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Martha Stewart’s Coconut Cupcakes and the Frosting that Changed my Life

4 Feb

Over the past few years especially, coconut, and namely the type of fat it contains, has become overwhelmingly controversial in terms of health and nutritional value.  There is no disputing the impressive vitamin (most notably folate), and even more so, mineral (very high in manganese, with a good amount of copper and selenium) and amino acid profile of these fruits, known as “drupes,” hailing from the palm family, but the fact that they are comprised of a generous ratio of saturated fat to carbohydrate and protein is what concerns some health conscious individuals and experts.

True, saturated fat has been touted as the “evil” fat said to raise levels of “bad” cholesterol in the body known as LDL cholesterol, and contribute to obesity, and for the most part, that is accurate.  However, what is rarely mentioned is the presence of different types of saturated fats, which vary greatly based upon their size.  Saturated fatty acids, or triglycerides, appear in foods as short chain, medium chain, or long chain fatty acid chains.  The problem with the typical American diet is that it contains way too many long chain saturated fatty acids, found in meats, dairy, and even some plant sources of fat, which are tough for the body to break down and convert to energy.  Coconut, on the other hand, as well as palm kernel oil, contains medium chain saturated fatty acids, which are thought to be used by the body much differently.  According to some research, medium chain fatty acids are more easily oxidized by the liver to produce energy, causing less of the fat to be stored long term in the body.

The bottom line here is not that the saturated fat in coconut would be recommended over unsaturated fatty acids like those found in foods like avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, and various seeds which raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol in the body, but that it serves as a better replacement for other saturated fats that are already in the diet.  So, don’t feel like you have to steer clear of coconut because of the fat content in order to feel “healthy”!  Some fat in the diet is absolutely necessary for a healthfully functioning body, and the satiety factor we need to feel full and nourished.

Make some healthy substitutions every once in awhile, like for instance, drink coconut milk occasionally instead of your usual 2% dairy milk, or bake with coconut milk rather than butter, and you could be doing yourself a favor with a little health boost!  Go ahead and make a batch of these coconut cupcakes and enjoy (*cough* Super Bowl Party!! *cough*)…I’m not claiming these cupcakes are health food by any stretch, but let’s face it, coconut tastes awesome, too – just don’t go overboard!

Or, if you prefer freshy, citrusy lemon, you might enjoy Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cupcakes instead!

Martha Stewart’s Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream Frosting

These are dense, hearty little cupcakes.  My favorite part of the recipe is that it includes ground coconut in the batter, and can easily be made dairy-free!  Ok, that’s one of my favorite parts, the other is the frosting.   The cupcake recipe is from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes, but the frosting is all my own… it changed my life…it’s THAT good! 🙂  Sprinkle with sweetened shredded coconut, unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut flakes, or just leave them as is!  I used sweetened shredded coconut since that’s what I had on hand, but I gazed longingly at the photo of Martha’s version with its large, glorious, luxurious-looking flakes, and wished I could have used those instead!  I urge you to do so, if you get the chance…and then send me photos!

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
* 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, or dairy-free butter spread like Earth Balance
* 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
* 2 large eggs + 2 egg whites
* 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk, from either a can or carton
* Coconut Buttercream Frosting (below)
* Sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut or coconut flakes for topping

Frosting:
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or dairy-free butter spread
* 1/4 cup Coconut butter (the thick portion at the top of the coconut milk can, or pre-made coconut butter in a jar)
* About 2-3 cups confectioner’s sugar
* Dash of salt
* 1 tsp vanilla extract
* 1/2 tsp coconut extract

Directions:

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350*, and line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Grind sweetened coconut shreds in a coffee grinder or food processor until finely ground, and stir into flour mixture.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, cream butter or dairy-free butter spread and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the whole eggs, egg whites, and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture, alternating with additions of coconut milk until everything is combined. Don’t overmix!

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each just about full. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan half-way through cooking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and turn out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:
Cream together the butter or dairy-free butter spread and coconut butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Slowly add in the dash of salt and confectioner’s sugar by the spoonful until course, crumbly mixture forms. Add in the vanilla extract and coconut extract. Beat frosting until smooth, adding more confectioner’s sugar if the frosting is too thin, and more vanilla extract, coconut extract, or splash of milk of choice if it’s too thick.

Slather with frosting, and top with coconut shreds or flakes at your own discretion….

…I’m still finding coconut shreds in places I didn’t know existed, so fair warning – Coconut bombs are a very real situation!

Disclaimer:

I am NOT a licensed or certified nutritionist or registered dietician.  I am NOT currently, but am on my way to becoming, a certified personal trainer.  I do, however, hold a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with an emphasis in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior, as well as a strong interest in holistic and medical nutrition, especially as it applies to the prevention of disease, but PLEASE consult your doctor or a registered dietician for more comprehensive and tailored diet, fitness, and health information if you have health concerns or questions regarding any of the topics I discuss.  I am simply expressing my knowledge and opinions based upon my own research, reading, and education within the health, fitness, and science fields.

That being said, I hope you enjoy what I write and maybe learn something interesting along the way.  Thank you!

Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

14 Jan

2012 is shaping up to be a busy year.  So far in January:

San Francisco.

Roadtrip – Sacramento –> LA.   LA –> Sacramento.

Engagement photoshoot for my brother & his fiancee in Santa Monica, CA.

Began a fitness certification course (more on that later!)

Was reunited with the most awesome lab group of all time.

Back on board the half-marathon training plan + gym routine.

Jumped on the winter citrus train & made these cupcakes!

Lemon cupcakes, to be exact!  They come from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes, a book that was gifted to me by a friend who truly understands just how much I love little cakes with pretty frosting ( a lot!).  The photos in this book are incredible – bright, vibrant, beautiful – everything I aspire to achieve when embarking on my own food photo endeavors.  Love you, Martha!

I’ll be the first to admit my cupcakes don’t look a thing like hers…mostly because she has awesome pro photographers – I mean, check out that photo!! – while I’m a photo rookie, but also because I topped mine with lemon pudding and lemon buttercream frosting rather than the lemon curd and meringue frosting in the recipe.

I know, I know.  Lemon meringue cupcakes without the meringue are like…..lemon cupcakes.  Mmhmm.  Profound!

I went for a more simple approach, but don’t hold that against these lemony little gems!  Lemons, limes, grapefruit & oranges are definitely in full-swing right now.  I love how bright and sunny these little cakes are, perfect for those of you who are talking about snow & freezing temps where you’re at!

PS: I feel for you, because even though it’s been uncharacteristically warm & sunny for January here in Nor Cal, I still find myself piling on the blankets, guzzling hot coffee, and dreaming of summer weather!

Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cupcakes (with Lemon pudding & Buttercream)

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

* 3 Cups All-purpose flour
* 1 Tbsp Baking powder
* 1/2 tsp Salt
* 1 Cup (2 Sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 2 Cups Sugar
* 4 Large eggs, room temperature
* Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (3 Tbsp)
* 2 Tbsp Fresh lemon juice
* 1 tsp Pure vanilla extract
* 1 Cup Buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk, so I used plain milk)

Pudding:

* 1 Small Box Lemon flavored Jell-o Pudding
* 2 Cups Cold milk

Lemon Buttercream Frosting:

(I don’t have a set recipe for this, I adjust as I go – so here’s my best account of what I used!)
* 1 Stick Butter
* 3 Cups Confectioner’s sugar
* 1 Tbsp Vanilla extract
* Dash of Salt
* 1-2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
* 1-2 Tbsp Milk

Topping: 1 Tbsp lemon zest + clear sugar sprinkles

Directions:

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 325*F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to incorporate between each. Beat in zest and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with 2 additions of milk and lemon juice, beating until just combined after each addition.
Just about fill each lined cup with batter. Bake until slightly golden brown on top, about 25 minutes. I slightly overbaked mine (not on purpose!) So don’t do that.
As soon as possible, remove cupcakes from tin and allow to cool on a cooling rack completely before frosting.

Once cool, core the cupcakes and fill with pudding if you wish.  I simple piled it on top and piped on the frosting.  Top with fresh lemon zest & sparkly sugar sprinkles.

For the Pudding:

Follow the directions on the box, stir pudding mix into cold milk, continuing to stir for about 5 minutes until set up.

For the Frosting:

Beat room temperature butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Add confectioner’s sugar a few Tbsp at a time to allow everything to combine. Add the dash of salt and vanilla extract. Continue adding confectioner’s sugar, alternating with additions of the milk and lemon juice until frosting comes together. Add more milk if you like thinner frosting, and less if you like thicker frosting. Simple!

Currently reading: The February 2012 issue of InStyle Magazine

Currently listening to: The Pretty Reckless – “Just Tonight”  Obsessed!  Anyone else??

Currently snacking on: Hazelnuts!

Currently cuddling with:  This little guy!

Eventually: A sunny jog =)

Happy Saturday!