Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl until blended. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; add to butter mixture, stirring until blended. Stir in apple. Place paper baking cups in 2 (12-cup) muffin pans, and coat with cooking spray; spoon batter into cups, filling two-thirds full. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely.
To prepare frosting, melt butter in a 3-qt. heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in evaporated milk, baking soda, and corn syrup; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and let cool completely (about 1 hour). Transfer to a bowl. Gradually add powdered sugar to caramel mixture, beating at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Beat at high speed 2 minutes or until creamy. Use immediately. Makes 3 cups.
Frost each cupcake with Old-Fashioned Caramel Frosting. Top each with toasted pecans and, if desired, 1 fresh crab apple.
Most of the time at Dreamcakes we toast pecans and other nuts before using them because toasting really brings out the flavor. You can toast them in a skillet over medium-high heat, tossing them until you begin to detect their aroma, or bake them at 350 degrees about 4 to 5 minutes or until toasted, stirring occasionally.