Nov 15, 2010

Beer and Pretzels Cupcakes

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across C&C Cakery's Movember Manly Cupcake Challenge, and I knew immediately that I wanted to enter. After a brainstorming session with the husband, some recipe writing and testing, and a full day of baking, I'm ready to share the recipe for Beer and Pretzels Cupcakes.

These cupcakes feature a rich, spicy brown ale cake with a brown ale custard filling. They're topped with caramel buttercream and homemade soft pretzels.

Why are these cupcakes so manly? Three reasons:
  • They bring that classic pair of manly comestibles--beer and pretzels--together in a delicious baked good.
  • They're bigger and badder than your usual cupcake recipe. When I think about how the men in my life cook, I visualize the vast quantities of food they prepare. They like to cook for crowds. I picture my father-in-law grilling steaks for the whole family on a Friday night, and I picture the five-gallon pot of chili my husband cooks every fall when he invites 40 to 60 of his closest friends over. In that quintessentially manly more-is-more spirit, this recipe yields 24 ultra-rich cupcakes and 32 soft pretzels.
  • They feature some of my favorite man's favorite flavors. My husband loves caramel, loves soft pretzels, and loves a good micro-brew. This cupcake has all of that and more.

Before we move on to the recipe details, let me tell you more about The Movember Manly Cupcake Challenge. 

C&C Cakery has created this challenge to help raise public awareness of men's health issues. As they explain on their site, "Prostate Cancer has no ribbons. Testicular Cancer has no large walks for charity. They have no pink shoelaces, pink hockey sticks, or pink fire trucks. Lets be honest, they really don't get as much attention as their female counterparts." 

Movember, first observed in 2003, is a month-long celebration of that emblem of manliness, the mustache. During November, men from all over the world grow mustaches to raise money for men's health organizations. Click here to learn more about The Movember Foundation. You can also donate to the foundation through the contributions page for the Movember Manly Cupcake Challenge.

Several fine businesses and artisans are contributing prizes for this challenge. The Manly Cupcake Contest prize sponsors include:

And now for the recipe.

Beer and Pretzels Cupcakes
yields 24 generously filled and generously frosted cupcakes plus 32 miniature soft pretzels

I've seen a lot of recipes that add dark beers to chocolate cake, but I wanted to bake something non-chocolate and focused on enhancing the flavors of a sweet, malty dark beer. I started with Saint Arnold's Brown Ale, which is made by a local brewery here in Houston. (Need help picking a substitution available in your area? See the brewery's description of this ale.) In both the cake and the custard filling, I added nutmeg and brown sugar to bring out the beer's sweetness. The sweet caramel frosting and the salty pretzel complement each other as well as the spicy, boozy cake and custard.Biting into one of these cupcakes is like tackling two decadent treats at once: a delicious soft pretzel with a caramel dip plus a custard-filled brown ale spice cake.

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup brown ale

(custard filling)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup brown ale
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

(buttercream frosting)

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar


  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (between 110 degrees and 115 degrees)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt + more for sprinkling the pretzels
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablesoons unsalted butter, melted
  • vegetable oil for the pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Made from a wonderfully soft raised dough, these pretzels are briefly boiled in a baking soda solution and then baked until dark golden brown. In the instructions below, I’ve slightly altered Alton Brown’s recipe in order to make 32 miniature pretzels instead of 8 large pretzels.

Making the Pretzel Dough

  1. Combine 1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees), 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Sprinkle yeast on top and allow to sit for five minutes until mixture begins to foam.
  3. Using the dough hook on low speed, gradually add 4 1/2 cups flour and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Alternate between flour and butter until all ingredients are added and mix until well combined.
  4. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl (about 4 or 5 minutes).
  5. Remove the dough, clean the bowl, and oil it well with vegetable oil.
  6. Return the dough to the bowl. Cover with a plastic bag and a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour until the dough doubles in size.

Preparing to Cook the Pretzels

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush the paper with oil.
  3. In the stock pot,  add 2/3 cup baking soda to 10 cups water and bring to a rolling boil.
  4. In a small bowl, beat together 1 large egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water.

Shaping the Pretzels

  1. Turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface.
  2. Divide dough into 32 equal parts.
  3. Roll each piece into an 10-inch rope.
  4. Shape each rope into a pretzel by holding the ends of the rope, making a U-shape, and then pressing the ends of the rope into the bottom of the U to make a pretzel shape.
  5. As you form the pretzels, place them onto the parchment-lined pans.

It took us a while to get the hang of making the dough into the pretzel shape. We also experimented with pretzel knots.

Boiling and Baking the Pretzels

  1. One at a time, add the pretzels to the boiling water and boil for 15 seconds.
  2. Using a large spatula, return the pretzels to the baking pans.
  3. Brush the top of each pretzel with the egg yolk and water mixture.
  4. Sprinkle each pretzel with salt.
  5. Bake the pretzels until they are a dark golden brown, approximately 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. Transfer pretzels to a cooling rack and cool completely before adding to cupcakes.

It's important to press the ends of the pretzel into place so it holds its shape in the boiling water. A few of the pretzels in our first batch uncoiled themselves while boiling.

A sweet, malty brown ale is added to rich golden cake. Brown sugar and nutmeg provide perfect complements.

Preparing to Bake the Cupcakes

  1. Bring eggs and butter to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Line the muffin pan with paper liners.

Mixing the Cake Batter

  1. Whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup cornstarch, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
  2. Use a mixer to cream 10 tablespoons butter until smooth.
  3. Gradually add 1 1/4 cups brown sugar and beat until fluffy (3 to 4 minutes).
  4. Beat in four eggs, one at a time.
  5. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla then turn off the mixer.
  6. Using a spoon, gradually add the flour mixture and 3/4 cup brown ale to the egg mixture. Alternate between the dry ingredients and the liquid until everything is combined.
  7. Stir until smooth.

Baking the Cupcakes

  1. Fill each paper liner half full.
  2. Bake 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean.
  3. Remove muffins from pan to cool on wire rack.

To add to the richness of this manly confection, brown ale custard is used to fill the brown ale cupcakes. The custard is cooked on the stovetop then chilled to bring it to room temperature.

Making the Custard

  1. In a small bowl, whisk two large egg yolks.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together 1/2 cup cream, 1/2 cup brown ale, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until well combined.
  3. Cook the cream mixture whisking frequently until it’s hot and just beginning to steam.
  4. Gradually pour half of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolk, whisking constantly.
  5. Whisk egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining cream, and cook for 1-2 minutes whisking constantly, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  6. Pour the custard into a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon unsalted butter.
  7. Place the custard over a bowl of ice water, and chill in the refrigerator until it reaches room temperature.

Filling the Cupcakes

  1. Remove a bit of cake from the center of each cupcake.
  2. Spoon custard into the center of each cupcake.

Though mustard may be the most common dip for a soft pretzel, caramel is another delicious option. The sweet caramel is a perfect complement for salty pretzels. To make this frosting, barely warm caramel sauce is stirred into rich buttercream.

Making the Caramel

  1. In a saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons water.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  3. Cook without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber color.
  4. Remove from heat and slowly stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla then 1/2 cup cream.
  5. Stir until very smooth.
  6. Let cool for 20 minutes until the caramel is barely warm and still pourable.

Making the Frosting

  1. In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat 4 sticks unsalted butter until lightened and fluffy.
  2. Add scant 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 cups powdered sugar and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the caramel.
  4. Beat on medium high until light, airy,and completely mixed (about 2 minutes).
  5. If frosting is too thin to spread, refrigerate for about 15 minutes before  assembling cupcakes.

Assembling the Cupcakes

  1. Spread or pipe frosting onto filled cupcakes.
  2. Garnish each cupcake with a pretzel.

A good example of one of the pretzel knots we used as a garnish (top left).

A perfectly shaped, perfectly browned pretzel.

A box of cupcakes the husband took to work this morning, featuring a few of the less-than-perfect pretzels.
Cake recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s Golden Layer Cake recipe published in How to Cook Everything, Tenth Anniversary Edition.

Custard recipe is adapted from Sugar Plum’s Boston Cream Pie Cupcake filling published here.

Caramel buttercream recipe is adapted from  SprinkleBakes’ Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting published here.

Soft pretzel recipe is Alton Brown’s and is available here.


  1. Home-baked pretzels? On a cupcake? Filled with ale custard? With caramel buttercream? Super awesome - and very very manly. Thank you for entering the Movember Manly Cupcake Challenge! And good luck!

  2. Just made these for my friends' joint birthday, and they are amazing! Totally worth the time. And might I suggest making a little extra caramel sauce for the extra pretzels . . .

  3. Wow! These are epic! Although I think there's a little too much going on for a cupcake - this would be great as a plated dessert!

  4. Hi!
    Is it possible for me to display one of your pretzel cupcake photos on this page: (under construction)?
    I'll link back to your image and recipe of course :-)