Right now, I’m on holiday / leave. Having started work, I have come to realize what a precious commodity leave is and I’ve been trying to make sure my leave coincides with a public holiday so that I can “save leave”. This time, I’m back in Australia visiting Jon, making use of the Good Friday holiday in Singapore. In Australia and many parts of the Western world, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Monday are public holidays. Nowadays when I think of Easter, I think of the “holy week”, because a few years ago, I was in Spain, specifically Madrid and Toledo, to witness what they call the Semana Santa, or Holy Week. As some of the Christians might know, each day of the week has different names, for instance Holy Thursday or Palm Sunday. In Spain, each day of the week has a different “paso” or a float with an image depicting different scenes from the bible. I don’t have pictures to show because the processions mostly start in the evening and it was so crowded and dark and solemn that I didn’t bother taking photos in the end. Just image a huge crowd swarming around this procession of floats, garbed and hooded ‘brothers’ (very reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan), and a mini orchestra accompanying the float. It’s crazy I tell you. But at the same time, you cannot help but feel slightly overwhelmed by this sense of “holy-ness”, for want of a better word.
I always find it strange that just like Christmas, traditions over the years have somehow merged, and Easter to most represents chocolate eggs and bunnies, just like how Christmas has evolved to represent Santa and gifts. I’ve never wondered much about the eggs and bunnies, but yesterday, while Jon was doing his usual imgur surfing, I noticed this post on “Ishtar” who was this pagan goddess of love of fertility and how that was equivalent to Easter. In the comments section, we found out that it was a pile of false information, but it got me very curious – just how is Ishtar, the bare-breasted goddess linked to Easter? A simple search on google reveals very shocking answers. What Christians know as Easter, is actually Passover, or Pascha in hebrew, which Jewish people celebrate to commemorate how God freed them from slavery in Egypt, and how Moses came to rule them thereafter (i.e., the book of Exodus). Easter or Ishtar, does have biblical origins as well – she was known was the harlot of Nineveh, Assyria,which was founded by this dude called Nimrod. There is a whole long story about Nimrod and his wickedness, but long story aside, Ishtar was the Assyrian goddess of fertility, war, love and sex and back in those days, bunnies were known for their sexual prowess and reproduction (actually they still are), just like how eggs are a symbol of fertility. All these were symbols to worship Ishtar apparently. SO long story short, eggs and bunnies actually have pagan origins, if you look at it from a Christian point of view! I’m sorry if you find this whole paragraph boring and preachy – it was not my intention to be preachy, and I AM a sucker for history, which is perhaps one of the reasons I love Italy and the cultural richness it represents.
Doesn’t knowing about the eggs and bunnies make you feel a little odd inside, especially if you are Christian? Even if you’re not, reading about Ishtar WILL make you a little queasy, knowing that she is rather ‘pagan’ and in addition to eggs and bunnies, people participated in sexual orgies in temples to worship her :/ Reminds me a little of Dan Brown and his stories.
So because I’m in Australia, I guess the ‘Easter spirit’ is more prevalent here – what with the supermarkets selling heap loads of easter eggs and chocolate bunnies and hot cross buns! There probably is another story of how hot cross buns became associated with Easter, but that’s another story for another day!
As Easter coincides with autumn in Australia, it appears to be a tradition for many Ozzies to go camping over Easter, and I’m doing the same! I’ll be going “glamping” or car-camping, which is actual camping, just that we will be pitching our tent near to where our car is parked and doing bushwalks from there. I can’t wait! I’ve been busy planning things to cook over a campfire, like typical Singapore BBQ food and s’mores yo! I had wanted to make some frosted cupcakes, but autumn here, or rather, this week, has been surprisingly warm (like 34 degrees warm), so frosted cupcakes are out since they will melt as fast as they do in Singapore.
[insert weird transition] The reason why I still wanted to post these chocolate salted caramel cupcakes, are because of how they remind me of Australia and how tiny cultural differences matter. A year or two back, I watched my first movie in Australia. It was perhaps the most expensive movie I had ever watched (about A$20 or so), and as usual, I wanted to order popcorn. I ordered “sweet and salty popcorn”, only to be greeted with a blank face. Jon then told me that they only sell salted popcorn in Australia! I was devastated because I love sweet AND salted popcorn, especially if they are gourmet popcorn and they do a salted caramel flavour. It’s interesting isn’t it, how these tiny details are missed out and how it takes living in a place to actually get a feel of the pulse of things.
This cupcake is an ode to the flavour that I love. I love salted caramel, because the saltiness of it balances the sweetness of the caramel which I tend to find nauseating after a while if it’s just sweet sweet caramel. And the best thing about making this salted caramel sauce is that I’ve ever tried making a mega batch and keeping it in the fridge for about 5 months and the caramel, because it being sugar and all, keeps really well! So you can definitely make it once and enjoy the fruits of your labour for months thereafter! Think homemade salted caramel popcorn, pancakes with salted caramel sauce (YUM), salted caramel ice cream and salted caramel brownies! YUMS.
Do try the salted caramel sauce recipe, if that’s the only thing you will try from the recipe below because it is delicious. I have tried a couple of recipes and I think Pierre Herme, as usual, has got his proportions spot-on. I used the chocolate cupcake recipe from the previous post, and the salted caramel frosting is a very simple American buttercream with salted caramel sauce in it. Drizzle MORE caramel sauce over and you’re set. Chocolatey caramelly goodness. Let me know what you think if you do try this recipe out :]
- For the chocolate cupcakes
- You can try these devil's food chocolate cupcakes or these one-bowl chocolate cupcakes
- For the salted caramel sauce:
- 150g sugar
- 170g heavy cream
- 30g unsalted butter
- 5-10g sea salt (best if you have fleur de del)
- For the frosting:
- 250g unsalted butter
- 230g icing sugar
- 50g salted caramel sauce
- To make salted caramel sauce: Pierre Herme recommends that you heat 50g of sugar at a time and allow it to melt, and to repeat until all the sugar has melted. If you are new to making caramel, I would recommend that you follow this method, or add some water (about 20g or so) to help the sugar melt. This is so that the sides of the sugar will not over-caramelize and burn. In a deep saucepan (so that the caramel doesn't splash up and burn you), let the sugar caramelize until it has turned brown, or a deep amber. It's best if you use a stainless steel or light coloured pot so that you can see the colour change. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add 30g of unsalted butter. Add the cream into the saucepan, be careful of any splatters. If the cream is at room temperature, it will not splatter as much. Put the saucepan back onto the heat and cook until it reaches about 108°C on a candy thermometer. If this is your first time making caramel, I would recommend the use of a candy thermometer for accuracy. If you don't have a candy thermometer, it is the "thread" stage, which means that the caramel will form thin threads in cold water and it's the stage right before the caramel darkens quite dramatically. Once you reach 108°C, remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool. Add in the sea salt, and mix until it is completely dissolved. Use 5g if you like a mild saltiness. The sauce must be completely cool before you make the frosting.
- In the meantime, make the chocolate cupcakes. While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the frosting.
- To make the frosting: make sure that the unsalted butter is at room temperature. In a large mixing bowl, beat the unsalted butter until light and fluffy. Add in the sifted icing sugar all at once. Continue beating until all the icing sugar is well incorporated and the butter becomes slightly more 'stiff'. Add in the cooled salted caramel sauce, and continue beating until well incorporated. Scoop the frosting into a prepared piping bag. If the frosting feels 'soft', refrigerate for about 20 minutes before using. Pipe as desired onto the chocolate cupcakes. You may have some excess frosting left. Drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of the frosted cupcakes if desired.
Texture: I typically prefer the swiss meringue buttercream texture to an american buttercream, but I find that the american buttercream works very well with the salted caramel sauce because it feels more 'buttery'.
Storage: Once frosted, I would recommend consuming the cupcakes on the day itself. You can refrigerate for up to 3 days, but let the cupcakes sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes for the frosting to soften a little before serving. For the excess salted caramel sauce, you can store it in the fridge for up to 5 months. For the excess frosting, you can store it in the fridge for up to a week. Just beat it until fluffy again when you wish to use it.
Would I make this again?: Definitely! As with the devil's food cupcake recipe I posted earlier, these salted caramel cupcakes were a hit when I baked them for a charity sale.