*Winning* Caramel Apple Spice Cupcakes

When you think about the flavors of fall, what dishes or ingredients come to mind? For me, the fall season isn't complete without enjoying a caramel apple. A sweet yet slightly tart apple dipped in buttery, sticky caramel on a stick captures not only the flavors of fall but the memories I have growing up enjoying the season. With that in mind, the caramel apple became the inspiration for these Caramel Apple Spice Cupcakes. These are not just any plain old cupcakes though. Oh no... these are the cupcakes that I submitted to a local cooking contest through Artizone Chicago, an online grocery food delivery service in Chicago. is Chicagoland's only grocery delivery company from local, specialty food shops. With over 35 vendors in its online marketplace, delivers the freshest ingredients to your door from the best artisanal food creators. The contest itself was simple too...  

So I signed up, went with the Baked Goods (Sweets) category and awaited my 'secret ingredient Theme Box' to work with. I soon received a lovely box filled with beautiful Granny Smith Apples and some Chinese Five Spice Powder...

I was thrilled with the secret ingredients I got to work with and it wasn't hard combining these two ingredients - Granny Smith Apples and Chinese Five Spice powder - to create some delicious. The question was what could I make that would highlight these two items cohesively? I have a soft spot for cupcakes, simply because I enjoy taking familiar flavors and packing them into a portable treat in cupcake form. So why not make my favorite flavor of fall - the caramel apple - into a cupcake? Using the Chinese Five Spice Powder to make a spice cake batter, I finely chopped the apples and folded them in. The batter was then divided into a lined muffin pan, baked and then topped with a luscious buttercream frosting before garnishing with a salted caramel drizzle...

I uploaded a picture of my cupcakes onto the Artizone Facebook page and crossed my fingers that I got some support from family and friends who voted for my entry. The contest continued for over 2 weeks where all entries racked in votes. Then the day came and it was announced that I made it into the final round with two other contestants!

Last night I attended the final showdown where four judges tasted our entries. Quite a few people came out and my personal cheering section included The Baron and my little man, Joel. Both of them were pretty excited to see me representing my Caramel Apple Spice Cupcakes in front of a large crowd. Joel was especially proud of me since he often would shout out, 'That's my mommy! That's my mommy!" while I was presenting my cupcakes to the judges and speaking with the emcee. The crowd was so great and it was such a lovely evening over delicious food and drinks...

Often times I see so many amazing photographs of food that I wonder if they actually taste as good as it looks. I can only speak for myself but I certainly thought my cupcakes had a solid chance. The texture was spot on, the flavor of both secret ingredients were represented very well and I think I nailed the presentation. Here's a pic of me waiting in the sidelines while the judges deliberate and tally up the points for all the three final entries. I was super nervous but just thankful I made it this far...

And after what seemed like forever, it was time. All the finalists were called up in front of the crowd, a few words were said about the success of the event and then the winners were announced. Guess who brought it home? Yep, that's me holding a big check nearly as big as I am lol!...

As a result of being the Grand Prize Winner of Artizone's Flavors of Fall Contest, I received:
- $500 in credit
- Appearance on WCIU "You & Me This Morning" tv show
- Chef's dinner for six at City Provisions

So if you're in the Chicagoland area and have the WCIU channel, tune in this morning! In fact, I'll be getting ready to head down to the tv studio in a little bit to start filming the live segment.  Check your local listings for channels and times... and if you can't watch the show, get the recipe below!

*Winning* Caramel Apple Spice Cupcakes
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

1½ cups all-purpose flour {or 210 grams gluten free flour blend}
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
½ cup sour cream
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder
2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped
Buttercream Frosting
Salted caramel sauce for garnish
Fleur de Sel for garnish

Adjust oven rack to middle position; Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin/cupcake tin with paper liners.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment.

Add butter, sour cream, egg and egg yolks, vanilla, and Chinese Five Spice Powder; beat at medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, add the chopped apples and mix by hand until no flour pockets remain.

Divide batter evenly among cups of prepared tin. Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 24 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from tin and transfer to wire rack; cool cupcakes to room temperature before frosting.

When ready to frost, frost the cupcakes as desired, drizzle the caramel sauce over the tops and sprinkle some salt over the top as garnish.

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