Chocolate Whoopie Pies With Salted Caramel Buttercream

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Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing “Embraceable You” in spats.”
– Woody Allen

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Hey everybody! It’s summer!  I enjoy the sun so much more when it isn’t around all the time. When I lived in Southern California where it’s sunny everyday, I took it for granted. I was always longing for a climate that had different seasons. Now I’ve got that here in Washington, and I do enjoy that difference. Summer is a season I particularly enjoy.

I’ve been spending my days out in the garden. I grow vegetables and herbs. We also have roses and fruit trees. I’m growing nasturtiums as well since they are easy to grow and edible. Heck we have so many things growing it’s hard to keep track. We live on 10 acres, which is great, but also, work.

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The pies call for buttermilk, I like to use this Bulgarian Buttermilk in mine. It’s higher in fat than most buttermilk, so it makes for a rich end result.
Yes, I’ve been busy, but never too busy for baking. These whoopie pies are one of my favorite things in the world. A sure thing. A dessert I bring to parties when I want to please everyone. They are fun and tasty enough for children, but with a slight sophistication from the hint of salt in the buttercream, for the adults. I just love them. The cakes are soft and full of rich chocolate flavor, and the salted caramel buttercream is absolutely divine. A go to frosting of mine.
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They are simple to make as well. The cake portion is quite straight forward.

The caramel buttercream also simple. A standard American buttercream essentially, with caramel mixed in.  I know, I know, most people don’t consider making caramel of any kind, simple. But trust me. I’ve taken pictures of all the steps the caramel goes through, to make it as easy as well, pie. It doesn’t even require a thermometer.

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The secret to making caramel is the secret to most everything in life.

 Which is really paying attention and being present.

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Some Dont’s when making the caramel.

Don’t walk away while it’s on the stove.
Don’t try to rush it.
Don’t do other things while making it. (It only takes 10 minutes or so.)

If you follow these simple steps when making this recipe, you will be richly rewarded, my friend.

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Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Buttercream

makes 24 pies

Recipe for pies inspired by this recipe on Epicurious

Salted Caramel Buttercream recipe is my own.

Start the buttercream first. (Recipe for pies is after the buttercream recipe, below.)

Salted Caramel Buttercream

makes enough to fill 24 pies, or frost about 24 cupcakes

Ingredients

1 cup (200 g.) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) water
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks (339 g.) unsalted butter- or if you use salted, just cut back on the salt, (below)
1-2 tsp. fine sea salt
2 cups (230 g.) powdered sugar

Instructions

First, get your mise en place ready for the caramel, it will go fast. Measure the cream in a slightly larger vessel than needed. Add the vanilla to it, and place it next to the stove.

In a saucepan where you can see the bottom, like stainless steel, (I used an off white color Le Cruset pan.)
This is important because you will make decisions based on it’s color. So if you use a black pan for example, it will be harder to see the color. (I’ve done it, it is possible, but I don’t recommend it.)

Over medium high heat, stir together the granulated sugar and the water. Stop stirring after the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.

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This is just the sugar and the water boiling at the start. It’s clear now.
Pull up a chair, you’re going to sit and watch this for about 6-8 minutes, till it turns light golden, (below.)

During this time, don’t stir it. Right when it gets to this point, remove it from the heat. You can swirl the pan a little if you feel like you can’t see the color well. You must, I repeat, you must catch it right at this point. If you let it go any longer, it will turn to black in what feels like an instant.

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This is the color you want. Remove it from the heat now.

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I took this picture about 5 seconds after the picture above, after I removed it from the heat, to illustrate how much darker it turned in such a short time.

As soon as you remove it from the heat, add the cream/vanilla mixture and stir. It will boil and sputter up. (is that a word?) The sugar will turn to a hard rock, basically. You will feel like you have done something wrong. You haven’t.

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After adding the cream and vanilla, the sugar turns into a hard ball. It’s o.k. it will dissolve.
Continue stirring until the sugar dissolves and becomes homogeneous with the cream. If you feel like it’s not happening fast enough, go ahead and put the pan on low heat to help it along.

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After stirring for a few moments, it’s on it’s way to becoming homogeneous.

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Here it is when it’s finished, it just need to cool.

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But wait, it’s not quite done. Strain it first to make sure you don’t have any bits of sugar that didn’t dissolve.
Using a fine mesh strainer placed over a heat proof bowl, pour in the caramel to remove any bits of sugar remaining.
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Set it aside to cool while you start on the pies.

Set the caramel aside until it’s cool to the touch. About 1 1/2- 2 hours. You can also make this part the night before, and let it cool overnight.

While it’s cooling, start making the pies. (recipe below.)

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In the bowl of a stand mixer, (or a large bowl with a handheld) mix the butter and salt (start with 1 tsp., add more later when finished to taste) on medium high speed until very light and fluffy. About 4 minutes.
Add the caramel. Beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Then mix again. Add the powdered sugar and mix very well, until very light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Taste it and see if it needs more salt for your taste. 
At this point it should be a good consistency for the whoopie pies. If you are piping the buttercream onto cupcakes, you may want it a bit firmer. If you do, just refrigerate it for 30 minutes to an hour and proceed.
For The Pies

Ingredients

4 cups (601 g.) all-purpose flour
1 cup (114 g.) Dutch-process or natural cocoa powder (my favorite cocoa is natural high fat cocoa from Penzeys, it gives these cakes a rich chocolate flavor)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (480 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 sticks (1 cup) (227 g.) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (300 g.) packed brown sugar
2 large eggs

Directions

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees Celsius, or Gas Mark 4.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld, then add eggs, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

With a 2 Tablespoon size disher, scoop batter onto parchment lined or Silpat lined baking sheets, leaving 2 inches of space between each cookie. Put your clean hand under the faucet and get it wet. Gently pat the mounds down a little to prevent them from being too round on top.

Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, for about 10 minutes. They are done when tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched. Don’t overbake.

Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.

When cool add about a Tablespoon of buttercream to the middle of one of the cookies, and place another on top to make a sandwich. If not serving them right away, place them in an airtight container.

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