Turtle desserts of all kinds hold a special place in my heart.  I’ve talked about the reason quite in depth before in this post.  But today, let’s not focus on the sad stuff.  Instead, let’s just all take a moment to appreciate something good about the past week.  My week has had lots of good.  Plenty of productive studying, a few challenging hours on my yoga mat, making progress with some knitting projects, and of course, lots and lots of wonderful moments with my amazing kids.

As a major sweet tooth with a special love for chocolate and caramel, the cupcakes were another highlight of the week.  Chocolate, caramel and pecans is a winning combination to be sure.  But the cupcake itself was not so much the highlight as was splitting one with my little buddy.  He is at such a fantastic age right now – so smart, inquisitive and playful.  And he wants to hang out with me 24/7.  I know that won’t last forever so I’m just savoring these moments while I can.  Since sharing turtle sundaes with my mom is an incredibly vivid memory for me, I can’t help but wonder which moments he will recall someday.  Who knows?  Maybe it will be this one.

(A quick rundown of the cupcake:  I used my favorite chocolate cupcake as the base.  I didn’t feel like bothering with filling them, plus I wanted the “filling” to be visible.  I topped them with a caramel cream cheese frosting and then made little wells in the frosting to hold the caramel pecan mixture.  Worked like a charm and I loved the way they looked.  Messy, gooey and fabulous.)

  • Yield 2 dozen cupcakes


For the cupcakes:
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup sour cream

For the caramel and filling:
½ cup sugar
½ cups heavy cream, warmed
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional) 
¼ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chopped pecans

For the frosting:
12 oz. cream cheese, cold
12 tbsp. (6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp. caramel sauce (recipe above)
2¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of coarse salt

To finish: 
Caramel sauce
Chocolate syrup or chocolate ganache
Additional chopped pecans (optional)


  • 01

    Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth.  In another medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk to blend.

  • 02

    Combine the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the butter is completely melted.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is cool, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture until smooth.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing 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, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Let cool in the pan about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

  • 04

    To make the caramel, spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Place over medium-low heat, watching carefully.  When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center.  Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir.  Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream.  Set aside.  Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the sauce pan from the heat.  (To test the color, spoon a drop onto a white plate or bowl.)  Carefully pour half of the heavy cream into the saucepan in a steady stream down the edge of the pan, whisking constantly.  The mixture will steam and bubble violently.  Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream.  Stir in the salt and the vanilla.  If any sugar has seized or hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

  • 05

    To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, and caramel sauce in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in the confectioners’ sugar and salt at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes more.  Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag with a large round tip (I used Ateco #809).  Pipe a swirl of frosting over the top of each cupcake.  Use the tip of a small offset spatula or a small spoon to scoop an indentation out of the center of the frosting.

  • 06

    In a small bowl, mix together of the caramel sauce and the chopped pecans.  Fill the indentations in the frosting with a small spoonful of the caramel-pecan mixture.  Drizzle the cupcakes with additional caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and sprinkle with additional chopped pecans, if desired.