Friday, April 29, 2011

happy springtime cupcakes

post-easter salvation for chocolate eggs everywhere

Nothing conjures up images of Easter quite like the ubiquitous egg.  This is not sacrilege, this is truth.  Forget the fact that eggs are a daily occurrence for most of us.  Much like turkey belongs to Thanksgiving, we are quick to disassociate the egg’s presence in daily life the moment post-Easter Monday rolls around.  Likewise, Easter candy after Easter requires immediate attention.  We do what any self-respecting person would do and promptly devour it, to destroy the evidence; and then we go back to eating eggs without fanfare.


I had every intention of sharing this recipe last week.  But spring break happened, a trip to Oregon to visit my mom, then a lice scare (fortunately, a false alarm).  I figured I could still make it happen on Saturday when, Easter plans be damned, my daughter came down with the flu.  Aside from obvious concern for my sick girl, this plaintive call to drop everything was a blessed relief. 

We passed over Easter finery in favor of loungewear and slippers, skipped church, popped jelly beans and chocolate eggs at regular intervals, and sang along with Deborah Kerr in ‘The King and I’, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  In other words, we broke from tradition and reveled in it. 

Aside from its obvious cuteness, the following recipe has a lot going for it.  Dense, buttery, vanilla bean-flecked cake boasts a thick layer of luscious buttercream with three candy coated chocolate eggs nestled atop toasted green coconut ‘grass’.  What’s not to love?

In everyday life, I devoutly shun artificial coloring and milk chocolate in favor of food au natural and dark chocolate in all its flavonoid-touted glory.  Easter affords me a temporary lapse into adolescent devil-may-care bliss and unless candy companies come up with a reasonable alternative, I intend to indulge my inner child as well as my actual child once a year, when spring rolls around.  Besides, it’s the last pit-stop before the holiday dry spell which is briefly intercepted by Independence Day and months later gives up the ghost with Halloween.

The nesting egg cupcake is not just for Easter, mind you.  Call it a spring confection and scoop up those discounted bags of Cadbury mini chocolate eggs before it’s too late.  Jelly beans and other candy coated eggs are suitable stand-ins; but those matte, speckled Cadbury eggs have an unmistakable ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality.  Paired with buttery vanilla cake, silky buttercream frosting and toasted coconut, the Cadbury eggs’ crackly sweet shell and creamy milk chocolate interior make for an irresistible pairing of flavors and textures. 

These cupcakes are a happy springtime tradition at our house.  I first baked them eight years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter.  They were especially appropriate that year, given I was in the final weeks of my pregnancy and doing some serious nesting of my own.  I have tried a few different cake recipes and settled on Alice Water’s 1-2-3-4 Cake.  It is foolproof and has served me well in both cupcake and cake form.  The buttercream frosting is simple and delicious and the coconut is toasted and yes, dyed green (because, why not live a little). 

Happy spring, happy baking!

nesting egg cupcakes



1 cup
unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar (I prefer bakers’s sugar, aka caster sugar)
3 cups sifted unbleached white flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup milk


3 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon good quality vanilla extract
1 – 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt


coconut ‘grass’
1 – 1/2 cups sweetened coconut, fancy shred (preferred) or angel flake
green and blue food coloring

1 – 18 ounce bag (or 72) Cadbury mini eggs (substitute jellybeans, etc…)



Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut the butter into small pieces.  Place in a large bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until very light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat again until the mixture is light yellow and fluffy.  Next, add the egg yolks, beating just until combined.  Add the vanilla extract.  With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the bowl.  Mix well. 

In two parts, add the flour and milk to the butter mixture.  First stir in about half of the sifted flour.  Pour in about half the milk and gently mix that into the batter.  Stir in the remaining flour and finally, pour in the rest of the milk, gently stirring to incorporate. 

In a metal bowl, beat the egg whites into soft peaks with a whisk or mixer.  Add a spoonful of egg white to the batter, stirring gently to lighten the batter.  Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites, preferably with a large rubber spatula, just until mixed in. 


Divide the batter between 24 muffin cups, each about 2/3 full.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cakes are very lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Frost generously with buttercream frosting and decorate, as desired.


buttercream frosting
In a large bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, vanilla and salt.  Beat at medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes.

coconut ‘grass’
Place coconut in sealable gallon-size plastic bag.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, mix 3 –4 drops green and 1 – 2 drops blue food coloring with 1 tablespoon water.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle the food coloring mixture over the coconut, seal the bag and shake to incorporate.  Add more diluted food coloring, as desired. 

Spread the coconut evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Toast on low-broil, stirring every minute or two, until some pieces are lightly browned, 5 – 10 minutes.  Monitor closely to prevent burning.  Cool on foil until needed.

When the cupcakes have cooled, frost immediately using an offset metal spatula or spreader (without a serrated edge).  Place a large dollop in the center of each cupcake, working outward in a circular motion.  Position three chocolate eggs in the center.  Sprinkle the surrounding frosting with toasted coconut.  As a rule, cupcakes are best the same day, but these keep well overnight, once frosted.   

Cake recipe adapted from Alice Waters’ 1-2-3-4 cake recipe, found in ‘Birthday Cakes’ by Kathryn Kleinman.

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