Taste Test

Cupcakes by Sonja and Auro Chocolates’ New Creation Remind us Why Salted Caramel is Here to Stay

November 30, 2017

Thought to be the flavor du jour of the dessert world close to a decade ago, salted caramel’s rise to the top of the confectionery flavor roster was one that (from its likely roots in France) made its way not only through the States but also to the Philippines, what with the penchant for salty-on-sweet that both Americans and Filipinos enjoy. Fast-forward to 2017, what was once a revelation would now joining the ranks of vanilla and chocolate as a dessert-flavor staple across many sweet shops and brands given its numerous fans. At best it’s considered a worthy contender of being a classic. But at worst, especially given the many “salted caramel” treats around that either skimp on the butter or salt or taste artificial, it borders on becoming a cliché along with former flavor trends red velvet, cookie butter, or even matcha—and it’s harder to get excited about its once-immense appeal. So when the pastry mavens of Cupcakes by Sonja announced they’d be coming out with a new “Reversed Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake”, we’ll admit we weren’t particularly roused—even when we found out it would be done in collaboration with one of our favorite local bean-to-bar chocolate purveyors Auro. But our pre-judgment couldn’t be more wrong—there’s much more to this creation than meets the eye.

First there’s the chocolate part, delivered primarily through the cake. Though Sonja’s has their standard chocolate cupcake base—a “Valrhona chocolate cupcake” with a tight but tender crumb and a mellow but resounding echo of chocolate—that forms the basis of their Chocolate Surprise, Peppermint Patty, and Choco Overload variants, they make use of a different beast on this new creation. Underneath each cupcake liner is a coal-black cake, seemingly of the cocoa- and oil-based, “old-fashioned” sort, with an inviting sheen and an extremely moist (bordering on wet), open crumb, bearing just enough structure that it still offers a bouncy resistance as you sink your teeth in. In spite of a mild baking soda-y aftertaste, it gives a good, cocoa-forward flavor that prompts our feelings of nostalgia, though only long enough before getting bolstered with a smokiness from a ganache of Auro chocolate spread on top.

The Auro ganache’s distinctive earthiness gives this cupcake just the edge to keep you on the edge amidst the overall comforting profile—and we love that the salted caramel buttercream (which comes as a generous swirl akin to Queen Elizabeth’s jeweling crown) feels lush and ultra-creamy while still delivering the complex depth of burnt sugar. We would literally eat it by the spoonful if no one were looking….

Meanwhile, the salted caramel comes in two forms, the first being a dollop of salted caramel sauce atop the cupcake in conjunction with the ganache that gives each bite a habit-forming chewiness. More impressive, however, is the salted caramel buttercream: likely of one of the European-style buttercreams, it feels astoundingly smooth and velvety on the tongue—unlike most other buttercream used in other cupcakes elsewhere (including some of the standard variants here at Sonja’s) that go by the grainier and often saccharine-tasting American style of the butter-based frosting. Though light as a feather in consistency and sweetness level, it still delivers on the depths of burnt sugar that shines through its buttery backbone. And with a final sprinkling of sea salt (which come in distinguishable granules) to provide the salty, mineral counterpoint, each part of this creation contributes to a decadent but balanced whole where you can feel each part individually; no one part overpowers the others, taste- or texture-wise, and everything comes together as a perfect-fitting jigsaw puzzle.

*American-style buttercream has its place, but given the choice, we’d choose the smooth and silky European versions all the way.

That proceeds are to be donated the Philippine Red Cross, of course, is a welcome bonus (and if you ever needed a justification for that second cupcake, this may well be it). Though the chocolate-salted caramel pairing has been done many times and in many ways past, Cupcakes by Sonja executes it absolutely well. Treats like these, though simple on paper, remind us of why salted caramel—done right—is rightfully here to stay.

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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