I have come to a truce with coconut. We weren't really ever at war, or even at odds. This is more about my automatic, outright rejection of trends. I'm not a bandwagon person. If masses of people are saying XYZ is totally awesome or that ABC will change your life, or that you should really trying doing such-and-such activity or read this amazing book, I'm going to run in the opposite direction. It's the way I'm wired. And so it goes with coconut, the seeming superfood panacea of these past few years.
Incidentally, this predisposition also explains my itinerant blogging, something I've also made peace with in the past year. I resisted for so long, simply because so many other people were doing it. It didn't feel authentic, or legitimate, or useful. I also didn't really think I had anything worth adding to what feels often like a loud, cluttered conversation; however, the fact that the conversation often includes poorly written recipes helped push me over the edge. I've emerged from that and I'm here now.
What were we talking about? Oh yeah, coconuts.
Like many suburban kids of the '80s, my first encounter with coconut came via mini Almond Joys and Mounds bars intentionally forgotten at the bottom of our Halloween trick-or-treating pillowcases. For me, it has always been a texture issue. Dessicated coconut—even writing that descriptive makes me cringe—does not appeal to me. Give me coconut milk in a mild green curry, and I'm all for it. Quench my thirst with some slightly sweet coconut water on a hot day or after a great yoga class? I'm on it. I've added coconut oil to the cooking oil shelf and I'm a happy camper, even if it means when I want to bake with it, I have to melt it first for easy incorporation. I've even anachronistically walked around with a straw in a coconut (thanks, Melissa's Produce) in winter, sipping its sweet nectar. When I make date balls, I typically skip the "roll in coconut" step. Give me scratchy-dry coconut flakes on top of something, and I will spit it out. It's the culinary equivalent of nails on the chalkboard.
We are living in a coconutty age. When I was a kid, such encounters with them were not commonplace. (Let's not forget nutrition science is a young one, people.) My shift can be traced back to my friend Conor, whose evangelical zeal for them is infectious. I vowed to explore them in earnest, with an open mind. I ended up buying coconut flour and using what felt like an endless number of eggs earlier this spring, for coconut cupcakes. I folded coconut flakes into the batter, and spread them with chocolate ganache topped with coconut. And toasted almonds. If dessicated coconut was going to be involved, it was going to be on my terms.
I didn't fall head over heels in love with coconuts after this experience, but it palpably shifted my perspective. Someone recently told me that our tastebuds are constantly rebooting; what a hopeful, expansive concept. I like to make a practice of revisiting previous assumptions about likes, dislikes, beliefs and aversions, especially when it comes to food. Imagine what kind of world we'd live in if we all did this every once in a while, in even just one aspect of our lives?
And that's what brings me to these cupcakes, which are loosely adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World but which are almost vegan. I had the brainstorm for chocolate cupcakes infused with coconut-flecked chai. I found my match at Wegmans in the bulk tea section with an organic chocolate chai. If you don't have that at your disposal, just use regular, good-quality looseleaf chai and contemplate adding a teaspoon or so of unsweetened shredded coconut to it during steeping. I'll offer you some final words of wisdom. Coconut and coconut flour suck up moisture like nobody's business, so if the batter seems too dense, be prepared to add a couple more tablespoons of almond milk or, better yet, some of that freshly brewed chai tea. It'll look more loose but it won't be runny.
Chocolate Coconut Chai Cupcakes
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
- 1/3 cup coconut flour
- 1/4 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut (the brand I bought was Let's Do Organic)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. ginger
- 1/4 tsp. cloves
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup almond milk (or soy)
- 2 T. looseleaf chocolate chai with coconut, or some variant thereof
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a cupcake pan or butter and flour it. Note: you will likely need more than one cupcake pan.
- Sift together all the dry ingredients (all-purpose flour through salt) into a medium bowl.
- Set the almond milk over medium-high heat and bring it to a near rolling boil. Drop in the looseleaf tea, which you've put either in bags or in a tea baller (I filled and used 2 tea ballers.) Turn off the heat and cover it, letting it steep for 10 minutes.
- Whisk to combine the sugar, coconut oil, yogurt and vanilla in a large bowl. When the tea is finished, pour it into a measuring cup and if there isn't enough to equal 1 cup, add more soy milk. Add tea tea to the sugar-coconut oil mix, whisking to combine. Slowly add the sifted flour, stirring until no large lumps remain. If the mixture looks too dense like it did for me, add a couple tablespoons of almond milk or brewed chai.
- Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 to 3/4 full and bake for 16-18 minutes. These will be dense little babies and you may not get a crumb on a toothpick when you test for doneness, but the tops will look pretty solid. Remove to a wire rack, let them cool for 10 minutes and then remove from the pan to cool completely.
- Frost till your heart's content. I wanted to do a coconut cream frosting but had neither enough cream cheese nor fresh coconut milk (mine had spoiled in the fridge). Instead, I made chocolate buttercream and sprinkled some of that super fine coconut on top.