If you are particularly strapped for cash this season or simply want to give something that warms the heart (and tummy), I suggest firing up your oven and start baking! Presentation is key, as is flavor. My choice was to make (Non-Pumpkin) Spice Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream for loved ones this year. I took a recipe from my favorite database, Tastespotting.com, and tweaked it to my liking. (Basically, I dumped the pumpkin part of this recipe because using it in baked goods grosses me out).
I baked these for two different parties and everyone raved about them!
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add dry ingredients, and mix on low until smooth. Fold in pumpkin puree.
Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
Makes ~ 18 cupcakes.
Source: Adapted from MarthaStewart.com.
Salted Caramel Buttercream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick salted butter
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups powdered sugar
In a saucepan, stir together granulated sugar and water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber color. Remove from heat and slowly add in cream and vanilla, stirring until very smooth. Let caramel cool for about 20 minutes, until it is just barely warm and still pourable.
In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and salt together until lightened and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the caramel. Beat on medium high speed until light and airy, and completely mixed (about 2 minutes). Mixture should be ready to use without refrigeration. If your caramel was too hot when added, it will cause your icing to be runny. If this happens refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
Source: Slightly adapted from SprinkleBakes.com.