Chocolate-Cajeta Cupcakes

These cupcakes are meant to represent decadence and indulgence. One of my personal favorite combinations is dark chocolate with salted caramel, and these cupcakes take that combination, and really drive it home. In place of using just a regular caramel, I went with Cajeta. Cajeta is a Oaxacan goat milk caramel, very similar to dulce de leche, but instead using, obviously, goat’s milk and cinnamon. The cinnamon adds a perfumed note to the caramel, which pairs gorgeously with the floral, bitter notes of the chocolate! You can make your own Cajeta from scratch(normally the process takes 2-3 hours but I found that using evaporated goat’s milk speeds up the process down to about 45 minutes), but you can use premade Cajeta to save some time as well. I’m using Cajeta two ways in this cake, in the frosting and as a drizzle, while the other components are 100% chocolate, being a chocolate cake, chocolate dust, and spiced chocolate shortbread as a cute little garnish on top.

For the cupcakes, I used black cacao powder, which adds a rich, chocolate, almond cocoa nib-like flavor to the sponge. I also used soda water instead of milk or buttermilk, which adds a lot more aeration to the batter, resulting in a super fluffy cake! For the frosting, I used the Cajeta with cream cheese and butter, and just a little more cinnamon to really bring through that fragrance. With the shortbreads, I used cinnamon there as well, just to tie the cajeta with the cupcakes. With the Cajeta, if you are making it from scratch, you can sub out the cinnamon and dark brown sugar with canela and panela, which are the more authentic counterparts to those ingredients for a traditional Cajeta, but I found that cinnamon and dark brown sugar are just easier to come by(and I’ve had enough friends complain to me about not being able to find evaporated goats milk, which is readily available in most grocery store baking sections, wherever evaporated and condensed milks are). Just giving options, since making cupcakes should be a fun experience, not a puzzling one! Makes 12 cupcakes:

For the cajeta:
14oz can evaporated goat’s milk
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt

In a very large pot(you’ll thank me for this when your milk mixture doesn’t overflow out of your pot), heat up the evaporated milk with baking soda first, stirring the mixture on medium-high heat until it is reduced down by half and is the consistency of melted ice cream and a light tan color. Keep in mind, the baking soda will cause the milk to froth up and boil rapidly, so just stir constantly to keep the bubbles down and use the biggest pot you have! Add to the liquid your other ingredients and continue to cook everything on medium heat for another 20-30 minutes, or until the mixture is a thick syrup, similar in consistency to maple syrup. Allow the mixture to cool down before using.

For the chocolate cake batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp cider vinegar
A pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup soda water

Soft the flour and cocoa powder together first. Add everything into a bowl and whisk together to form your batter. Scoop into 12 lined cupcake tins or cups, filling each about 2/3 to 3/4 the way full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes down before attempting to assemble.

For the cajeta cream cheese frosting:
8oz cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter
4oz cajeta
A pinch of salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

In a bowl, whip room temperature cream cheese and softened butter together until pale and fluffy, then whip in everything else until combined. Transfer to a piping bag with a star tip.

For the chocolate shortbreads:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and diced
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cinnamon 

Mix everything together to form a dough. Chill down the dough for 15 minutes, then roll out to about 1/16-inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes from the dough(I went with scalloped circles) and transfer to a lined sheet tray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.

For the chocolate dust:
2 tbsp dark chocolate chips
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp tapioca maltodextrin

Melt down chocolate with salt, then mix in the maltodextrin to form a powder.

To assemble:

Pipe the buttercream on top of each cupcake. Drizzle on any remaining cajeta, then add on your chocolate dust, and finish with a chocolate shortbread on top.

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