The Good Foodist: Monster Coconut Cupcakes

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As a child, coconut oil never made it into my food. My father detested the taste and my mother was indifferent. We cooked our food in ghee, refined sunflower oil and for a very tiny period, olive oil. It’s no wonder that I grew up imaging someone in the South squeezing bottles of Parachute into vats of fried banana chips. It wasn’t an appeasing vision because for me coconut oil represented a comb being scraped painfully across my scalp thrice a week.

But that changed once I moved to Bangalore and discovered organic, cold pressed coconut oil at Healthy Buddha. The beautiful, sunshine yellow liquid smells like tender coconut at its sweetest. The subtle flavor adds a mild coconutty flavor to dal tadka and chicken curry alike.

I fell in love. Deeply! I wanted to use it in everything I ate. I wanted to fry fish with it. I wanted to season salad with it. Heck, I even wanted to bake with it!

This last desire would go seriously awry at a dinner party where I served guests molten chocolate cupcakes in which I had substituted butter with coconut oil. The feedback I received was delivered quite brazenly. “This has a very strange flavor,” said one, trying really hard not to gag. “No, wait. It’s disgusting,” said another who spat it out in her napkin.

That’s when I knew I had probably overreached and burned my fingers. It stung. But I also learned that coconut oil, beautiful as it was, would not be accepted so easily in sweets.

But this didn’t deter me from trying again. Even as I continued to hone my skills as amateur baker extraordinaire – using the best butter money could buy – I kept researching recipes that called for coconut oil instead of butter.

This wasn’t difficult because the internet is full of recipes for vegan cakes that call for coconut oil and coconut milk as substitutes for butter and regular milk. The variety of cakes in which it can be used is also quite varied. You can add it to your vegan chocolate cake, super healthy banana bread, summery lemon pound cakes and fresh and fruity berry cupcakes.

After much trial and error, I realised that the added coconutty flavor to cakes – a sacred indulgence for many – is not something most people will just accept lying down. Introducing it would require patience, skill and most importantly, your wits.

For many a palate, chocolate and coconut may not a good marriage make. But coconut and well, coconut, that’s not sacrilege, is it? Not at all. Especially when the cupcakes in question celebrate everything it is.

That was my inspiration to create these delicious Coconut Monster Cupcakes. I call them Monsters because they’re so much more voluminous than regular cupcakes even if they’re still smaller than muffins.

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To take it to the next level of healthy goodness, I also baked them with organic flour instead of maida. I expected this to yield a tough, dense sponge but to my delight, I could not taste the difference! That’s probably because I used two eggs instead of one and folded the coconut oil separately instead of creaming it with the sugar and eggs at the start.

What elevates these beauties to the next level is the fresh, unsweetened shredded coconut which adds a juicy crunch to every bite. I had some leftover so I decided to top the batter with it – and a sprinkle of brown sugar – which was toasted during the baking process and enhanced the look and aroma of the cakes.

But what sealed the deal, really, is seeing the faces of those trying them out. Their expressions were the exact opposite of what I saw when they bit into my molten chocolate cakes. The flavours and textures clicked immediately. “You’ve gotten very good at this baking thing,” one said. “Are you sure these are healthy?” The surprised look on their faces and their subsequent approval when I revealed that not only were these cupcakes healthy, but also baked with coconut oil and organic atta was just the encouragement I needed to type this recipe up.

It’s a pretty simple one to follow. You don’t need any special mixing equipment to bring it all together. Just two bowls and a mise en place of fresh, organic ingredients.

Enjoy!

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Monster Coconut Cupcakes

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients
1 ½ cup organic atta
½ cup brown sugar + extra for topping
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup freshly grated coconut + extra for topping

Method
– Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Grease cupcake tray with drops of coconut oil.
– In a bowl, sift together atta, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar.
– In another bowl, mix eggs, milk and vanilla extract.
– Make a well in the centre and pour half mix into the batter and stir. Batter will be lumpy but that’s ok. Mix in half the coconut oil. Pour in the rest of the batter followed by the coconut oil and stir until all the ingredients are combined and just moistened. Don’t overmix.
– Fold in fresh grated coconut.
– Using a spoon or an ice-cream scoop, pour batter into cupcake tray. Top with extra shredded coconut and sugar and bake in oven for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
– Cool in tray for 10 minutes after which you can pop them out and cool on a wire rack until you’re ready to eat them.
– Goes brilliantly with a cup of coffee or masala tea. Stores well in airtight container for up to 3 days.

A version of this column was published on Healthy Buddha‘s e-magazine on June 11, 2016.

My baking’s got its groove back!

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Yellow butter layer cake with chocolate frosting; Recipe from The Kitchn

I don’t remember the first thing I tried to bake. I do, however, remember trying to bake one thing ten times over.

It was two years ago around Christmas and I had decided, having just unwrapped a silicone cupcake tray and an OTG, that I should bake gingerbread cupcakes.

“Make the healthy version,” said my husband who tries very hard, and sometimes does succeed, in eating “healthy”. “Use recipes that call for whole wheat flour and oil instead of butter and less sugar and fruit substitutes…”

And so I set out to conquer gingerbread bakes, but every batch I baked failed miserably.

The first one was baked to the specifications dictated by my “healthy” husband – who, I realised, hasn’t read a single cake recipe in his life! I used whole wheat flour, which in Indian translates to the atta with which we make rotis. But it came out really dense and smelled funny.

The second time around, I gave in and use butter instead of olive oil, but no such luck. It was still dense and tasted strange.

So I decided, you know what? Let’s just use that damn all purpose flour these recipes keep harping on about – Indian translation being bleached and super refined Maida. The batch I made actually looked like it was supposed to! The cupcakes rose like in the photos, were light and fluffy, and would have looked good in the window of any patisserie or just my Instagram feed, same thing. But when I bit into them I found that the taste had gotten worse! Like ground ginger had made love to a bathroom disinfectant and this was their warm and funky offspring.

It took me a few more attempts and a visit from my friend Sue to finally realise that A) When it comes to baking, a good recipe is sacred. Follow it blindly like you would The Lord. Or James Blunt on Twitter (better sense of humour). B) The baking soda I had purchased from a reputed baking institute in Bangalore – you know who you are and you ain’t getting my business for that advanced bread baking class!! – was industrial strength. It now sits below my kitchen sink and is excellent at unclogging pipes. C) ‘Cups’ aren’t the teacups in which you drink caffeinated drinks and tea- and tablespoons aren’t the cutlery with which you scoop up daal-chawal when you don’t want to get your hands dirty. That bit was embarrassing to learn…

I gave up baking for a while after that. Maybe it wasn’t my ‘thing’. It required focus, discipline and commitment. Basically, I really didn’t think I wanted to put in all that effort and follow a recipe to the tee.

But of late, things have been changing for this lazy chef… er, sorry, Slow Cook. I’ve been baking more often and with more success. I guess it started when I deliciously messed up those French Breakfast Muffins. And things only got better from there!

I baked and I baked and I baked some more. I kept a low profile. I didn’t document them with photos from a 100 different angles, nor did I post a peep about them on social media. And you know what? It’s just been so much better than likes and hearts because something can look good in pictures, sure. But you know you’re on the right track when real-live people try it and love it so much that they can’t stop eating it.

I guess what I’m saying is… I’m back! And so is my mojo. Expect more Slow Cook and random food posts from now on. No no. I’m not going to do recipes — unless they’re originals. I will simply focus on doing what I really love doing — telling stories through the food I cook and eat.

French Breakfast Muffins: Toasted, Not Baked

Toasted – not baked -- mildly charred French Breakfast Muffins, anyone?

Toasted – not baked — French Breakfast Muffins, anyone?

I started this beautiful Sunday morning by following a dream. One I only dreamed of last night, but a dream nevertheless.

I dreamed I was baking French Breakfast Muffins!

I stumbled across the recipe on AllRecipes.com yesterday. I haven’t ever eaten them before but they sounded so similar to the Muffnuts I baked with my darling sister in Munich, I just had to give them a try.

They recipe had all the ingredients that promise to take a weekend cuppa chai to a magical place! Unlike many cupcake recipes I’ve tried in the past, this one called for less egg and more milk and butter, a combination, I have on good authority, which turns cakes really soft and moist. If that wasn’t enough, the muffins needed to be dipped in butter and rolled around in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. It’s one of those recipes with which you just cannot go wrong.

But see, if you’re me, you can manage to burn boiling water if you’re not careful. I still maintain that I’m an excellent cook. But I’ve come to realise that my biggest problem is lack attentiveness in the kitchen.

This morning, I did everything perfectly — from measuring the ingredients down to the last milligram, to resisting the urge of adding more butter. As I scooped the batter into moulds, I was proud to have planned so well that I had just enough for 6 muffins.

I was most pleased with myself when I placed the tray in the oven at 8.05 am. I sat down to do a bit of reading then and went back to check on them at 8.09 am. They were doing well. Rising a little… Perhaps that should have been a warning sign because when the bake time calls for 20-25 minutes, any batter that rises in 4 minutes might be in a little bit of trouble, no?

I sat back down to read and when 10 minutes had passed, I decided to go turn the tray around to even out the heat. Good thing I did because what I saw reinforced my belief that all my baking attempts was jinxed – the tops of the muffins were turning dark brown and bits of it were on their way to getting charred.

I pulled them out immediately! It took me a minute to gather my wits. Was the temperature too high? No, it was actually 10 degrees lower than what the recipe called for… Should I have placed the tray a little lower? Experience has taught me that would have charred the bottom. So I turned to look at the knobs on the right and spotted my error instantly: It was on the toaster setting. Oh joy!

It was like I was in shock, the way I went ahead with the buttering (while it was still very warm) and the cinnamon-sugar coating. I wasn’t in the mood to attempt another batch before I had mourned this one fully.

Toasted – not baked — French Breakfast Muffins, anyone? Surprisingly, yes! My husband loved the crispy-on-the-outside, soft and moist on the inside texture. He ate an entire muffin in two bites and then swiped the one I was hoping to wash down with my tea.

I guess things turned out okay after all! I’m still convinced that I’m jinxed, though. I mean, seriously! I don’t know of a single amateur baker who has made as many blunders as much as I have on every unsupervised attempt. But maybe it’s a jinx interspersed with bouts of luck because this recipe is a keeper! So long as I can recreate it without something new going wrong.

Molten Chocolate Cake For Two

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Do you believe in curses? I did. Especially after my fifth batch of ginger cupcakes fell flat. Well, they didn’t fall flat per say. They just bubbled over their moulds in the oven and came out looking and smelling funky.

‘Your baking just sucks,’ my husband declared after a bite. ‘Please don’t try that again. Look on the bright side. There’s beer in the fridge.’

Ok, maybe he didn’t say those exact words. But there was mention of cutting back on the attempts at baking and cheering up with a pint of beer.

I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. That, good as I am with savouries, curries and meats, the universe was sabotaging my attempts at baking.

But then one day I discovered a recipe for molten chocolate cake. Unlike other recipes for breads, cakes and cookies, the measures covered two small portions and involved only six ingredients to the perfect cake.

I poured over this recipe for two whole days wondering whether I should dare to dream until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know.

So I pulled out a small slab of cooking chocolate and got chopping. I decided to do away with the butter in favour of coconut oil. As I waited for the oven to pre-heat, I read the oven’s manual for the second time since I bought it.

That’s when I found the first explanation to my disastrous baking. I don’t have a full-blown oven, but a humble OTG. Cakes in this device must never be cooked over 150 C. That explained a lot about why my cookies burned and my cupcakes stank. (There are other explanations to my bad baking joujou, but more on that in posts to come.)

Hope renewed, I got to work. I melted the chocolate and the coconut oil in a bowl over the saucepan filled with water and the aroma that wafted over was entrancing. The scent of the coconut and the sweetness of chocolate are so distinct, yet perfectly matched. I honestly don’t know why more bakers don’t pair them together!

From there on, everything went like clockwork. I beat the eggs, added the coco-chocolate mixture and measured out the flour.

I even tried not to stand in front of the oven obsessively doing a cook’s rendition of a rain dance. And finally, for the first time since I started baking, I had two perfect cakes.

The top had formed a thin, brown crust. Hidden just underneath it was a splash of molten chocolate. The bottom and the sides were soft and spongy.

The best thing about this recipe was that it took me 21 minutes to prep, bake and eat. Something that would be perfect for date night and dinner parties alike since you can make the mix and keep it in the fridge until you’re 12 minutes away from dessert.

You know, our favourite food blogs make baking look so damn simple. Like all you need to do is a dash of this, a pinch of that and voila! You’re a domestic goddess. Cookies anyone?

But really, baking isn’t simple. It takes time. Effort. Practice. Experimentation. But most importantly, baking takes patience. So if you’re a novice like me, don’t be a croquem-douche about it. Start small and work your way up.

Here’s the perfect little treat to give your baking a boost.

Molten Chocolate Cake for Two

Ingredients

½ cup butter (but coconut oil just makes the chocolate taste so much more delicious!)

1 cup chocolate chips or chopped up cooking chocolate

1 egg

1 egg yolk

½ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons flour

Method

#1 Pre-heat your oven to 175C. I have a tiny OTG so my recommended temperature is 130-150 C.

#2 Melt the oil and chocolate in a double boiler. I neither have a double boiler nor do I know what it is. So I melted it in a small bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Make sure they melt and mix properly so the lumps of chocolate melt away.

#3 In another bowl, beat the egg, yolk, salt and sugar together for around 3-5 minutes. The mixture should be thick in texture and light yellow in colour.

#4 Add the chocolate and stir it up for another minute. Make sure all the ingredients have mixed up evenly.

#5 Add the flour, one tablespoon at a time and fold. The mixture should now be significantly thicker.

#6 Pour into two oven safe pudding cups (greased with oil or butter, of course). I used silicone cups that are generally used for cupcakes. Advantage of this is that it can be peeled off when it’s done and doesn’t require greasing. Easy peasy!

#7 If you want to bake this later, like just as dinner ends, store it in the fridge but take it out 30 minutes before it’s meant to go into the oven.

#8 Bake for 12 minutes. The top should rise a little and get a little crusty.

#9 Remove from the oven and let cool for a minute. Then turn the cups over and remove the cake into a dessert plate.

#10 Serve with whipped cream, ice-cream or sorbet. Personally, I’d go with sweet and sour lemon or orange sorbet because a little tang is all you need to break the rich and sweet chocolate.

Based on a recipe by Two Tarts