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.
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.
Monster Coconut Cupcakes
1 ½ cup organic atta
½ cup brown sugar + extra for topping
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup freshly grated coconut + extra for topping
– 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.