Baked Sunday Mornings: Coconut Snowball Cupcakes

It's another week of going rogue for me! The recipe on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule today is Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins. I loved the muffins when I made them last year and you can read my blog post about them here. Instead, I decided to make the Coconut Snowball Cupcakes from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Because I was bringing the cupcakes to a friend's Fourth of July barbecue, I decided to decorate them to look like eagles to fit with the patriotic theme (I certainly didn't come up with this design; I saw it in a online slideshow of Fourth of July desserts).

These cupcakes are the gentlemen bakers' homage to the Hostess Sno Ball; they have coconut cake filled with coconut pastry cream and topped with coconut buttercream. Because it requires time to chill, I made the coconut pastry cream first. You're supposed to steep unsweetened coconut in half and half by simmering them together for 20 minutes, with the pot covered. I had a bad boil over and topped off my mixture with some heavy cream (I was out of half and half) and more coconut before bringing it back up to a simmer with the lid slightly ajar. I strained the half and half and used it to temper a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, flour, and salt, before adding the eggs back into the half and half and cooking the custard until it was thickened. I took the mixture off the heat, added vanilla, and put it through a sieve. I gave the pastry cream a taste and didn't think the coconut flavor was very strong, so I added a few drops of natural coconut extract before pressing plastic wrap on top of the custard and putting it in the fridge. Even after it was thoroughly chilled, it was still pretty loose.

While I was making the coconut cake, I recognized it as a variation of the white cake recipe that is the basis of the Baked Whiteout Cake and many others. You beat shortening with room temperature butter; add sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy; add an egg; alternately add the sifted dry ingredients (cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) and ice water; fold in egg whites that have been beaten with cream of tartar to soft peaks; and incorporate sweetened, shredded coconut. I divided the batter between two lined cupcake tins to get two dozen cupcakes.
My cupcakes did not rise much in the oven, and they had relatively flat tops that did not extend much above the top of the cupcake liners. But I didn't mind, because it worked out well for the eagle design I had envisioned.

The buttercream for the cupcakes is the coconut version of the standard Baked cooked flour frosting. You cook sugar, flour, heavy cream, and milk until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens; beat it until cool; incorporate softened butter; and add vanilla and some of the coconut pastry cream. I cored all of the cupcakes and filled them with chilled pastry cream and then used a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip to pipe on the buttercream. I sprinkled sweetened shredded coconut on the frosting and added whole cashews for the beak and black pearl sprinkles for the eyes. While the cupcakes easily could have passed for melting snowmen, I was really pleased with the way they turned out.

These cupcakes were delicious, with a tender and moist crumb. Because the coconut flavor in the pastry cream wasn't that strong, the frosting also wasn't that coconutty - although of course the sweetened coconut in the cake itself and on top of the buttercream delivered a lot of coconut flavor. My favorite part about the cupcakes was the smooth and decadent pastry cream filling. I almost wished that the cupcakes were topped with pastry cream instead of frosting, like the Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream. But the pastry cream wasn't thick enough to keep its shape or use as frosting; it would have run off of the top of the cupcakes. I did have some leftover pastry cream after assembling the cupcakes and Tom and I slathered it generously on our cupcakes as we ate them.

While the pastry cream filling requires refrigeration, the frosting gets hard when it's chilled and definitely has the best texture and flavor at room temperature. So I store the assembled cupcakes in the fridge but brought them fully up to room temperature before serving. The cupcakes were a hit at the barbecue, both for their taste and the whimsical design.

Recipe: "Coconut Snowball Cupcakes" from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.