I made my first Dorie Greenspan recipe this week. That’s not a big deal for some people, but it is for me. Fancy French food intimidates me, and I think of Dorie as one of those great French cooks. She writes cookbooks, for God’s sake. Fancy, wonderful, gorgeous cookbooks. Don’t get me wrong – I love eating French food. It’s the making/baking part that freaks me out. Here’s what I learned from Dorie this week: fabulous doesn’t have to mean fussy. This recipe was beyond fabulous, and it could not have been easier. All you need is a handful of ingredients and a few pieces of the right equipment.
On Dorie’s blog this week, she posted a recipe for Almond Baby Cakes. I was intrigued. As I read it, I was amazed that so few ingredients were required. Then I got to the part where she said, “If you play around with the recipe, let me know what you do … please.” Those of you who know me know it takes very little to get me to play with my food. I have a hard enough time sticking to recipes; I’m a recipe fiddler. But when you INVITE me to mess with a recipe, well I just can’t say no. There’s something wrong with my wiring when it comes to stuff like that.
So here’s what I did to Dorie’s Baby Cakes. Instead of almonds, I chose pecans. And since I love coconut, I decided to throw some of that in there, too. Coconut and pecans go together like peas and carrots. Chocolate and peanut butter. Biscuits and gravy. And since the recipe called for a little rum, I grabbed my bottle of Parrot Bay Coconut Rum. Laugh all you want, but God help me if coconut rum & Coke over ice isn’t a little piece of paradise on a hot summer day. So armed with my collection of substitutions and one secret ingredient, here’s how my version of Dorie’s Baby Cakes went down.
Coconut Pecan Baby Cakes:
1 cup of pecans, halves or pieces
1/2 cup of flaked, sweetened coconut
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut rum
To start, make sure you place an oven rack in the center rung of your oven and pre-heat it to 350F. Using a standard 12-count muffin pan, butter each cup of the muffin tin generously. Using parchment or waxed paper, cut a small circular piece of paper to fit the bottom of each muffin cup. (Hint: I used a small-mouth canning jar lid ring as my pattern.) Place the paper in the bottom of each cup, then generously butter the paper as well.
In a shallow baking pan, I toasted my pecans and coconut for approximately 10 minutes, or until I could smell their lovely fragrance coming from my oven. Dumping them into the food processor with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, I pulsed the pecans and coconut until they were coarsely ground, but not dust. If you have a few pea-sized chunks in there, don’t sweat it.
Using my KitchenAid stand mixer with the whisk attachment, I combined the rest of the sugar with the eggs and beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. Turning the mixer off just long enough to add the pecan/coconut mixture, I then turned it back to medium-high and beat for one additional minute. At this point, you’ll want to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Turning the mixer back to medium-high, I added the softened butter (you’ll want it to be super soft) one tablespoon at a time. (Note: Dorie’s recipe says to use 5 tablespoons of butter, but I softened an entire stick and lost track, stopping at 6 tablespoons. The extra tablespoon of butter didn’t seem to hurt at all, but next time I will use 5, as directed.) Once the butter is incorporated, turn the mixer to low speed and add the coconut rum, beating just until blended.
The batter will look a little curdled, just as Dorie described, so don’t panic. There’s no flour in this recipe to smooth things out, so just relax and go with it. Why? Because Dorie says so. I used a gravy ladle to spoon equal portions of batter into each of the 12 muffin cups. Each cup should end up about half-full.
Here’s where my secret ingredient came into play. It was this little can of dark chocolate-coated cocoa nibs from my friend Kirsten of Comfortably Domestic. She sent them in a box of goodies earlier this week. I’d never had them before, and my eyes just about bugged out of my head when I tried them. The nibs are crunchy, the chocolate coating is creamy, and together they are simply dreamy. SO when my baby cakes were ready to go into the oven, I sprinkled 10-12 of them on top of my cakes. I left 3 plain, just to try them without the cocoa nibs. BIG mistake. Lesson learned: next time, go all in.
Bake the cakes on the center rack for 27-29 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the baking process. In my case, I set the first timer for 14 minutes, then turned the pan and re-set it for another 14 minutes, which turned out perfect. You’ll know they’re done when the edges are crispy brown and a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Remove the pan from the oven and invert immediately. (Hint: I used a flat cookie sheet that was a little larger than my muffin pan. Just turn the cookie sheet upside-down on the muffin pan, then grab both pans with hot pads and flip them both at the same time.)
Gently tap the muffin pan to release the cakes. Once the cakes are out of the muffin tin, give them a few minutes to cool, then remove any parchment paper that may still be stuck to the bottoms, and use a flat spatula to flip them back to their full upright positions. These are best served warm or at room temperature. Even better, serve them with homemade whipped cream spiked with a little vanilla bean paste. That stuff makes everything better, but it is BFFs with whipping cream. Plop a big spoon full on the top and go to town.
If you’re like me, don’t even bother with a plate and fork. Just blob on some whipped cream and eat it with your fingers. The toasted pecans and coconut paired with all that butter and coconut rum makes these dreamy. But the addition of the chocolate-covered cocoa nibs pushed this recipe right over the cliff. I swear I don’t know how these could get any better.
Dorie, you said to let you know if we messed with the recipe, so here’s my contribution. If you try these, I hope you’ll return the favor and let me know. Until then, I can’t thank you enough. These may be Baby Cakes, but they are absolutely HUGE in flavor. And I am totally in love with these little cuties.
Note: this recipe makes 12 baby cakes which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days, or frozen in the same container for up to 2 months. Here’s the recipe link again in case you missed it: http://doriegreenspan.com/2012/03/im-chugging-away-on-a.html