss me on a deserted island with nothing but and I will munch. Or...simply have the new cupcake contest I've joined name popcorn as its latest challenge. Suddenly, popcorn was on my mind -- morning, noon, and night!

Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes

Eventually I assembled a recipe for caramel popcorn cupcakes and checked it twice. Then I baked it up and tasted it thrice (yes, 3 times ^_^). And it was...both a success and a failure. Despite infusing the liquid for my caramel with fresh popcorn, its flavor didn't come through in the frosting (which is why I've omitted that step below). Popcorn enthusiast that I am not, this "failure" wasn't that disappointing. Especially when I managed to "salvage" 20 tasty cakes that were sweet and moist due to creamed corn puree, with a nice crunch from the cornmeal, and swirled with silky smooth caramel buttercream. To top things off, even I couldn't resist tossing on some caramel popcorn. Bon appetit!

I’m submitting this to Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge: Popcorn. The winner of this challenge will receive prizes from:

Thank you to all our prize sponsors!

Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes [Printable Recipe]
Makes 18 to 20 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I simply pureed canned creamed corn using a handheld immersion blender; you could also use a standard blender or food processor. Homemade creamed corn should work, too; the puree should have a consistency similar to applesauce. I'd recommend making the caramel sauce for the frosting in advance to give it plenty of time to cool before being added to the frosting. The recipe below makes a LOT of caramel sauce, much more than the 1/2 cup maximum you'll use for the frosting. I figure if you're gonna go through the trouble of making homemade caramel sauce, you might as well have extra to use on sundaes, bread pudding, whatever you fancy! But feel free to halve or even quarter this recipe if you'd prefer.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups pureed creamed corn
Caramel Buttercream Frosting (Recipe below)
Caramel Popcorn, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 muffin pans with paper liners (or use 1 pan and use 6 standalone baking cups). In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

With an electric mixer on medium high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla then eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 creamed corn puree, another 1/3 flour mixture, the remaining creamed corn, and finally the remaining flour mixture -- beating until just combined after each addition.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 16 to 20 minutes. Let cool 1 minute in pan, then transfer cupcakes to wire rack to cool completely. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

To serve, fill a piping bag fitted with a large round tip (like Ateco #808) and pipe caramel frosting swirls atop each cupcake. Right before serving, top with pieces of caramel popcorn.

Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from A Sweet Spoonful

1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 cups sugar, divided
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream

3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
14 Tbsp unsalted butter, cool room temperature and cut into 14 pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, corn syrup, and 2 1/2 cups of the sugar. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep warm.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan. Cook the sugar over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel. It will bubble very strongly. Keep stirring -- this is normal. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring until the caramel dissolves.

Stop stirring and cook until the caramel registers 235 degrees F on a candy thermometer -- this will take 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla, and 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Strain the caramel into the bowl of a stand mixer. Let cool 15 minutes, then freeze for 10 minute intervals, stirring between each, until sauce has thickened. Transfer caramel to an airtight storage container; set aside. Wash the stand mixer bowl.

Combine the sugar and egg whites in the clean stand mixer bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water making sure the bottom does not actually touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (I just whisked by hand and cooked it until the sugar was completely dissolved and the top became foamy). Be careful not to curdle the egg whites, remove from heat if this starts happening.

Remove the bowl to your stand mixer and beat on high speed with the whisk attachment for at least 3 minutes, until the mixture holds glossy, marshmallow-esque peaks and the bowl is completely cool (Very important - the frosting's consistency will be off otherwise).

With mixer on medium-low, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition (about 10 seconds between each addition). Increase speed to medium-high; continue beating until frosting appears thick, at least 3 minutes. (You'll hear a distinct slapping sound and visibly see the buttercream go from soupy to a cohesive, pipeable consistency.)

Reduce speed to low and slowly add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the cooled caramel. Mix until fully incorporated. Store remaining caramel in the refrigerator.


  1. Terrific! They look so dainty and delicious. I love your shot!



  2. Thanks, Rosa! You're always so quick :).

  3. you are AMAZIng! These cupcakes are wonderful!

  4. These look so good! I love the way you style your photographs. So inventive...

  5. Really cool work Xiaolu, I envy you. ;-)

  6. This looks delicious! I too am not the biggest popcorn fan.. I hate how it gets stuck in my teeth and I have to pick it out for what seems like hours. Good luck in both contests!!

  7. I thought about participating in this month's mystery cupcake challenge but I was TOTALLY stumped by the popcorn theme! These are genius however. Pure unadulterated genius.

  8. Wow, well done for using popcorn even though it isn't a favourite. And well done for finally finding a successful recipe! These look amazing. I love them!

  9. you have some serious talent girl!
    i really want to try these.. i'm not a fan of popcorn but oh my!
    good luck!

  10. What an awesome idea Xiaolu! Looks terrific!
    I happen to love popcorn and this is something I'm gonna try for sure!

  11. Wow....what an unsual cupcake flavour...Don't think I've heard of that before. And I love they way you've photographed the cuppies atop that pan!

  12. Wow, so cute these cupcakes...love the popcorns...very very creative :-)

  13. I love caramel popcorn... and they look so cute sitting on top of the cupcakes :)

  14. That's a very interesting combination. And since I am not a fan of popcorn, so I will stay with the cupcake. :-))

  15. How COOL is that?! You are oh so clever.

  16. I have to say that you really took the flavour and ran with it in all aspects and that is brilliant! :D

  17. There's so cute, and sitting up there nicely on the popper? NOW this is a cupcake I've never seen or heard of.... you might be setting a new trend.

  18. This is an awesome recipe. It's truly unique. I'm excited to try it!

  19. All that testing and tasting :-) You are certainly devoted to your craft!

  20. heehee i'm loving the sound of the corn flavoured cupcake and paired up with yummy caramel popcorn, this screams yum! hrm time to make some freshly popped caramel corn myself :)

  21. Anh - I don't deserve such great praise but thanks ;).
    Soma - thx!!
    Photo-copy - aw no need :).
    smalltownoven - yes, getting kernels stuck is definitely one reason I don't like to eat it. but with just 3 kernels on top and covered in delicious caramel, I don't mind it in these cupcakes.
    Joanne - aw thanks! I just know you woulda come up with something crazy awesome. Hope to see your entry next round.
    Alicia - I appreciate it!
    Brittany - Thx a lot :).
    Cindy - Aw you're a sweetie. Thank you.
    Prerna - I hope you do try it and please let me know what you think XD.
    Lick My Spoon - Thanks much! I didn't have much time as the sun was quickly fading, so I'm glad I got a shot I was satisfied with posting.
    Juliana - thanks, girl.
    noobcook - cute is exactly what I was aiming for. And they taste great adding sweetness and crunch, too.
    Angie's Recipes - there isn't much popcorn, just a little on top, so you could easily enjoy just the cake :).
    Libby - aw thx!
    Lorraine - =)
    Globetrotting in Tokyo - haha I sure hope I am! I'm glad you recognized the pan as a popper. Not everyone on Flickr got it right away.
    warmvanillasugar - thanks. I usually stick fairly closely to adapting other recipes, even if I do combine many components together, so I'm glad you guys are enjoying my attempt at something more original :).
    Sylvie - Oh girl, you know I am! It's a tough *cough* job but somebody's gotta make that sacrifice ;p.
    Grub - oh please do as that sounds even more delicious! I seriously considered making my own toppers but ran outta time.

  22. Genius idea & incredibly cute! Your presentation absolutely rocks! Good luck :)

  23. Neat recipe. I adore the garnish and that frosting looks divine.

  24. Are these sweet little inventions! The recipe is simply genius and the outcome to perfect! The photo's are great, well done.

  25. What a delicious idea (and I love your photo with the popcorn popper! very creative)

  26. What a unique recipe for cupcakes.

  27. Personally, I love popcorn and I was intrigued by your recipe! Nice work on the challenge!

  28. On my way to vote. Xiaolu these are STUNNING!

  29. I have to admit was a little skeptical when I saw creamed corn and thought I'll never convince them that this is really good. Shock, it was wonderful. Loved the Caramel Sauce too. Used the leftovers for French Toast; made some Caramel Muffins and on top of ice cream. Delish!

  30. Truly beautiful as always. I'me heading over to vote for you now. :) And FYI-love your new site design.

  31. Shawn - Thanks for commenting and welcome to my site :).
    briarrose - So glad you like it!
    Medifast Coupon - Thx a lot :).
    Kristen - gracias!
    elra - Glad you find it so :).
    Wilde in the Kitchen - Thx and by the way I love your blog name XD.
    Laura - LOL I love that you came back just to complain about that =p. I really appreciate your support though, hun.
    ggmsmolly - wow I assume from your post that you actually made these already. You are super fast! Thanks for letting me know how it went and I'm so glad you liked them.
    naomi - aw thanks, girl. I mostly just changed the colors around. Loved the old ones, but it was time for somethin new for the new year!

  32. Interesting! The creamed corn in the batter reminds me of some failed experiments that my boss and I did last summer trying to come up with a sweet corn pound cake. We never got it right but maybe we can use your concept as a jumping-off point for next summer!

  33. Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes taste different but the most enjoyed cupcakes by most people should be the
    Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting, recipe found on http://bit.ly/hCyg3I. Try it out!

  34. This is incredible. I've never seen a cupcake with these ingredients. They're adorable!

  35. You hate popcorn?? Say it isn't so! You'd never guess it with this fun cupcake. :)

  36. I love them :)) they look amazing :D fingers crossed :)

  37. You deserve all the praise and limelight! Creative addition of popcorn to add that crunch to cupcakes.

  38. Love your creation and your photography! I'm your newest follower.

    I’m having the very first GIVEAWAY on my blog. Please stop by to submit and entry. Good Luck.


  39. WOW. just... WOW. I don't even know what to say. this is so unique and inspiring... and SO utterly amazing!!!! you're my hero. lol.

  40. Wow, these look so cute! I love popcorn, and caramel corn! You went all out with this recipe and it shows!

  41. delicious! me and my friend were debating once how many things you could do w popcorn, this is such an amazing idea

  42. This is INCREDIBLE and looks so adorable! Thanks for sharing :D

  43. You are so creative in every aspect. Unique recipes, fantastic photos and great easy going writing. Loves (= I'll be posting this on my Facebook fan page.

  44. swiss meringue buttercream is a pain in the arse to make, but it's delicious. throwing the flavor of caramel in there is simply extraordinary--nice work!

  45. Lovely lovely cupcakes!! Sensational!

  46. Amazing- I adore the combo of popcorn, caramel, and cake, plus the frosting looks particularly smooth and luscious. More people should really bake with popcorn, it lends such a fun flavor!

  47. Your cupcakes sounds really yummy! I might just have to try them! Good Luck in the voting round!!

  48. I think I'm falling in love with your blog :) These caramel popcorn cupcakes are terrific. I love caramel popcorn, but I've never thought of it as of a cupcake decoration!

  49. Anna - oh a sweet corn poundcake sounds fantastic. Please feel free to play with this recipe or ideas from it. Good luck!
    El - Thx a lot!
    Michelle - It's sadly true, but hey it speaks to these cupcakes that I liked them a lot despite the popcorn 8).
    Just Cake Girl - I appreciate your support!
    tigerfish - aw thx =D.
    Amy - oh congrats on your blogiversary!
    Judy - I'm so glad you're back to blogging, girl! Thanks for the sweet comment.
    Sue - I'm glad you're such a fan of popcorn. I hope you try these out and let me know how you like them.
    Adriana - Thank you thank you! You should check out the roundup (I posted the link today) for over a dozen other awesome popcorn cupcake ideas. Did you know there's even popcorn flour made of ground popcorn?
    Nourhan - Thanks for stopping by.
    ~Lisa~ - aw hun you are just too kind. Thanks so much for mentioning me on FB. Glad to have found you there. I "liked" you yesterday.
    grace - I agree SMBC is a bit more effort but I'd rather make it than be drowned in too sweet frosting :).
    Ellie - XD.
    Hannah - You're right, the flavor is interesting in combination with other elements. Maybe I just find it bland on its own but don't hate it completely after all :).
    Angela - Oh please do try them and let me know your results! Thanks and please vote through the link in my latest post if you get a chance.
    Alina - Aw you don't know how much it means to get kind messages like yours. Thank you so much!

  50. I love how you layered the flavours with the creamed corn and the polenta. Great recipe, thanks.

  51. We're BIG caramel corn fans around here, so I will definitely be giving your recipes a try! I have to tell you, too: when I sent the link to my mom, she voted for you first! I had to *beg* her to use her second vote for me! :-D

  52. I'm loving the creamed corn in the cake - it would certainly give a wonderful taste and texture that would absolutely compliment the caramel deliciousness that's going on on top! (Now I want caramel corn!) Good luck in the contest!

  53. I love that you used cornmeal in these - I bet it made them really yummy. And a beautiful photo, as usual! Good luck!

  54. omg! this looks soooooooooooo good!

  55. I posted a link to this in my Weekly Favourites post on my blog - http://the-red-deer.blogspot.com/2011/01/weekly-favourites_23.html

  56. I am always blown away with your cupcakes, Xiaolu, but these really take the cake (pun intended!). :)
    And you are the first person I have ever met who doesn't like popcorn. :D

    These are absolutely stunning, my friend! Beautiful!

  57. These look absolutely perfect! I just logged in my vote. You should most certainly win.

  58. These look amazing and such an interesting combination of flavours! You've got my vote :-)

  59. Thanks, again, everyone!
    Alicia - Aw you are too too sweet to me :).
    Patricia - Yep, just another sign that I'm a huge weirdo ;p.

  60. Someone who doesn't like popcorn? Can there be such a person? LOL
    I think you made a great choice in topping these cute little cupcakes with airy, crunchy popped kernels. It's the perfect garnish. ;)

  61. I definately have to indulge in this caramel goodness. I adore whoever invented caramel! Nice recipe, definately will have to try!

  62. omg - love this!! seems like it might benefit from a nice finishing salt? great presentation though. I saved this to my online cookbook (cookmarked.com) - can't wait to make it!

  63. Finishing with a light sprinkle of salt is a great idea, Laura! If you try it, please let me know how it goes :).

  64. Wow - those look awesome. I'm a huge caramel fan, so combining caramel, sweet, salty and creamy - that's quite impressive and now I have the worst craving for caramel corn... :)

  65. I looooooooove that you tried to infuse your caramel with popcorn!! Too bad it didn't work out but what a creative and awesome idea. If I saw these cupcakes in a store, I definitely couldn't leave without getting one.

  66. Just made these for a Disney movie party- they were a HUGE hit! I was a little nervous about the corn in these, but after it was pureed, it blended into the cake perfectly. I made them mini-cupcake style, but it my oven it still took 16 minutes for them to be the perfect texture. I did cheat; I made frosting with a can of buttercream mixed with caramel. I hate doing that, but life is life, and sometimes there's just no time to make your own buttercream and caramel!

    Thanks for this creative and DELICIOUS recipe!

  67. Yay I'm so happy these worked well for you! I totally understand about the shortcut! I would do it too except that I like my frosting minimally sweet and the canned one is always pretty sugary! I'd love to see a photo of them if you took one :).

  68. We continue to have random things in common... I, too HATE popcorn! But these look lovely :)


I love hearing from you all! Please leave me a message if you have questions, advice, or just to let me know you stopped by. Your feedback is always very much appreciated. Thanks! <3 Xiaolu