Many years ago while I was still a student starving to graduate from high school, Sydney Brown, the school headmistress, shared this recipe for fresh spiced apple cake with me. It truly highlights the apple’s attributes and harnesses the peak harvest flavor. I set out to create a frosting that could match and even further heighten the apple’s gracious gifts. Quickly remembering my fondness for caramel-dipped apples, I discovered a winning combination between cream cheese combined with spreadable caramel, accentuated by the slightest sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. Surely this spiced apple cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting is the sterling scholar of its class.

For the Spiced Apple Cupcakes:

2 cups granulated sugar
5 cups apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup fresh or sweetened coconut flakes
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1½ cups vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 pound or 2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups (16-ounces) spreadable caramel dip or topping
1 cup powdered confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons whipping cream

These harvest cupcakes are adorned with hand-formed and hand-painted marzipan winter squash and pumpkins. Marzipan, created mainly from ground almonds and sugar, is a European staple, introduced through the Turks and from trade with Asia. In Szentendre, Hungary, not far from the Budapest, we visited the Szamos Marcipán Múzeum to view the amazing talents of the Hungarian marzipan artists. Truly, this confection is prized by pastry artists for its workable nature, which holds its form and lasts indefinitely. To create our winter squash, I worked the dough with different food coloring paste colors into the various shapes, using gum paste tools to create the details. My wife, Robyn, hand-painted each squash or pumpkin using a paint brush dipped in food coloring paste to create a miniature harvest for our delightful cupcakes.

To Make the Spiced Apple Cupcakes

In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the sugar, apples, and nuts. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill for about 4 hours or even overnight.

After the apples and nuts have pre-macerated, preheat oven to 350°F. Place the cupcake liners in each of the cups of muffin tins. Set aside.

In a small bowl, soak the coconut flakes in water for about 5 minutes. In another mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate, large bowl, beat the eggs until they are fluffy and frothy. Add the oil and vanilla extract and emulsify. Add the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated. Drain the coconut and add the flakes to the mixture along with the sugar, apple, and nut mixture. Blend until just combined.

Fill each cupcake liner in the prepared pan about three-quarters full. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes are set in the center. To test, insert a toothpick in the center of one of the cupcakes to see if it comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes form the pan and cool completely on a rack.

To Make the Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

In a mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese, light brown sugar, spreadable caramel, confectioners’ sugar, and whipping cream. Beat vigorously to form the frosting. Pipe onto the top of the cooled cupcakes. Garnish with Maldon sea salt flakes.

Yield: About 18 to 24 regular cupcakes or about 8 to 12 large cupcakes

From the Recipes of R. Shannon Mock

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