Inspiration comes from everywhere:
- the quick lunch that you grabbed on your way to a meeting (such as a Fresh & Co. Steak and Fontina Panini that turned into Steak Crisps with Caper Aioli),
- an empty-handed search all over the city (I ended up making my own version: Guinness Caramel Cupcakes…also perfect for Oktoberfest!),
- an Amsterdam Brown Cafes photography series (explore Dutch cuisine with Ingrid’s traditional family recipe for Semolina Pudding), and
- an imaginary trip around Asia (I created Chicken Skewers with Mango Tamarind Coulis for a culinary journey to China, India and the Philippines in the Passport to Asia Tasting Benefit)…although, this will no longer be imaginary! I will be taking you with me on my Asia trek over the next two months through photos and videos on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
This time inspiration came from helping the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.
Lillian (Sweets by Sillianah) organized the Bake Sale for Japan in NYC back in April. I cannot say enough good things about Lillian, just that I’m surprised that she is not a project manager. Having led a Program Management Office, I can only say that I would want her on my team any day! If you need to hire an event coordinator you should definitely get in touch with her.
I excitedly brought Apple Caramel Cupcakes to Brooklyn Flea for the bake sale. Not only was this a chance to raise funds for Japan, but it was also the first time I would be meeting other food bloggers in person! It felt like the first day of high school, when you hope the other kids will like you and that your locker doesn’t jam up. (On my real first day of high school I struggled with the combination lock for a good 30 minutes–how embarrassing!)
It was also a wonderful way to interact with people, and observe how they reacted to various flavors. One woman practically squealed in delight when she saw Lemon Coconut Cupcakes. I had never really stopped to think about combining lemon and coconut together, but after that I was curious! So I made a mental note to tinker with my version of a Lemon Coconut cupcake.
I knew that I wanted to have a bright tangy lemon cupcake base and a creamy coconut frosting. I wanted them to be distinct. Delicious enough to hold their own, yet even better when they combine in that one tasty bite. Because of this, I purposely did not combine the two flavors in the cupcake base.
The lemon cupcake base needed to be easy. If you know me by now, you’ll know that I try to figure out ways to reduce steps and the need for extra equipment. If I use a complicated technique or the mixer, it’s because that’s the only way to get an ideal result. This also means that I made this cupcake many, many times while recipe testing. Friends and family were the lucky (or unlucky?) recipients of “not quite there yet” versions, and the really bad tests went straight to the garbage. Yes, I botch up too!
The great thing about screwing something up is that it is the best way to learn. Similar to a science experiment, pinpoint why it turned out that way and figure out how to fix it for next time. It’s like life. Except “next time” was only 5 minutes later as I washed the pans to bake test batch #7.
Keep in mind the following when you make these moist and creamy cupcakes:
- Weigh the flour, or stir the flour then lightly spoon it into the measuring cup (if you scoop up the flour with the measuring cup you will have 25% extra flour, making the cupcakes dry).
- Make sure to use the lemon zest, it contains lemon oil that provides the bright lemon notes (I know, it’s an extra step…but well worth it!).
- Use a good zester (I personally love Microplane) so that you do not pick up the bitter white pith underneath the zest.
- Follow the recipe and add the cream, lemon juice and eggs separately. Mixing the cream and lemon juice together creates a buttermilk effect. Buttermilk is wonderful for making a cake tender, but too much will make the cake mushy. Add these ingredients in the order provided because the flour needs to absorb the fat from the cream first.
- Do not over mix the batter. Otherwise gluten will form and your cake will be tough.
- Room temperature softened butter means that when you press it, you leave a light indentation instead of being able to poke all the way through. If the butter is too soft, the frosting will be runny and hard to work with.
How about you? What has inspired your cooking and baking? Are there any lessons learned that you could share with me in the comments below?
Lemon Coconut Cupcakes
Makes 18 cupcakes
2 cups (218 grams) cake flour
1 cup (220 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest (approx. 2 lemons)
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 eggs, room temperature
Double the ingredients below if you like a lot of frosting
1 stick (113 grams; 1/ pound) butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 – 4 tablespoons cream of coconut
1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
Unsweetened dried coconut flakes (for garnish)
Pre-heat the oven to 350F and line 18 muffin tins with cupcake liners.
In a large bowl, hand whisk together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the lemon zest.
Add the heavy cream, canola oil and vanilla to the flour mixture. Use the whisk to mix until just combined.
Add the lemon juice. Use the whisk to mix until just combined.
Add the eggs. Use the whisk to mix until just combined.
Spoon (or use an ice cream scooper) the batter into the cupcake liners. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out with crumbs (instead of wet batter).
Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting (approximately 1 hour).
To make the frosting:
Using an electric mixer (use the beater blade/paddle attachment if you have a stand mixer), mix together the butter and salt until creamy (approximately 30 seconds). Mix the cream of coconut can contents using a spoon because the cream and liquid is often separated when you open it. Add the vanilla and 3 tablespoons cream of coconut. Mix until just incorporated. Mix in the confectioner’s sugar 1/2 cup at a time. If the frosting looks too dry, add 1 more tablespoon of cream of coconut. (If you add too much, it will become runny and hard to work with.)
Frost the cupcakes and top with the coconut flakes.