Nicole and her husband Chris treated a bunch of us to a wonderful Puerto Rican meal at their awesome new house on Saturday, and since I'm terrible at selecting housewarming gifts ("Here's a Jonathan Adler vase for your...er...clearly French Rococo-style home!"), I decided to put my free time to good use and bake up a selection of mini cupcakes inspired by various Puerto Rican desserts. I tried to create a balance of tastes, picking out a few tropical fruits as well as caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee flavors. So after shutting myself in the kitchen for several hours, the final list came down to (clockwise, from left):
Guava with Cream Cheese Frosting
Spiced Dark Chocolate with Coffee-Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting
Dulce de Leche (brown sugar cupcakes with dulce de leche buttercream frosting)
Piña Colada (pineapple cupcakes with coconut cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut)
Though they hail from Puerto Rico, piña coladas actually make me think of Mexico. A few years ago, we were lucky enough to tag along on a big group vacation with friends to a villa in Sayulita, Mexico. It still goes down in the books as our best vacation ever: just steps from the beach, we spent our days lounging by the pool, playing in the waves, snacking our way through the town of Sayulita, and enjoying amazing meals prepared by the villa's private chef, Sergio. Sergio had a sidekick named Oscar who made a mean margarita, and by request one evening, he concocted these piña coladas that were so fresh and juicy that were it not for its liquid consistency, you'd swear you were biting into fruit. For these cupcakes, I made sure to find a recipe that included chunks of pineapple for a similar sensation. For the recipe, read on.
Several months ago, I was watching an episode of Rick Bayless's Mexico: One Plate at a Time in which he made ice cream from ate (a fruit paste) and cream cheese. I think I drooled. I had heard my Hawaiian friends talk about the wonders of guava and cheese, so were it not for my lactose intolerance, this ice cream sounded fantabulous! So it got me thinking about cupcakes (a little easier on the stomach...and yes, I can eat small amounts of cream cheese), and it turns out that it's not a brand new idea. There were several recipes I came across in my search that used guava juice, paste, and syrup for the cake and basic cream cheese frosting to adorn them. Not having easy access to guava paste and syrup -- which I figured would create a more robust fruit flavor than juice -- I pulled a jar of 100% guava fruit jam out of the cupboard and repurposed a Martha Stewart orange marmalade recipe. The only change I would make next time is to fill the cupcakes with some guava jam...I think it would give a little more of a guava punch to the cupcake and nicely balance the cream cheese frosting. For the recipe, read on.
I can never turn down a good cupcake. However, ask me to choose, and I will always pick red velvet above any other flavor (even chocolate). My first experience with red velvet cupcakes came a few years ago when my cousin Janelle made them for a dinner we hosted at our house. She used the Paula Deen recipe which to this day is my favorite. I think it has to do with the fact that Mrs. Deen uses vegetable oil (remarkably, instead of her signature stick or two of butter) which keeps the cakes super moist, even when making mini cupcakes as I did here. The first time I made red velvet, I didn't add enough red food coloring, so my cupcakes ended up being a weird skin color (I called them "flesh muffins"). No one seemed to mind once they tasted them.
One note I would like to pass along: when making mini cupcakes, I reduce the baking time to 15-18 minutes which guarantees that they will be as moist as promised.