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Orchard Season and Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Growing up, my mom took my three siblings and me to the apple orchard each fall. It was a special thing to look forward to after the school day, and made for its own September adventure. I can still picture all of us – lined up in our red plaid school uniforms, studying the vintage apple-picking machinery displayed in the building. The smell of apple pies hung in the air. We would take turns taste-testing the apples and deliberating over our favorites. In the end, we always left with a bag or two of apples, a box of apple donuts and one delicious caramel apple per kid. It was an autumn milestone!

Now that I’m grown, I live on the other side of the city from that orchard, but apple season still marks the beginning of fall for me. To this day, my mom takes a trip to that orchard and saves me a caramel apple for when I visit (I know, isn’t she the best?!). Ryan and I also like to stop by a smaller orchard to pick up a couple bags of apples for lunches and baking. We always make sure to put them to good use, so when I came across this recipe for Caramel Apple Cupcakes, I knew it would be the perfect launch into our fall baking. And what could be better than a little cupcake packed with my favorite parts of early autumn?

As is the case with most baking recipes, you start by pre-heating your oven. Set it to 350° F, then get your muffin tins ready by lining them with paper baking cups.

Your first step in preparing the cupcake batter is to combine the dry ingredients. Grab a medium bowl and combine your flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and apple pie spice. I had trouble tracking down apple pie spice at the grocery store, so I combined a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice. It worked beautifully. When the dry ingredients are mixed together, set the bowl aside.

This is a good time to get your apples ready. I used two small Granny Smith apples for my cupcakes and didn’t even have to peel them. Just make sure your apples are thoroughly rinsed, then use a grater to shred them. I found it to be a bit messy. If you have better ideas for shredding, I’d like to hear them, so I can try your approach next time! When you have about a cup of shredded apple, you’re ready to move on.

In a large bowl (or use your stand-mixer like I did), combine the brown sugar, melted butter, caramel ice cream topping, half & half and eggs. Beat the ingredients together at medium speed.

When you have a nice creamy batter, fold in the shredded apple by hand.

Hopefully your oven is warmed up by now, because it’s time to bake! I used a ¼ cup measuring cup to divide the batter as evenly as I could between the 24 muffin cups. Place the pans in the oven and bake the cupcakes for 15 – 20 minutes.

You’ll know your cupcakes are ready to come out of the oven when they start looking golden and the toothpick test comes out clean. The delicious aroma of autumn spices will be your other delicious clue!

I removed my cupcakes from the tins and set them on a cooling rack to help speed up the cooling time.

When your cupcakes are almost cooled, it’s time to prepare the icing. Combine the brown sugar, half & half and butter in a small saucepan and set it on medium heat. Stir the mixture until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolves. At that point, remove the saucepan from the heat.

Add powdered sugar to the mixture until your frosting is at the consistency you like. Don’t worry if it gets a little too dry – you can always add a little more half & half to thin it out. Just keep in mind that a little half & half goes a long way, so be careful about adding small amounts. Stir in the vanilla.

When the frosting is at the consistency you’re happy with, frost the cupcakes.

Once frosted, the Caramel Apple Cupcakes are ready to serve! I decided to drizzle mine with a little extra caramel right before serving, but you could garnish them with other caramel apple favorites too – perhaps you want to sprinkle the frosting with chopped nuts. Regardless of how you customize your cupcakes, this tasty dessert will have you heading back to the orchard for more supplies!

Do you have a fall tradition like mine? Give these Caramel Apple Cupcakes a try, and they may be your new fall tradition, too.

Come back in a few days when Tami will share a perfect fall sandwich.

Amanda is paid to write for the Recipe Buzz® Blog.

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