Special equipment: an 18-inch piping bag fitted with a round tip
For the cake batter: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, add the sugar, gluten-free baking mix, cocoa powder and salt and mix on low speed until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the milk, oil and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in 1 cup hot water, making sure it is evenly incorporated into the batter.
Fill the cupcake liners two-thirds full with the batter and bake until the top of each cupcake is slightly springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 14 to 16 minutes. Immediately turn the cupcakes out of the pans onto a cooling rack and let cool completely.
For the chocolate ganache: Put the cream in a saucepot and heat to a scald over medium heat. Do not boil!
Put the chocolate in a mixing bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Let it sit a moment and then gently stir to combine and melt the chocolate. Set aside to cool and thicken up slightly. The ganache can be made several days ahead of time and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
For the caramel corn: Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Spread the popcorn out on the baking sheet and carefully pick out and discard any unpopped kernels.
In a saucepot, bring the butter, sugar, salt and 1/4 cup water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, boil until the mixture thickens and darkens to the color of peanut butter. Just before the mixture starts to smoke, quickly pour it over the popcorn on the baking sheet. Using two spatulas, quickly toss the popcorn in the caramel to coat the corn, and spread it out on the baking sheet. Set aside to cool completely, and then break up into pieces.
For the marshmallow creme mascarpone frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer using a whisk attachment, combine the marshmallow creme, mascarpone, heavy cream, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste and salt and whisk on low speed until there are no lumps and all the ingredients are combined. Turn to medium-high speed and whip to medium-firm peaks.
Fit an 18-inch piping bag with a round tip and twist and hold the bag right by the tip to prevent the frosting from leaking out. Fold the top of the piping bag over your hand and spoon the frosting into the bag.
To assemble, dip each cupcake in the chocolate ganache, roll in the caramel corn pieces to create a crunchy shell, top with the marshmallow creme mascarpone frosting and drizzle with more chocolate ganache. Garnish with a piece of caramel corn
This recipe was created by a contestant during a cooking competition. It has not been tested for home use.