I’ve got lots of wonderful healthy recipes to share with you this month, but I’m not about to give up on sweet treat Fridays.  It seemed only fitting to start the new year out right with a really fabulous dessert, and so I give to you caramel corn cupcakes.  I repeat: Caramel corn.  Cupcakes.  Two of my very favorite things combined in one dessert.  This is a cupcake I’ve been brainstorming about for months.  I honestly don’t know what caused me to think of caramel corn cupcakes.  One day we were driving in the car talking about something else entirely, and as usual, the undercurrent of my thoughts must have been something like, “Food.  Cupcakes.  Food.  I love food.  Especially caramel corn.”  And then suddenly, “OMG caramel corn cupcakes!!!”  The moment the idea popped into my mind and I knew it had to be so.  Given my love for these two things, I’m actually a little surprised I didn’t think to combine them sooner.  Then, as I often do, I hemmed and hawed over how exactly to best execute this idea.  Here is where we landed: a tender caramel cake base, a rich but not too sweet caramel buttercream, and a generous coating of caramel corn.  Oh my.

Most cupcakes can be made and assembled in advance without issue, but in this case the crunchy texture of the caramel corn is key to the finished product.  You can still frost the cupcakes in advance of when you plan to serve them, but add the caramel corn coating no more than a couple hours beforehand for the best results.  As a bonus, if you make a batch of homemade caramel corn (and I really insist that you do), you’ll have plenty left over for snacking on.  Good times.

  • Yield about 2 dozen cupcakes


For the cupcakes:
1¾ cups sugar, divided
1/3 cup very hot water
3 cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. coarse salt
¾ cup (12 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk

For the frosting:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1 tbsp. pieces, at room temperature
½ cup caramel sauce 

For the topping:
Caramel corn (about 3-4 cups, plus more for snacking of course!)


  • 01

    To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a small saucepan, spread ½ cup of the sugar in an even layer over medium heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar melts.  Continue cooking until the caramel reaches a deep amber color.  (Test a drop on a white plate to accurately judge the color.  Watch very carefully, as caramel can go from perfect to burned in a matter of seconds…trust me on this.)  When the desired color is reached, pour in the hot water in a very slow, steady stream down the inside edge of the pan, whisking constantly to incorporate.  (If the caramel seizes, all is not lost.  Simply reduce the heat to low and continue to heat slowly until the chunks have melted back into the caramel.)  Once the water is incorporated and smooth, set aside to cool.

  • 02

    In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the remaining 1½ cups sugar and the butter.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Blend in the vanilla extract.  Stir in the caramel and mix until incorporated.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the milk, beating each addition just until incorporated.

  • 03

    Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes.  Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

  • 04

    To make the frosting, combine the egg whites and sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat the mixture, whisking very frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and reaches 160° F on an instant read thermometer.  Transfer the mixture to the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture holds stiff peaks.  Reduce the speed to medium low, add in the salt and begin adding the butter one piece at a time, beating well after each addition.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (or longer – don’t worry, it will come together!)  Once the frosting is thick and smooth, stir in ½ cup of the cooled caramel sauce until well blended.

  • 05

    Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with any wide round tip.  Pipe a dollop of frosting onto each cupcake.  (It doesn’t need to look neat since it will be covered up anyway.)  When you are ready to serve, coat each dollop of frosting generously in the caramel corn.  (Either dip it directly into the caramel corn – AKA the easy way, or carefully place each piece of caramel corn for the best aesthetic value – AKA the crazy Annie way).  Enjoy!