My sister loves turtles, the chocolates, that is, with chewy caramel and toasted pecans. So when I was trying to figure out what to make her for her birthday last month and I landed on a recipe for mud turtle cupcakes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes, I knew I had found the right recipe.
This recipe has many steps and is a little time-consuming, but in the end, you have adorable turtles. First, you must make chocolate cupcakes and toast pecans, then you make chocolate ganache, and then caramel. You top the cupcakes with a layer of ganache and pipe a small circle of caramel on top of that. You set the pecans in the caramel and ganache to resemble a turtle, and then you pipe more caramel and more ganache on top. Lastly, you decorate the turtles with Valrhona Les Perles (which you can find at Whole Foods). The cupcakes look like true masterpieces.
There is just one problem. The cake part is horrible. I mean horrible. I'm hesitant to even give you the recipe. The cake was just too dry and crumbled immediately when anyone tried to bite into it. Now, I made the cupcakes on Friday night and served the cupcakes on Sunday, but I kept them tightly wrapped and refrigerated, and I really don't attribute the dry crumb to this (though I know it had a little effect). I think there is just something inherently wrong with the cupcake recipe. I even thought it was strange when I was making the batter that you mix butter into the flour, like you're making a scone dough or something. If you make these, I suggest finding a fudgier cupcake recipe (like the Flour Bakery chocolate cupcakes) or making brownies (actually my mom's suggestion) and creating the turtles on top of brownies. I really wish that is what I had done. (Let me know if you've made these cupcakes before and gotten similar results.)
Oh, and just to save you a little trouble, I made the caramel four times -- four times! I burnt it the first two, and then I got fed up with the recipe and really frustrated and didn't bring it to a dark enough color the third time. Finally, on the fourth try I disregarded the recipe, trusted my instincts, and made perfect caramel. And so below you will find my instructions so you don't end up with any burnt caramel.
I'm also giving you my method for making ganache because for some reason Rose Levy Beranbaum insists on using a food processor to make ganache, which is so unnecessary. You simply need to heat cream, pour it over chopped chocolate, and whisk.
I am finding that I like a lot of the ideas in Rose's Heavenly Cakes but not the way they are executed. I think I'm going to be more cautious when I try these recipes going forward and be a little more brave about following my instincts instead of relying on the recipes to just turn out right.
Mud Turtle Cupcakes (adapted from Rose's Heavenly Cakes)
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Cupcakes (I recommend finding a different chocolate cupcake recipe)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon cake flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Line two muffin pans with paper liners (you should be able to get 18 cupcakes).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla.
In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds.
Add the butter and half of the cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened, and then raise speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes.
Add the remaining cocoa mixture in two parts, starting on medium-low and gradually raising the speed to medium. Beat for 30 seconds after each addition.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup about three-quarters full. Smooth the surface of the batter with a baby offset.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean and cupcakes spring back lightly when pressed in center.
Let cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes, and then unmold cupcakes onto racks, and cool them completely.
Pecans And Chocolate For Topping
3 cups pecan halves
1 to 2 tablespoons Valrhona Les Perles (or mini chocolate chips)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet, and bake for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature.
Keep the Les Perles handy for decorating.
4 ounces 60% dark chocolate
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium-high heat just until bubbles form around the edges.
Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let it sit for about 1 minute. Whisk the chocolate and cream together until smooth.
Whisk in the vanilla.
Cover with plastic wrap and let cool until it has the consistency of frosting. (You can make this ahead of time and refrigerate it, but then you'll have to microwave it for about 30 seconds or let it sit out until it gets to frosting consistency again.)
Soft Sticky Caramel
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons heavy cream, hot
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Spray a 1-cup heatproof measuring cup with nonstick spray.
In a medium saucepan (I always use a Le Creuset pot because the interior is white and easy to see the caramel color against), stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.
Stop stirring and let the syrup boil until it reaches a deep amber color. Tilt the pan occasionally to check the color. You'll want to bring the mixture to about 300 degrees.
Remove the caramel from the heat, and carefully pour in the hot cream. Stir with a silicone spatula.
Return the pan to very low heat, and continue stirring until mixture is uniform in color, 1 minute.
Remove from heat, and stir in the butter.
Pour the caramel into the prepared measuring cup, and let it cool for 3 minutes.
Gently stir in the vanilla, and allow the caramel to cool until no longer hot to the touch, stirring gently three or four times.
Assemble The Mud Turtle Cupcakes
Pipe about 2 teaspoons of ganache on top of each cupcake. (I used disposable piping bags without tips for the ganache and caramel.)
Make a quarter-size hollow in the center, and pipe about 1 teaspoon of caramel into it. (If the caramel starts to firm up, pop it in the microwave for a couple seconds.)
Arrange 5 pecan halves in a star formation on top of each cupcake, pressing the pecans into the ganache and caramel.
Pipe another teaspoon of caramel on top of the center of the pecans, and pipe another teaspoon of ganache on top of the caramel.
Press 5 to 7 Les Perles (or mini chips turned upside down) into the ganache.
Are you a fan of turtles? When you get to choose from a variety of turtles, what kind of chocolate and what kind of nuts do you pick?