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Preheat oven to 350° F.
Prepare 2 regular cupcake pans (24 cupcakes). You can use paper cupcake liners or just spray the cupcake wells with cooking spray.
Measure all dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk to combine. Make 3 large holes in the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine salad oil and vinegar. Pour this into the 3 holes. Pour the water over the entire mixture. Mix with a fork. Add vanilla and stir. Divide evenly into the 24 cupcake wells.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, removing from the oven as soon as a toothpick comes out clean. This can also be made in a 9" x 13" cake pan - bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.
Add the sugar to a small saucepan and pour the water over it. With the heat on low, swirl the pan around until the sugar has nearly dissolved. Be careful not to let it boil. If it starts getting too hot, remove it from the burner for a few seconds, while continuing to swirl.
Once the sugar has mostly dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover it immediately and let it boil for 2 minutes.
Uncover and continue swirling the mixture until it becomes dark amber. Be VERY careful here. You want it to be dark, but it can go from dark to burning in seconds. Once it goes from golden amber to dark amber, take it off the heat immediately. This is what the sugar and water mixture looks like when it first starts to boil. Now it’s turning golden.Very near the dark amber stage, be prepared to get it off the heat FAST.
Slowly pour in the cream, stirring with a whisk. Be careful, as the caramel will start splattering if you pour too fast. Whisk until combined and set aside. Let caramel cool to room temperature.
Combine the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer (i.e. your KitchenAid bowl). Bring a large pan of water to simmer on the stove, making sure that when you place your mixer bowl into it, that the bottom of it is sitting in the water a bit. Set the mixer bowl in the pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture is extremely foamy and reaches 140° F on an instant-read thermometer. Be really careful not to curdle the egg whites. If it feels like that’s happening, just remove the mixer bowl for a bit.
Remove the bowl to your stand mixer and beat on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until the meringue mixture holds glossy, marshmallowy peaks. Remove the meringue to another bowl and place the empty mixer bowl back on the stand mixer. Add half the butter and one-third of the meringue to the mixer bowl and beat until well combined. Continue to add the remaining two-thirds of the meringue a dollop at a time. The mixture may look curdled at this point, which is a bit alarming after going through all this work, but adding the remaining butter a tablespoon at a time will smooth things out. It really does come together at the end. This is what your meringue should look like
With the mixer on low, add the room-temperature caramel and mix until well-combined. Do not add warm/hot caramel, as it will melt the butter!Top your cupcakes with the buttercream, drizzle on your favorite bottled caramel sauce, and sprinkle with some sea salt to finish them off.
Yield: enough to put a large mound of buttercream on each of 24 cupcakes