Mocha cupcakes, dipped in ganache, topped with vanilla bean buttercream and finished with salted caramel

These are the cupcakes you bake when you want simple, well-loved flavors, but still want to impress the ever-living crap out of people. They’re a triple threat of chocolate, vanilla, and caramel and they LOOK classy as hell.

Gotta love a classy cupcake, right?

I made this as a mini-fundraiser for PAWS, a local shelter that I volunteer for and love very much. My coworkers and friends rose to the occasion, and from their pockets alone $79 was raised. To come up with a more rounded number, I threw in an extra $21 so we could make a $100 donation, which will enable PAWS to do some combination of the following:

PAWS donation possibilities

This cupcake was also a great way to get me back into the groove of baking, while still exercising my creative muscles just enough. I highly recommend putting the work into this recipe, because you won’t be disappointed when people are wowed by the dessert you bring to the table, that’s for sure!

Another quick note: I’m going to be gradually transferring all my recipes out of the various recipe plugins I’ve used over the years and into the main body of the post. I don’t like how they’re displayed currently, and since I’m a bit of a layout and formatting priss at work, this is definitely driving me nuts here. It’s going to be a slow process to convert, but totally worth it in the long end!

Triple Threat Cupcakes: Chocolate, Vanilla, and Caramel
Yield: 24-26 cupcakes

Mocha Cupcake Ingredients
• 2 cups flour
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 3/4 tsp salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
• 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp freshly brewed coffee
• 2 tbsp espresso powder
• 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 tsp vanilla

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients
• 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1/2 cup heavy cream

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Ingredients
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 cups confectioners sugar
• Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• Heavy cream as needed

Salted Caramel Ingredients
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tbsp water
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Start with the salted caramel so it has time to cool to room temperature. Stir together granulated sugar and water in a saucepan, bringing to a boil over medium high heat. Cook without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber color.

Remove from heat and slowly add in cream, stirring, until very smooth.

Add the vanilla and salt and stir until fully combined.

Let caramel cool for about 20 minutes, until it is just barely warm and still pourable.

For the cupcakes, heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and position the racks toward the center. Line cupcake pans with papers.

For the cupcakes, combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar, whisking to blend; set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed, medium pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat. Once melted, add the coffee and whisk together. Add the espresso powder and cocoa — gradually — whisking to combine. The mixture should come to a simmer, but not a boil. You want it to thicken.

Once thickened, cool the cocoa mixture for about 10-15 minutes (the freezer is handy here).

In your stand mixer, whip together the eggs and milk. Add the vanilla.

Once the cocoa mixture has cooled, slowly add a little bit of the mixture to temper the eggs, keeping the mixer’s paddle spinning constantly at a slow-medium speed (You can also accomplish this by taking the bowl off the stand mixer and whisking by hand, then putting it back on to the mixer for the dry ingredients).

Add the dry ingredients in 3-4 stages, mixing well to combine.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about halfway full. Bake for about 20-22 minutes. When done, transfer tins to wire racks to cool 5 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.

For the chocolate ganache, heat the heavy cream until simmering. Pour over the chocolate chips in a bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Stir to combine and cool slightly so the mixture thickens a bit.

Once the cupcakes are fully cooled, dip the tops into the ganache, then let them sit and set before piping buttercream on. Wait at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours (just make sure they’re kept safe in a covered container).

For the buttercream frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar a 1/2 cup at a time, beating until combined between measurements. Add the vanilla bean seeds and vanilla extract and beat on medium high speed for 2-5 minutes until light and fluffy.