Caramel Apple Cupcakes
['2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour', '3 tsp. baking powder', '1 tsp. ground cinnamon', '1/2 tsp. salt', '16 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature (European style recommended)', '2 cups sugar', '4 large eggs, at room temperature', '1/3 cup hot water', '2 1/2 cups freshly grated apples (4 to 5 medium-size apples—we use Gala apples, but you can use your favorite type)', '4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature (European style recommended)', '4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted', '1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract (Nielsen-Massey pure Madagascar Bourbon recommended)', '6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature', '2 cups sugar', '1 Tbsp. water', '12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature (European style recommended)', '1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (Nielsen-Massey pure Madagascar Bourbon recommended)', '1 cup heavy cream', 'at room temperature']
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a standard cupcake pan with twelve paper baking cups, and a second pan with six baking cups, or grease pans with butter if not using baking cups.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt on a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper and set aside.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a bowl with a handheld electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until fluffy. Stop to add the sugar; beat on medium speed until well incorporated, approximately 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing slowly on medium speed, after each addition. It’s important to add them one at a time so that they will completely incorporate into the batter and you don’t put too much weight on your batter at once. This would collapse all the little air bubbles you created when you creamed the butter and sugar.
Reduce the speed to low. At this stage, it’s always important to mix as slowly and as little as necessary since you don’t want to traumatize your batter. Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then gradually add one third of the hot water, beating until well incorporated. Add another third of the flour mixture, followed by one third of the hot water. It’s important to add the flour and water little by little like this, so that your batter does not have too much weight thrown on it and that you allow each amount of flour and water to completely mix into the batter. Stop to scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining hot water, and beat just until combined.
Using a spatula, fold the grated apple into the batter. Take care not to overmix the batter. If you overmix the batter, the cupcakes will not be light and fluffy but instead very dense.
Use a standard-size ice-cream scoop to fill each baking cup with batter, so the cups are two-thirds full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes (start checking at 15 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. After 5 minutes, transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely for approximately 20 minutes. It’s always best to cool the cupcakes at room temperature. Putting them in the refrigerator to cool can dry out the cake.
Place all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until well combined. Be sure to beat on high speed at the very end for at least 2 minutes to ensure that the frosting is light and fluffy.
Pour the sugar and water into a large saucepan. Heat on medium-high heat and stir constantly until the sugar completely liquefies. Stir constantly and be careful not to burn the sugar. After all the sugar has dissolved, add the butter and vanilla extract to the saucepan and mix thoroughly. Once the butter has melted and the butter and sugar are completely mixed, remove from heat and, using a whisk, slowly whisk in the heavy cream until you reach a beautiful golden brown caramel color. Set aside and let cool and thicken for 5 minutes at room temperature. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to thicken further before you use to fill or decorate.
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