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Cake decorating is a hobby I thought I had given up on. I used to constantly have a cake or cupcake project that I would decorate using only edible ingredients. I even made my own wedding cake which was a blast! I got into cake decorating in high school when I was taking every cooking class they would allow me to take and watching an embarrassing amount of Food Network shows. My cakes weren't always perfect but I loved making them. I gave up my hobby when I learned I couldn't eat gluten. I didn't know what ingredients were gluten free and which weren't. Gumpaste, fondant, luster dust, powdered sugar, frosting, food coloring,... so many of those things are intended to be used on gluten-loaded cakes. Even if gluten wasn't on the label, were the people making those things really worried about gluten cross-contamination? It was so intimidating that I put all my energy into creating recipes with the new ingredients in my pantry and sort of just forgot about cake decorating all together.
The good news is, the only ingredients you need to decorate these salted caramel cupcakes are coconut butter and caramel sauce. (And sugar and water if you want to make the sugar art.) All gluten-free! Although the sugar art is more for decoration than for consuming.
If you're curious about how to make the sugar art, all you need is 2 parts sugar and one part water. (I used 1 C sugar, ½ C water.) Just bring these to a boil in a deep saucepan. They could boil over in a shallow saucepan. While waiting for the sugar to boil, continually stir to ensure all the sugar is dissolved before it comes to a boil. Once the sugar starts to boil, stop stirring and don't disturb it at all. I like to reduce the heat a little bit here. Insert a candy thermometer and continue heating until it reaches a hard crack, about 300°F-310°F. At this point, remove from the heat and don't disturb it until all the bubbles have disappeared, otherwise you will end up with hazy sugar. My favorite way to make this sugar art is to fill a shallow cup or bowl with cold water and use a spoon to drizzle the melted sugar into it. It will quickly solidify into a unique shape, like the photo above. Sometimes, I also wrap a rolling pin in parchment paper and drizzle the hot sugar on that. It will look more like the image below. You can also drizzle it on the back of a ladle and it looks awesome! I completely forgot to do that though. Be sure to work quickly because the sugar will re-solidify and at that point, you can't re-melt it.
Now, if you just followed the instructions for the sugar art and are wondering how to clean your pot, don't worry! It's not as bad as it looks. Sugar is so easy to dissolve in water that I just soak the pot in hot water. If there are a lot of clumps at the bottom, sometimes I boil some water in the pan to dissolve them.
Another fun thing you can do with these cupcakes is decorate with the caramel sauce. I used Date Lady caramel sauce which comes in a squeeze bottle so it's easy to add a fun pattern - I want to see what you guys come up with! Do I have any artsy readers? I just did a thin drizzle across the top, which kept it from being overly-sweet but I can totally understand the temptation to just keep squeezing the bottle until it's empty :)
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with 12 paper liners.
- In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to combine eggs, oil, caramel, almond milk, and vanilla extract.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt (not the coarse sea salt. Save that for later!)
- Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients while mixing. The batter will be thick.
- Evenly divide the mixture between the 12 cupcake liners. I like to smooth out the tops a little with my finger but I'm not sure that's necessary. Bake about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to a cooling rack to cool.
- Once the cupcakes have cooled, microwave the coconut butter in a small bowl for a few seconds until it's a bit runny. Stir for an even consistency.
- Clear out a small area in your freezer if you plan on adding patterns to your cupcakes. One at a time, dip the top of a cupcake into the coconut butter then set on a plate. Immediately add some caramel sauce to the top (in a pattern if you want!) and sprinkle with a bit of coarse sea salt. If you made a pattern with the caramel sauce, immediately move the cupcake to the freezer for a few minutes to set the pattern. Skipping this step could cause the pattern to bleed into the coconut butter.
- After the pattern has set (coconut butter solidified), remove from the freezer so it can come back to room temperature. Top with sugar art, if desired (see notes) and serve.
If you want to make the sugar art, bring 1 C sugar and ½ C water to a boil in a deep saucepan. While waiting for the sugar to boil, continually stir to ensure all the sugar is dissolved before it comes to a boil. Once the sugar starts to boil, stop stirring and don't disturb it at all. Reduce the heat a bit and insert a candy thermometer. Continue heating until it reaches a hard crack, about 300°F-310°F. Remove from heat and don't disturb it until all the bubbles have disappeared. Fill a shallow cup or bowl with cold water and use a spoon to drizzle the melted sugar into it. It will quickly solidify into a unique shape. Alternatively, drizzle on the back of a ladle or wrap a rolling pin or other object in parchment paper and drizzle the hot sugar on that. Don't touch the sugar until cooled, then use the pieces to decorate your cupcakes. See blog post for more details.