Chocolate, Bacon, & Salted Caramel Cupcakes

Valentine's Day is coming RIIIIIGHT up, and I have such a fun, exciting recipe for you! My wedding cake was a chocolate cake with a salted caramel ganache and bacon filling between the layers. It was such an amazing cake that represented both Sean and I so perfectly. I still dream of that cake... It was a gift from a close family friend who is a professional baker, and I remember eating the top layer a year later and wishing I had saved more. (Who wants to eat year old cake? ME!)

I started thinking about what to make for Valentine's Day for Sean this year and eventually I came to this idea. It's a paleo chocolate brownie made with fluffy almond flour and very little sugar. The chocolate cupcake recipe alone is amazing. Then I paired it with a salted caramel made with coconut sugar and coconut cream and a buttercream made with bacon fat AND butter. Just to bring it over the top a bit more, I used Hempler's thick cut center bacon to make an adorable bacon heart. WHO DOESN'T WANT A HEART MADE OF BACON??? (Vegetarians, but they're likely not reading this post :) ) Hempler's was the perfect bacon for this because it's a delicious bacon with the perfect thickness. They use honey instead of sugar to cure the bacon, which is healthier and perfect in my book. ANYhow. Go get some Hemplers's bacon here and make yourself, your sweetie, or your mailman these cupcakes at once. I promise they'll be asking for more next year! (Or next week...)

Ingredients: 

Bacon Hearts:

Chocolate Cupcakes:

  • 1 cup almond flour 
  • 1 tbsp coconut sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda 
  • 1 tsp sea salt 
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks 
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream (they sell cans at Trader Joes, or just use the thick white part from the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk) at room temperature 
  • 1/4 cup (ghee) clarified butter
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla 

Salted Caramel Filling: 

  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup ghee 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla 
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt 

Bacon Buttercream: 

  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar 
  • 2 egg whites at room temperature 
  • 1.5 tbsp bacon fat 
  • 6.5 tbsp butter at room temperature, at room temperature, cut into 6 pieces 
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla 

Start with the bacon hearts. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan or roasting pan (anything with high enough edges that the fat won't melt off the sides) with aluminum foil. Cut your bacon slices in half. Take both pieces of bacon and fold them into a heart on the sheet pan. 

Bake the hearts for 20 minutes or until crispy. 

Set the hearts on a paper towel-lined plate until ready to use and pour the fat through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Set the fat aside and throw the bits in the strainer away. 

Now make the cupcakes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin pan. (I found a super cute heart-shaped one by Wilton for $8, can't beat that!)

In a medium bowl, mix the almond meal, coconut sugar, baking soda, and salt. 

Melt the chocolate and the coconut cream in a double boiler over low heat, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted. Add the ghee and mix it in. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly. 

Stir the eggs and vanilla into the melted chocolate. 

Stir the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture using a whisk until just combined. 

Scoop the batter into the greased muffin pan and bake for 20 minutes.

As soon as the pan is cool enough to handle, run a knife along the sides and remove the cupcakes to a cooling rack. 

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Now make the salted caramel filling. Wash out the pan the chocolate was melted in and add the coconut sugar, coconut cream, and ghee. Stir with a spatula slowly until everything is melted over medium heat. Bring to a soft boil and add the vanilla and the salt. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for two minutes. Remove the pan from the double boiler and continue stirring until it becomes a smooth liquid and stops bubbling. The caramel will thicken up as it cools, so don't worry if it's a little thin. 

Now make the buttercream. Wash the double boiler once again. Add the coconut sugar and egg whites.

Now make the salted caramel filling. Wash out the pan the chocolate was melted in and add the coconut sugar, coconut cream, and ghee. Stir with a spatula slowly until everything is melted over medium heat. Bring to a soft boil and add the vanilla and the salt. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for two minutes. Remove the pan from the double boiler and continue stirring until it becomes a smooth liquid and stops bubbling. The caramel will thicken up as it cools, so don't worry if it's a little thin. 

Now make the buttercream. Set the bowl of a standing mixer over a pan with two inches of simmering water. Whisk the sugar with the egg whites by hand until the sugar is completely melted. Take bowl off the heat and let it cool slightly. When the bottom of the bowl is cool enough to handle, move the bowl to the mixer with the whisk attachment. Run it on medium high speed for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes lighter in color and creamy. (If the mixture feels at all hot, keep whisking. You can't make a buttercream with a hot sugar base, or the frosting will break.) 

Turn the machine to low and add the bacon fat. Once it's completely mixed in, keep the machine on low and add the butter pieces one at a time, making sure to whisk between each addition. Once they are all added, turn the mixer to medium-high and whisk for five more minutes until it is very smooth and fluffy. Add in the vanilla and mix thoroughly. 

Using a teaspoon measuring cup or a small spoon, scoop out the middle of each cupcake. 

Fill the holes with the salted caramel sauce. 

Put the bacon buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe frosting over the top of each caramel-filled cupcake. 

Garnish each frosted cupcake with a bacon heart. (If any of your bacon got to crispy while baking, these would also be beautiful and delicious with bacon crumbles on top!)