Hooray for birthdays! Recently I sung the praises of my own celebration (San Francisco Edition!), and this past week brought the stateside birthday of my dear friend. I always get a bit excited when someone wants to spend some of their special day with me (heck, I'm still excited that people this amazing want to hang out with me on normal weekdays), and after being treated to an amazing birthday of my own, I wanted to pay it forward a bit. And oh, it did not disappoint.
We spent much of the afternoon swooning over a ridiculously amazing lunch—watching Brussels sprouts being shaved to order, drawing bites of nettle dumplings through a creamy walnut-studded sauce, and spearing delicious forkfuls of seared sweet scallop and juicy mandarinquats. I will be dreaming of this for some time to come. We talked and laughed and dreamed of traveling to a place where leisurely meals of such simple elegance are the norm (a place, I believe, called "Europe"), and sipped our way through a few glasses of txakoli. Then we walked home, and while the birthday girl went down for a birthday nap, I baked up some cupcakes.
I got the idea for these cupcakes from this Food52 recipe (by Raspberry Eggplant), which practically dares you not to make it. Chocolate cake + Thai spices? Holycrap! But since we were heading to a bar later, cupcakes seemed to be a more user-friendly format. So I pulled together my favorite batter and frosting recipes (the ones I used for the chocolate version of my wedding cupcakes), and gave them a healthy helping of Thai flavor. And the results just about knocked me out.
I added a scoop of Thai curry paste to the moist chocolate cupcakes, which not only added the usual chilies-and-chocolate flavor, but a floral edge from the aromatics and just the slightest savory note from the long-cooked shallots. And for the frosting, I pulled out a crazy-involved buttercream I fell in love with during my wedding cupcake prep—not too sweet, not too buttery, never crusting or melting and just perfect all around (except for the fact that it's a piece of work). I scented it with a bit of the standard vanilla, but made things even more fun with finely-grated lemongrass, keffir lime zest, galanga root and Thai basil.
I tend to expect more out of birthdays (and, to be honest, most things in life) than is reasonable, and thus am often primed for an emotional disappointment on the big day. But these cupcakes are suited to making even the highest birthday hopes come true—at least when it comes to dessert. Birthdays should always be so sweet.
Chocolate Thai Curry Cupcakes
inspired by Food52, cupcakes adapted from Gourmet, frosting adapted from The Cake Bible
yields 18 cupcakes
1 1/2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped to bits
1 Tbsp Thai curry paste
3/4 cup hot coffee
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 small eggs (or 1 1/2 large eggs)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp neutral oil, such as canola
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 300, and line 18 muffin cups with liners.
Place the chocolate and curry paste in a heatproof bowl, and pour the hot coffee over them. Let sit, stirring every now and then, until the chocolate melts.
In a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, beat the eggs until light-colored and thick, ~3-5 minutes. Add the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla, and then give the chocolate-coffee-curry mixture a good stir, and add that as well. Add the sifted dry ingredients, stirring until just combined (don't over-mix!), and quickly divide amongst the prepared muffin cups (they will be fairly full). Bake until a tester comes out clean (or with just a few damp crumbs), ~20-25 minutes. Let cool in pans (they're fairly delicate at first), and make sure they're fully cooled before frosting.
the use of subheadings and candy thermometers should alert you that this is a bit insane. That said, it's totally delicious, and rewards your fussing by being fairly indestructible in the end. But feel free to add the aromatics to your favorite frosting recipe instead. Also this frosting looks amazing when piped, but kinda fugly if you try to spread it. If you (like me) don't have a pastry bag, just transfer the frosting to to a plastic bag, cut a large opening in the bottom, and use it to pipe gorgeous swirls on top of your cupcakes.
1/2 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup coconut milk (or milk)
1" galanga root, hacked into slices (substitute ginger if unavailable)
1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar, divided
2 Tbsp water
2 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 lb butter, softened to room temperature (if not fully warmed, the mixture will curdle, so be patient)
1/2 cup coconut cream (you can buy this separately, or just take the solid stuff that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla
zest of 2 kaffir limes (or regular limes)
2 stalks lemongrass, peeled to their tender inner bits and finely grated
1 bunch Thai basil, leaves separated out for garnish, stems finely grated (this worked fine on a microplane grater, but if it fails for you, just aim for a fine mince)
1/2 cup coconut curls, lightly toasted (beware: the line between 'toasted' and 'burnt' can be crossed quickly)
Ready? Okay! Start with the creme anglaise: Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a small bowl. Heat the coconut milk up with the galanga root until almost boiling, then whisk a few spoonfuls of it into the egg yolk mixture to temper. Gradually whisk in the remaining mix mixture, and pour back into your pan. Heat over a medium-low heat until it begins to steam and a thermometer reads 170, then immediately take off the heat and transfer to cool bowl. Set aside and allow to cool completely (you can speed this up in the fridge, or do it in advance). If it curdles at all during heating, pass through a strainer (but return the galanga to infuse while it cools).
Next up: meringue! Mix together the 1/3 cup sugar and the water in a saucepan, and simmer gently until it dissolves.
In the meanwhile, beat the eggs, gradually increasing the speed of the beaters, until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and remaining 2 Tbsp sugar, beating until soft peaks form.
When the meringue is ready, go back to your sugar syrup, and raise the heat. Boil until it reaches 248-250 degrees, then grab it off the stove, turn the beaters back on, and drizzle it into the meringue (I aim to have it hit the side of the bowl just before the surface of the egg whites, so that it can trickle down into the mixture without cooling too much or being spattered by the beaters). Beat for a few more minutes, until completely cool. Whew! Set aside.
Now the relatively easy part: Place the softened butter and coconut cream in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer). Beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla, lime zest, grated lemongrass, and grated Thai basil stems. Mmm. Now take out the cooled Creme Anglaise (toss the galanga), and beat that in until combined. Add the meringue, and beat until just combined. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
To finish the cupcakes: Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag (or plastic bag), and pipe gorgeous fat swirls onto your fully cooled cupcakes. Top each frosted cupcake with a sprinkle of coconut, and a basil leaf (these will sadly get a bit wilty as the night wears on, so do that at the last minute). Birthday candle optional.