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
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).