Believe it or not, there’s been a spate of cupcake places opening in…of all places—Paris.
I haven’t been in to any of them, but I should probably go at some point since I’m not sure if it’s just a fad that’s going to end soon, or something that might be here to stay. Parisians aren’t especially fond of cakes with thick layers of frosting or blue icing, and sugary roses don’t have quite the same nostalgic effect here as they do in America.
A lot of people come to Paris and ask me what they can bring. I’ve kind of had to stop mentioning things when I ramble on here, because if I casually mention that I would kill for a box of thin mints, every guest that comes to visit for the next three years arrives with a dozen boxes of thin mints. So please, don’t bring me any thin mints. Except those After Eight mints. As evidenced by the empty brown, envelope-style wrappers littering my apartment, I love those. (Oh, and I like Planter’s Peanut Blocks, too.)
Since I got in trouble recently for using…shall we say, a less-than nutritionally correct ingredient, on my last trip to San Francisco, folks will be happy to hear that I discovered fresh, wholesome pecans for sale at Costco.
Pecans (noix de pecan), like les cupcakes, have become hip in Paris over the last few years. But every time I buy a bag and open it, I find they’re rancid and I end up tossing them out. And I hate tossing out €15 bags of nuts.
So people have been bringing me pecans. And with my every-increasing stockpile of fresh, tasty pecans—and more, I hope, on their way, I made these German Chocolate Cupcakes from Lori Longbotham’s book, Luscious Coconut Desserts.
She actually calls them German Chocolate (Not) Cupcakes, because they’re named after Samuel German, who developed a sweet chocolate for a company. Not because there’s anything German, or even European, about them.
I used to work with a woman whose name I won’t mention, Jacquie, who didn’t like coconut and I could never understand how anyone couldn’t like something so tropically sweet, that was the perfect partner for dark chocolate. I can see people not liking things like black licorice or those the icky red peppers bits that people put in things that one has to carefully pick out and leave on the side of the plate. But a dessert made with coconut and dark, bittersweet chocolate? Sign me up.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen sweetened coconut flakes in Paris, so I used regular unsweetened coconut, which I find easily at the Sri Lankan markets up behind the gare du Nord. It was a good choice, because the frosting wasn’t too sweet. (Many French people feel that American desserts, and food in general, is too sweet.)
So you can use either. If you use unsweetened coconut and find the frosting isn’t sweet enough, stir in another teaspoon of brown sugar while it’s cooling. That’s what I ended up doing, and it was just right. And I wasn’t the only person to think so. So maybe cupcakes are here to stay. Although this batch had trouble sticking around for very long.
German Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Luscious Coconut Desserts (Chronicle) by Lori Longbotham
Everyone loved these cupcakes who I handed them off to in Paris. Unlike sky-high American cakes, when I baked these, mine were more restrained in the height department, a bit sophisticated, with the sweetness kept in check. Hence their popularity.
Lori advises not to use a high-percentage, fancy chocolate; so find one that has less than 60% cocoa solids. (Nowadays most packages give that information.) Also note that she uses natural cocoa. Since it’s a relatively small amount, I would imagine that you could give it a try with Dutch-process cocoa powder, although the natural cocoa gives it a slightly devilish red color.
For the cupcakes
- 2 ounces (60 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) boiling water or coffee
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces, 115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (150 g) cake flour (not self-rising)
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) buttermilk (see Note), at room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.
2. Pour the boiling water or coffee over the chocolate, and stir until melted. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Add the egg yolks and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Then mix in the vanilla and the melted chocolate.
5. Whisk together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in half of the dry ingredients, then add the buttermilk or sour cream, then the remaining dry ingredients, mixing just until blended.
6. In a clean, dry bowl, whip the two egg whites until stiff, then fold one-third of them in to the chocolate batter, then the rest. Fold just into there are no streaks of white remaining, but don’t overfold.
7. Divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake for about 25 minutes, until the batter feels just set in the center. Remove from the oven, then let cool for a few minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin and let cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.
For the German chocolate frosting
3/4 cup (180 ml) evaporated milk (whole milk)
1/4 cup (60 g) packed light brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (30 g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
2 ounces (55 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups (110 g) sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted
1 cup (125 g) chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: Additional toasted coconut, for a garnish
1. Whisk together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a medium saucepan.
2. Add the butter, then cook the mixture, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula over medium heat, like a custard, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spatula. Do not let boil.
3. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the chocolate, stirring gently until melted. Then stir in the coconut, pecans, and vanilla. (If using unsweetened coconut, you can add an additional teaspoon of brown sugar if it’s not sweet enough, to your taste.)
4. Let cool to room temperature, then use the frosting to ice the cupcakes, topping the cupcakes with a bit of toasted coconut as a garnish after you ice them, if you wish.
Note: For those of you who can’t get buttermilk, you can use a similar quantity of whole milk plain yogurt or sour cream, Or mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice with 1/2 cup (125 ml) whole milk and let it sit 10 minutes.
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