Valentine’s day: Double rainbow coconut cupcakes
I’ve never cared much about Valentine’s Day, one way or the other. I don’t moon over a romantic evening or loudly proclaim that it’s some corporate bullshit designed to play on our tender emotions in order to get us to buy diamonds and chocolate. I’d rather get worked up over something important, like getting blue-shelled at the end of a Mario Kart race. Even though Saint Valentine was a pretty cool guy, Charlie and I take the opportunity to spend some time together and maybe eat some excellent food, rather than buying gifts.
As usual, though, I decided to bake my heart out and charm Charlie with something neither of us should be eating. In general, we eat pretty healthy, so I like to use as much butter and sugar as possible when I make a treat. I’d had this recipe for Double Rainbow Coconut Cupcakes from the wonderful Bake It in a Cake website saved on my computer for months. If you would like to salivate over some amazing recipes, go there. She literally bakes things into cakes and cupcakes. It’s genius.
The recipe is immensely complicated, which is part of the reason I chose it. Baking feels natural to me — with all its exact measurements, way easier than cooking — so I like to try something difficult and see if I can do it without screwing up too badly. And this recipe has MARZIPAN RAINBOWS baked inside coconut cupcakes, topped with buttercream frosting and rainbow coconut. It needed three and a half sticks of butter. The only answer is yes.
A warning: If you want to make this yourself, marzipan is EXPENSIVE. I paid $14 for two packages, which only made 12 cupcakes. Another warning: Cream of coconut is near impossible to find. I tried three different grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. On the morning I planned to make the cupcakes, I drove back to Safeway with my hair disheveled and without having eaten breakfast and tried to recall all the research I’d done. At last, I found a sad, discounted squeeze-bottle of coconut cream next to the liquors — in addition to baking, it’s also used to make piña coladas. I went home triumphant, rolled up my sleeves, and began.
Marzipan is almond candy dough. I divided it into six sections, and started to dye them. I had no idea how much food coloring to use, so just squeezed some on and started smooshing it around like Play-doh. The red made my hands look like I’d murdered someone. It was fun as hell, even though it took an immense amount of time. I kept having to stop and wash my hands to keep the colors from bleeding and to sprinkle powdered sugar to keep the marzipan from getting too sticky.
Then, I had to roll out the each of the colors into long strips, which I’d then stack in order to make the rainbows. I don’t have a rolling pin, so I did the civilized thing and rolled the dough into little snakes with my hands, then used a plastic cup and my fingers to roll it flat. I’m completely incapable of measuring anything spatially, so I used a tape measure to make sure each strip was as close as possible to the 12 inches x 2 inches the recipe recommended. The dough stretched and broke a lot, and I worried that the rainbows wouldn’t look very cute and ALL WOULD BE LOST.
I trimmed the end and the sides with a butter knife to make right angles, anxiety-eating most of the leftover dough as I went. Then, I cut the rainbows into 12 pieces. I shouldn’t have worried, because they turned out so fucking cute.
The recipe had called for toasted coconut. While on my quest for cream of coconut, I’d looked for pre-toasted coconut, but I have no idea if that actually exists. I never did find it. How hard could it be to toast my own coconut? While I was playing with the dough, I’d put a cup of coconut on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for five minutes at a time, according to the internet. I used a near-empty bag of coconut that had been in my pantry for longer than I care to admit — I figured it would be safe after it had been toasted, then baked. The coconut was done after only ten minutes. It probably could have toasted longer, but I was afraid it would burn.
Next, I mixed the dough and poured it into the cupcake pan, two tablespoons at a time. I used skim milk rather than the whole milk the recipe called for, as if that made up for the three and a half sticks of butter. I’d also used wheat flour — not because it’s healthy, but because I’m lazy and it’s what I had on hand. Then, I pressed the rainbows into the batter. They looked enormous, especially on top of the two tablespoons of batter in each cup. The cups nearly overflowed even before I topped the rainbows with dough.
The recipe told me I shouldn’t press the rainbows all the way down to the bottom, but I had to press them in a little to keep the dough from running over. All my alarm bells were going off like YOU ARE SCREWING IT ALL UP but there was no stopping the rainbow cupcake train. I put the cupcakes in the oven.
While the cupcakes baked, I started to dye the coconut for the topping. I almost skipped this step because it’s so pointless, but I knew it would be so effing adorable that I couldn’t resist. My food coloring is made of gel; I couldn’t get it to mix with the coconut. I decided to mix the gel with water, and dumped the water in the coconut. It was pretty and soggy. The coconut probably wasn’t supposed to be wet, but at least it looked good.
I whipped together the butter and powdered sugar to make the buttercream frosting, and checked on the cupcakes. They were HUGE. I sat in front of the oven and watched the batter creep toward the edges of the pan like it was going to fall off a cliff. It was all very dire. After 25 minutes, I pulled the cupcakes out. The kitchen smelled incredible, but they were some ugly, lopsided fuckers. I could see the rainbow peeping through the wrappers and worried that the marzipan had melted.
Feeling disheartened, worried that I’d wasted too much time and money on this ridiculous idea, I was decidedly un-Valentiney. Once the cupcakes were cool, I frosted them and sprinkled the dyed coconut on top in miniature rainbows. They were cute as fuck, even if they still looked a little wonky and I had no idea how they would taste.
Turns out, there was a reason to warn against pushing the rainbows all the way down. The marzipan had sank to the bottom of the cupcake and fused to the wrappers. If you were careful, you could peel the wrapper off and only eat a minimal amount of paper. But dear sweet Saint Valentine did they taste incredible.
It took me three hours to bake and nearly 45 minutes to clean up the kitchen, but I believe Charlie’s exact words were, “Holy shit.” That’s love. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.
Postscript: For next time, I’d use white flour. It would be so much prettier that way. I’d also cut the rainbows much smaller so they won’t stick to the bottom, and make smaller cupcakes. I ended up with a lot of extra dough, but I’d run out of cupcake wrappers. I had so much extra that I attempted to make more plain cupcakes AND a cake, both of which stuck to the pan. I ended up digging pieces of them out with my fingers and dipping them in the extra buttercream, then throwing the rest away. It was after midnight before I awoke from my sugar coma and was able to eat normal food.