Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Birthday Cake

If I had been Oscar Hammerstein II, I would have included birthday cake in “My Favorite Things” when I was writing the lyrics for The Sound of Music. And if Richard Rogers gave me any guff, I would have had him fired. This is how much I love birthday cake.

My mom used to get me a coconut cake every year. It was the rule in our house that the person whose birthday it was had first dibs on the leftover cake for breakfast the next morning. Of course, this rule wasn’t always obeyed, and we kids found ourselves getting up earlier and earlier the day after each birthday. When I moved out on my own, not having a birthday cake was one of the things I truly missed. I shied away from buying an entire cake for myself, knowing full well I’d eat the whole thing, and, really, it never occurred to me until recently to bake my own cake.

When I turned 40, Dan threw me a wonderful surprise party at one of my favorite restaurants― because he didn’t want me to have to clean anything up. That was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received! Dan got me a carrot cake from Portos, my favorite bakery. When I say this is the best bakery in the universe, I am not employing hyperbole. It’s family owned and operated, and there is always a long line no matter what day or time you go. However crazy it gets, and it gets really crazy, the people working behind the counters never get irritated and are always extremely kind and patient. As long as I’ve been going there, they’ve never once screwed up an order.

The Portos carrot cake, while delicious, has raisins. I eat raisins only by themselves or with nuts; I don’t like them in cookies, cakes, cereal or muffins.  That’s the only downside to that cake. It has pineapple and coconut and is topped with the only cream cheese frosting I’ve ever eaten that doesn’t make my teeth hurt.

I decided to try my hand at my own version of the Portos carrot cake―in cupcake form. I left out the raisins and the walnuts and I made a buttercream frosting instead of a cream cheese one. Feel free to make these even when it’s not your birthday, because I think it’s safe to say that every day there is someone somewhere celebrating the passing of another year.

Carrot-Coconut Cupcakes with Toasted Coconut Buttercream Frosting
Makes a dozen cupcakes

Keep an eye on the coconut when you’re toasting it. It can go from almost golden to scorched in a matter of seconds. Speaking from experience here again, kids.

Canola oil spray (if not using baking cups)
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
⅓ cup canola oil
¼ cup light coconut milk
¾ cup sugar
½ cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups peeled, grated carrot (about 3 medium carrots)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1½ cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare muffin pan by lining with baking cups or lightly greasing and flouring.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, eggs, coconut milk and vanilla. Stir in grated carrots and coconut. Spoon batter into muffin cups until ¾ full and bake 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer muffins to rack to cool completely, which takes about an hour. Make sure cupcakes have cooled completely before attempting to frost. Touch them. If they are the slightest bit warm, step away. If you try to frost them when they are even the slightest bit warm, you will end up crying.
4. For the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, beat together butter and confectioner’s sugar in ½-cup increments, followed by some coconut milk with each sugar addition. Keep repeating the sugar/coconut milk additions and taste after each one. You don’t want heart-attack-caliber sweetness here. When all ingredients have been combined, mix in vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of the toasted coconut and mix to combine. Frost each cupcake and top with remaining toasted coconut. The butter in the frosting will melt, so refrigerate if you’re not serving these right away; same with the leftovers. They’ll be okay, covered, in the fridge for a few days.

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