Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Coconut Vanilla Bean Cupcakes - Ironman Style

Are you still out there? I know I’ve been absent and I’m sorry. My world’s been upside down. I was sooo sick, and then went on a New Years ski trip, and then I started a new job. All of this is happening amidst Birthday Season, as my friends and I call it – so alas, I need to pull it together and keep on baking! One of my closest friends just had a fundraising birthday party to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma and her upcoming Ironman triathlon. I made these Ironman themed cupcakes to let her know how proud I am of her, and I think she was a little smitten. The event went really well – all the dollars that go into cancer research make such a huge difference in fighting a disease that’s affected all of us in some way. Sometimes we just need to make sacrifices (like eating luscious coconut vanilla bean cupcakes) for a good cause (fundraising to cure cancer). Um, stretching?

This amazing and beautiful friend of mine was a Hawaiian island girl in another life, so the coconut was a natural choice. The coconut buttercream was, of course, a Swiss meringue variation. I decorated with some toasted coconut and a red almond bark “M-dot” on top and voila! This whole recipe is actually a pain to make as it takes a bit of planning and a coconut milk reduction – but for a special occasion as this, it was completely worth it.

Coconut Vanilla Bean Cupcake
Makes 36

4 cups all purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 2/3 cups sugar
7 large eggs
Seeds scraped from 1 split vanilla bean
 teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups reduced coconut milk*, room temperature

*Reduced coconut milk:
4 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk (Mae Ploy brand)
Bring coconut milk to a boil in a large, tall pot over medium-high heat (coconut milk will boil up high and splatter. A lot. Everywhere.). Reduce heat to medium-low; boil until reduced to 3 1/2 cups, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Store chilled. I recommend making this a couple days ahead of time. Some of this will be used for the frosting.

Preheat to 350°F and line cupcake pan with paper liners. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar; beat on medium-high speed until well blended (no longer grainy). Add 5 eggs, 1 egg at a time, and incorporate well, occasionally scraping the bowl. Beat in seeds from vanilla bean, vanilla extract and remaining egg. Add the coconut reduction and mix until blended. Stir in the flour mixture just until blended. Divide batter evenly into the cupcake pan and bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan about 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Cupcake recipe adapted from Epicurious

Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream
This is made almost identically the same way the Baileys SMBC was made. Just use reduced coconut milk instead of Baileys! Double the amount to make enough for 36 cupcakes.

M-Dot Ironman Decorations and Toasted Coconut
I don’t have pictures for these but I’ll tell you how I did these. Not too hard. Google the Ironman icon and bring up an image. Put a sheet of paper directly over your computer screen (or smartphone for lazier folks like me) and trace using pencil. Now, pay attention here, you are going to pipe red candy melts (or tinted almond bark) onto transparency film (parchment or wax paper would work also) that’s placed over your traced M-Dot. Shimmy it a little while it’s still wet to smooth it out. Allow to dry and peel off. Repeat 35 more times!

For the coconut, you could buy shredded and sweetened coconut and toast it in the oven. This is what I recommend for sane people. I, however, am not so sane. I do it the way my mom taught me – which she learned from the jungles of Southeast Asia. Or at least, that’s how I like to imagine it. Get a fresh coconut and crack it open all insane-like with a giant cleever. Don’t be afraid – just use one big motion, starting with the cleaver over your head and make sure you yell “Hai-Ya!” for full effect. Then use a shredder tool to scrape out the meat in long, elegant strands. Here's what the thing looks like:

Shred until your hand is about to fall off. If you enjoy pain, go ahead and do a bunch and freeze the fresh coconut meat for future use. Toast the shredded coconut on a foil lined pan for about 10 minutes at 350°F while your cupcakes are baking. Watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn.

Happy Birthday KJ!! XOXO