Friday, February 25, 2011

Bar Snack (Beer, Pretzel, Chocolate, and Caramel) Cupcakes

Beer and pretzels: a classic combination and for good reason.  There's nothing quite like the pairing of a refreshing, smooth, and slightly pint and the salty, satisfying crunch of pretzels.  Recently, I've been seeing this pair pop up outside of the bar, and these cupcakes aren't the first instance of it.

My first experience with beer and pretzels in a sweet was NYC's own Liddabit Sweetsbeer and pretzel caramels.  Made with a blend of Brooklyn Brewery's Brown Ale and East India Pale Ale, this treat is the perfect amalgamation of pretzels suspended in a sweet, salty, and beer-y base.  (Unbeknownst to me until just yesterday, Liddabit also makes something called the Slurtle, which are the same caramels topped with chocolate.)  And just the other day I saw a recipe for beer, pretzel, and chocolate marshmallows.  Clearly the combination is a good one otherwise it wouldn't be popping up in so many places.

With the caramels in mind, I set out to make these cupcakes for a friend's Super Bowl party a few weeks ago, figuring that the beer and pretzels were just the right thing for 4 hours of football watching.  The recipe wasn't all that hard to come up with: I've made dark beer and chocolate cakes many times in the past (most recently, for a friend's birthday and as a Mr. Met groom's cake at his recent wedding) and I've also used a caramel frosting on such a cake (like the ones I made with Sixpoint's Gorilla Warfare for their 5th anniversary last February).  Using the pretzels as sprinkles was an obvious choice.

For this version, I changed the chocolate cake recipe from - instead of using my standard egg and butter-based recipe, I decided to try out my new vegan recipe (mostly because I was short on time and couldn't wait for the butter to warm up) and swap out the soy milk for brown ale.  It worked like a charm - the full cup of beer in the batter gave the cupcakes a rich, toasty flavor and they were still as moist and tender as they would have been had I used soy or regular milk.  In the past I've used porters, stouts, and other flavorful dark beers.  It's really up to you - the end result won't be dramatically different but I wouldn't use anything lighter than that.  The caramel frosting was soft and silky and the pretzels lent a much-needed crunch.  It's a surprisingly complex cupcake given how quickly and easily it comes together.


Bar Snack Cupcakes: Chocolate-Brown Ale Cupcakes with 
  Caramel Buttercream and Crushed Pretzels
makes 12 regular size or 36 mini cupcakes

For the chocolate-beer cupcakes
1 batch vegan chocolate cupcakes - use 1 cup brown ale in place of soy milk

For the caramel buttercream frosting
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
2 sticks butter, room temperature

For assembly
3/4 cup crushed thin pretzels (sticks or regularly-shaped ones - doesn't matter which one)


Make the cupcakes
Use this recipe, making sure to substitute 1 cup of brown ale (or any other dark, flavorful beer) in place of the 1 cup of soy milk.  Let the cupcakes fully cool before frosting.

Make the caramel buttercream
Put 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a small, heavy pot.  Make an X in the center with your finger and pour in the 2 tablespoons water.  Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, swirling occasionally.  Continue boiling and swirling until the syrup is a medium amber color.  Remove from heat, then slowly pour in the cream and mix with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until the caramel is completely smooth.  Add the salt, stir, and set aside until the caramel is completely cool.  [This is critical - if the caramel is even slightly warm, it will melt the butter in the frosting and you'll be left with a mess of liquidy frosting.]

Put the remaining sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and follow these directions for making Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.

Once all the butter has been added, turn the mixer to medium-high speed and slowly drizzle the cooled caramel down the side of the bowl into the frosting until all of it is incorporated.

Assemble the cupcakes
Use a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip to frost the cupcakes.  Top each one with crushed pretzels.  If you're serving them more than 4 hours after assembly, leave off the pretzels until just before serving (otherwise they'll get soggy).
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