Coffee Caramel-Glazed Baby Cakes
Know this: I often fear, with increasing regularity, that I am becoming a Cathy cartoon. Which is to say that sometimes I feel I am composed entirely of foibles. The most certain of these is my dependence on coffee. I suppose I'm well within the limits of what's considered "healthy" in terms of my coffee consumption, but nevertheless, I am starting to get concerned about what can be described as sheer primal need for my first cup of the morning. I swear I can even hear Cathy-esque thoughts happening in my head as I stumble to grind the beans and fill the pot. "GIVE ME COFFEEEEE OR GIVE ME DEATH!! ACK!!"
It doesn't exactly make you feel youthful, these Cathy thoughts. I'll tell you that right now. But on the plus side, always having coffee on the in morning leaves a little leftover to play with, which is super fun when you're a mad scientist baker like myself.
(Sidebar: Isn't it also totally an Old Lady Thing to refer to coffee as being "on"? Gah. )
So it turns out that when you combine coffee with dark brown sugar and butter and boil the whole thing down to make a caramel glaze and then spoon it over wee vanilla cakes, well...it's almost enough to make you forget that so many of your life's moments were probably posted on someone's cubicle wall back in 1987.
The cake is moist and tender and full of vanilla flavor, and a dynamite sweet-and-salty glaze sets up firm on top, yielding to the tooth juuuust a bit, and adding a bit of sugary crunch as you take a bite. The hit of coffee in the caramel glaze gives a little grown-up flavor to the whole thing. It's kinda like an upside-down, jazzed up riff on a cupcake I've mentioned before, but not. Awesome, awesome stuff, here, people.
I should also add that this sort of goodie makes a perfect bake sale or take-along dessert item and it's a great alternative to the ubiquitous cupcake--no goopy frosting that melts and looks questionable while hanging out at room temp for a while, and the crispy glaze actually seals in the cake's moisture a bit to help keep things fresh and delicious. It's a utilitarian glaze, really. (Hmmm. Utilitarian Glaze. I think I've finally figured out a name for my garage band! I mean, that is a cool band name, right? I'm cool still, aren't I?! Ack!)
Coffee Caramel-Glazed Baby Cakes
Be sure to both grease and flour your cupcake tins so the cakes will come out easily. I like to use a light coating of nonstick cooking spray for the greasing part, and then sift the flour over the pan with a sieve before tapping out the excess.
If you use a standard 1/4 cup ice cream scoop to portion the batter, and level it off before depositing the batter into the wells of the tin, you should get exactly 12 cakes.
Rapping the pan on the oven rack about 10 minutes into baking will keep the cakes from doming too much, making them perfect for inverting.
For the cakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 large eggs, at room temperature 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
For the glaze:
1/2 cup dark brown sugar 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces 1/3 cup strong-brewed coffee 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 tablespoon heavy cream 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour a 12-cup muffin tin, tapping out the excess flour.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients until almost smooth. Add the milk, mixing until the batter is well-blended. Fold several times by hand to ensure everything is incorporated. Divide the batter equally into the pan, about 1/4 cup in each well.
Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180°, then rap the pan on the oven rack several times to encourage the cakes to deflate a bit. Continue baking until a toothpick comes out clean, 10-12 minutes more. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Use a small, thin knife to loosen the edges of the cakes from the tin, then invert the cakes onto the rack or a clean sheet pan.
To make the glaze, combine the brown sugar, butter, coffee, and salt in a small saucepan. Over high heat, stirring often, bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes, or until reduced by about half. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and cream. Allow to cool 20 minutes. Stir in the confectioners' sugar until smooth and shiny.
Spoon the glaze over the cakes. (If the glaze starts to tighten up while you're working, just pop the pan onto high heat for a few seconds and stir well to loosen it up a bit.) Let the glaze set at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.