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In my family, there is an expectation that when there’s a birthday, I won’t show up empty handed.  Some people may find this to be a burden, but I relish in it.  Let’s be honest–people are always more excited to see you when you walk in with a horribly gluttonous treat.  My family used to be content with supermarket vanilla cupcakes, but they have really upped their expectations over the last few years.   So when I got that text from my aunt asking if she’d be getting her birthday cupcakes again this year, I knew I was going to have to pull out something new to keep the oohs and ahhs coming.

The Specs

Cake: Vanilla
Filling: Chocolate Caramel with Pretzel Pieces
Frosting: Chocolate Cream Cheese
Toppings: Pretzel and Semi Sweet Chocolate Drizzle

The Ingredients

Whatever you need for your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe
24 soft caramels (about 1 cup)
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 c. half and half (i used fat free)
1 c. butter at room temperature
16oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 tbsp cocoa powder
3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. crushed mini pretzels
Mini Pretzels
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted

The Instructions

1. Start off by making your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe.  There are a thousand of these on the Internet, and I didn’t LOVE the recipe I used.  Store bought cupcake mix tends to be much sweeter than homemade cupcakes, and these cupcakes aren’t in need of any more sugar, so I encourage you to make them from scratch. 😉
2.  While the cupcakes are baking, begin making the filling.  Combine the soft caramels, 2 oz of semi sweet chocolate, and 1/2 c. of half and half in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir consistently and don’t leave the mixture unattended, as the half and half will boil over very easily and cause a big big mess.  
3.  Continue to stir until the caramel and chocolate create a smooth mixture.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.  As the mixture cools it will begin to thicken slightly.  Once it starts to thicken, stir in the crushed pretzels.  The pretzels should be crushed, but not pulverized.  See image below. 🙂
4.  While your cupcakes and filling cool, start making the frosting.  Having the butter at room temperature is very important.  If it is too cold, it won’t get creamy enough.  If it is too warm, the frosting won’t hold it’s shape.  Start by beating the butter on medium in a stand mixer, until the butter is smooth and creamy.  
5.  Add the cream cheese to the butter mixture and beat on medium until the butter and cream cheese are combined and smooth.  Don’t over-beat the cream cheese, or it will separate.
6.  Add the cocoa powder and beat on low until combined.
7. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, beating on low until each is incorporated.  For a sweeter frosting, use 4 cups instead of 3.  If you find your frosting is getting too thick (this happens sometimes depending on the type of cream cheese), you may need to add a little milk or half and half a tbsp at a time.
8.  To assemble, use a melon baller to remove the center of each vanilla cupcake.  Fill the middle with a 2-3 tsp of the chocolate caramel filling.
9.  Pipe the frosting on top of the cupcakes, and put a mini pretzel in each.
10.  To easily drizzle chocolate over top, heat 2 cups of water in the microwave for 2 minutes, or until the water is near boiling.  While the water boils, place the 3 oz of semi sweet chocolate into a small ziploc bag.  Make sure the bag is fully sealed!  Take the water out of the microwave and place the ziploc bag in the hot water.  The chocolate will begin to melt.  Cut a small hole in the top of the ziploc bag and drizzle the chocolate over the top of the cupcakes.

Enjoy! 🙂