Happy Dia de Los Muertos! To celebrate Day of the Dead, I made these chocolate dulce de leche cupcakes topped with fondant sugar skulls.
The dulce de leche recipe is a bit of work, so feel free to buy dulce de leche, or try to brave the old "can of condensed milk in a pot of boiling water" method...I tried this once, but it did not go well for me! I wish I could say that this recipe is my grandmother's, but it's Alton Brown's. What can I say, the guy is definitely not Latino, but I love his recipe since it's literally milk and sugar simmered together until caramelized.
For the Chocolate Cupcakes (Gluten Free)
2/3 cup superfine sweet rice flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup pre-sifted almond meal
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp potato starch
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup hot water
Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners and pre-heat oven to 350. Sift together flours, starches, and xanthan gum and set aside. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add in eggs one at time, then add in vanilla extract. Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave and add to mixture, mixing well. Add baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients in two additions, alternating with sour cream. Once fully mixed, add 1 cup hot water and hand stir to incorporate evenly. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, until cupcakes spring back to the touch.
*Readers who are not "gluten-free" may use this cake recipe
For the Dulce de Leche Filling (courtesy of Alton Brown):
1 quart whole milk
Approximately 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
*NOTE: You may need to make 1 1/2 or two times the original recipe to have enough dulce de leche to fill each cupcake and use the remaining candy in the frosting.
Combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla in a large, 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. If not using right away, store in refrigerator in a sealed, airtight container.
For the Dulce de Leche Frosting:
1/3 cup Dulce de Leche
3 sticks unsalted butter
2 tbsp cream cheese
2 tbsp milk or cream
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 vanilla extract
Combine butter and cream cheese in bowl of stand mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix together until combined. Add dulce de leche and mix well. Add 1 cup confectioner's sugar, 2 tbsp milk, and then the other 1 cup of confectioner's sugar. Add food coloring as desired.
Using a small paring knife, remove the center of each cupcake, without touching the bottom of the liner. Once all cupcakes are cored, fill pastry bag with dulce de leche (no tip necessary) and fill each cupcake. Lastly, frost and decorate as desired.
To Make the Sugar Skulls:
I simply found a drawing of a Dia De Los Muertos skull that I liked, sized it appropriately, and printed it. I then cut it out, place it on a piece of rolled white fondant and used a paring knife to create the skull shape. Lastly, I let the fondant dry for a bit (this makes it easier to draw on) and drew the faces with edible food pen.