Caramel Apple Spice Cupcakes

We made it to Friday! Soon my parents will be settling in at my place and we'll be able to reunite once again later tonight after work - we can't wait! This week was a great holiday week and to finish it off in time for the weekend, I've got the last and final Starbucks inspired holiday cupcake...Caramel Apple Spice Cupcakes. When Joel and I go to Starbucks, he will usually have their caramel apple spice or hot chocolate to drink. He loves this special version of 'apple juice' so I made sure to represent his favorite Starbucks drink. This cupcake is made with a butter pecan spice cake that has minced fresh Granny Smith apples tossed in cinnamon sugar and a touch of applesauce stirred in. For a finishing touch, I frosted them with a cream cheese frosting, a buttery caramel drizzle and a toasted whole pecan.

This recipe is pretty much the same exact one as my winning caramel apple spice cupcakes I made for a local contest last year. The only difference is the use of apple pie spice (and the original version I made used Chinese five spice powder.) 

Caramel Apple Spice Cupcakes
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
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 apple pie spice

Buttercream Frosting:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
4-6 cups confectioners or powdered sugar

Salted caramel sauce for garnish
1/4 cup whole toasted pecans

Adjust oven rack to middle position; Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin/cupcake tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine the chopped apples with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar; set aside.

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 apple pie spice; 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.

For the frosting: In a large mixing bowl, beat the softened butter and cream cheese together until fluffy; add heavy cream and beat until fully incorporated.

Slowly add confectioners or powdered sugar into the bowl, 1/2 cup at a time and beating after each addition. Continue adding the sugar until you have a thick frosting of your preferred consistency. 

When ready to frost, frost the cupcakes as desired, drizzle the caramel sauce over the tops and a whole toasted pecan for garnish.

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