Today, in America, it’s Cinco de Mayo. Well, technically, it’s cinco de mayo everywhere (*ba dum bum!*), but here, and in certain parts of Mexico, it’s a holiday. Most people are surprised to learn that Cinco de Mayo is mostly celebrated in America, in honor of Mexican heritage and pride. And what better way to celebrate the amazing Mexican culture in our country than by honoring their incredible food? Today is a wonderful reason to chill some tasty margaritas, serve up some spicy tacos, and dish out rich desserts.
Last year, I made some fantastic margarita lime cookies that are still a favorite in my house (especially with me), and I decided to stick with what I know and make another dessert this year. This past summer, my family and I took a Disney vacation, and while touring through the World Showcase I got to have my first churro. Although the one I had was only “meh,” sorry Disney, I instantly saw the potential.
Churros aren’t exclusive to Mexico, but they are a treat that you can often find sold there on the cheap. It’s a long stick of fried dough that’s coated in cinnamon-sugar and served with either a chocolate or a dulce de leche dipping sauce. Sounds pretty irresistible, huh? Can imagine a cupcake version?
No need…because I made some. And all I can say is W-O-W. I decided to keep things pretty basic with a simple cinnamon cupcake and vanilla frosting, but then I thought that was boring. They definitely needed a more interesting frosting (I settled on cinnamon cream cheese), and why was I skipping a dash of one of the dipping sauces? But which one: chocolate or dulce de leche?
To be honest, I seriously wanted chocolate, but that’s always my first choice. I’d never made dulce de leche from scratch before, and I couldn’t really say with any honesty that I’d ever actually had it either. All for trying something new, I skipped the chocolate. Then I really lost my head and decided to make real churros toppers too. I regret none of these decisions. Not. a. single. one.
These cupcakes presented more firsts for me: the first time I made churros, the first time I made dulce de leche, and the first time I actually liked cream cheese frosting. People always think I’m crazy when I say I don’t like cream cheese frosting, but I just never have. I don’t like plain cream cheese, so having it in my frosting isn’t really my favorite thing. This frosting is different, though. You’ll see. I couldn’t stop dipping the churros in it…so wonderful together!
For the cupcakes, you can really use any white or yellow cupcake recipe that you like and just add cinnamon to taste, but the recipe I used requires sugar, unsalted butter, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. I’ve included my recipe and instructions below, but it’s pretty basic and can work with just about any recipe.
When you remove your cupcakes from the oven, allow them to cool for two to three minutes, then dip the top of each one in a bowl of cinnamon-sugar (1/2 cup sugar, combined with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon). Be sure to press down and move it around a bit to be sure that the sugar sticks.
It’s a really simple recipe that only calls for unsalted butter, confectioners’ sugar, cream cheese, a dash of heavy cream, cinnamon, and vanilla. I rarely need the heavy cream, but occasionally, if the frosting is too stiff, I’ll whip in a little cream to loosen it up. I. love. this. frosting. With or without the cinnamon, this is one mouthwatering frosting.
Now, for the dulce de leche. When I first decided to make this, I had to settle two things:
1. Isn’t it just caramel?
2. Is it really hard to make? Cause, really, I have enough going on here.
Turns out the answer to both questions is ‘no.’
No dulce de leche is not just caramel. Well, actually yes it is, but it’s a type of caramel, so you can’t just make plain old caramel sauce and call it dulce de leche (which was honestly what I intended). In the most basic of definitions, caramel is cooked sugar, while dulce de leche is cooked milk and sugar. Both products are sugar, with dairy, and vanilla, but it’s the way they’re cooked that makes them different, so I knew I had to make this to see for myself.
As for the degree of difficulty, it’s very easy, it just takes a long time…two and a half hours in my case (I made mine completely from scratch, rather cooking sweetened condensed milk, because I wanted to see how hard it was to make the real thing).
The ingredients are very few and very common: milk, sugar, baking soda, and vanilla. I made mine salted, so there’s an addition of salt. That’s it. The directions are very few and common too: combine the milk, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan, bring to s soft boil and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Reduce heat to a low simmer and stir in the baking soda. Now…this is a cool, but admittedly kind of scary part because the mixture foams.
Like, really foams. This is how it foams. Not what I was expecting…at all. It just puffed up and looked like something the Stay Puft marshmallow man left behind after he exploded. What you don’t want to do here is stir the foam in.
Instead, allow the mixture to continue simmering for another 30 seconds to a minute, then skim all of the foam away. Leaving it in forms these kind of chunks and they completely ruin the texture of the finished product.
Now it’s just a matter of cooking it down. You can see above the changes in color as everything simmer and cooks away. As the mixture cooks, you may need to skim more stuff from the surface on occasion, but the most important thing is to make sure you stir it. After adding the baking soda, you want to simmer the mixture on the lowest possible setting you can for at least two hours. Now, my stove’s lowest setting is still quite a high simmer, so I set my oven timer for two hours, and my portable timer for 10 minutes. I then proceeded to stir the mixture every ten minutes for what ended up being two and a half hours. You can probably get away with stirring every 20 minutes or so, if you have a good low simmer, but either way, I don’t advise ignoring this while it cooks, unless you want to scorch it to the bottom of the pan. The good new is that this is it. This is all you have to do…very, very easy, huh?
Once the mixture reaches a deep caramel color, and is the consistency of maple syrup (this will thicken as it cools, so be sure not to cook it too long or you’ll end up with chewy candy, rather than a sauce), remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine mesh stainer into a clean bowl (be very careful here…remember, this is hot, sticky, dangerous candy and will cause severe burns on your skin). Stir in the vanilla until thoroughly combined, then allow to cool for at least 30 to 45 minutes before serving.
This can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for at least a month (not that it’ll last that long…it’s too yummy). Between this and regular caramel, I personally prefer caramel. However, the hubster and our boy both prefer this. For me, it was all about mouthfeel, rather than flavor. They taste so very similar that I enjoy both, but I like the slightly lighter texture of plain caramel over the barely thicker feel of dulce de leche. Both are incredible, though, and you can’t go wrong with either one. Cooking-wise, They’re also both quite easy, but caramel only takes 10 to 15 minutes…so if you’re pressed for time, you should go with that.
Now, last but not least, the churros.
I love the little baby churros that I put on my cupcakes! They’re so cute, and they add a great texture to the cupcakes. If you’re wondering if this is cinnamon overload, it really isn’t. Everything balances so nicely, with the salted caramel holding back the sweetness from being overpowering, and the fried dough complementing the spice. My favorite thing is the churros with the frosting…holy yum. But these are fantastic as a whole.
I know what you’re probably thinking…this is waaaaayyyy too much work. But really, I mixed and baked the cupcakes and made the frosting, and decorated the cupcakes while the dulce de leche was cooking. Then, while it was cooling, I made the churros with the hubster. You can expect for everything to take a minimum of three hours out of your day, but that isn’t constant working, that’s just because you have to keep an eye on the dulce. If you want to cut this time waaaay down (to about an hour), you can make salted caramel sauce instead of dulce de leche. Either way, these are a fantastic treat, and they certainly take some of the best flavors of Mexico and make something wonderful with them! Enjoy!
Homemade Churros (vegan/dairy-free)
FOR THE CINNAMON-SUGAR
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
FOR THE CHURROS
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat about 4 quarts of canola oil to 375 degrees in a large pan set over medium high heat.
Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl or brown paper bag; set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, oil, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once dissolved, remove the pan from heat. Stir in the flour and baking powder until the mixture forms a dough. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer the mixture to a pastry bag. Pipe strips of dough into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on several layers of paper towel before coating in cinnamon-sugar.
with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 18 cupcakes
FOR THE CUPCAKES
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 (1 stick) cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
FOR THE FROSTING
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
To make the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners; set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until just combined then stir in the vanilla. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over the butter mixture and gently stir in until barely combined. Add half of the milk, mixing until just combined. Repeat these steps with the remaining flour mixture and milk, ending with the flour. Do not over mix.
Fill each muffin cup with 2 tablespoons of batter. Bake the cupcakes for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with one or two crumbs clinging to it. Allow the cupcakes to cool for 2 to 3 minutes, then dip the top of each cupcake into the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture from the churros to coat it. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting: Cream the butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl. Add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir int he cinnamon until thoroughly combined. then stir in the vanilla. Beat the mixture well, until light and fluffy, adding heavy cream, if needed.
Salted Dulce De Leche Sauce (gluten-free)
Makes about 1 cup
1 quart (4 cups) milk
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the milk, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Bring to a soft boil, reduce heat, and stir in the baking soda. When the mixture foams, allow it to continue simmering for about a minute, then skim away the foam with a slotted spoon. Continue simmering the mixture on the lowest setting for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring regularly, and skimming the top as needed. Once the mixture is a deep caramel color and reaches the consistency of maple syrup, remove from heat and carefully pour through a mesh sieve into a clean, dry bowl. Stir in the vanilla until thoroughly combined, and allow to cool for 30 to 40 minutes before serving.
Recipes by Darla