A moist chocolate cupcake, filled with a crunchy chewy mixture of dulce de leche, toasted coconut, and pecans, topped off with a pile of rich and thick chocolate buttercream.
Why reversed? A classic German Chocolate Cake uses a coconut pecan frosting. These cupcakes rock the nutty duo on the inside (which is, I may add, an aesthetic win). The flavor profile is jacked up a notch by toasting the coconut and pecans, subbing out the evaporated milk mixture for dulce de leche, skipping over the traditional cake recipe, which uses sweet German chocolate, in favor of a deliciously deep and moist cocoa cake, and sweetening the deal with pretty swirls of chocolate frosting.
These cupcakes are based on a family favorite cake recipe, with some updates and edits to streamline the process. I made the cupcakes for my sweet 1-year-old's birthday. Over the course of the morning, Maria, Sophie & I held a debate over video chat about what sort of frosting to use: a simple swipe of ganache (Maria's vote) or a fudge chocolate frosting (Sophie's suggestion) or a whipped ganache (my first thought). I opted for the fudgey chocolate frosting, because you really don't want to get too sophisticated at a 1-year-old's birthday party! I was already pushing kid-friendly barriers with the toasted nuts and dulce de leche filling.
Reversed German Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes with tall swirls of frosting. See note if you want to use less frosting.
[For the cake:]
1 3/4 cups flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk (or a substitute)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup hot coffee (or 1 teaspoon granules dissolved in 1 cup boiling water)
[For the filling:]
3.5 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
2 ounces (1/2 cup) chopped pecans
7 ounces dulce de leche (see note)
2 teaspoons vanilla
[For the frosting:]
6 cups (1 1/2 lb) powdered sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) salted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla
2-3 tablespoons milk
Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two cupcake tins with 24 cupcake wrappers.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Then, very carefully pour the hot coffee in, whisking slowly, until just combined. Divide the batter between the 24 cupcake liners. Bake at 350 for 18-22 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan on wire racks.
Make the filling. Reduce the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the coconut on one baking sheet, and the pecans on another. Place the coconut on a rack in the bottom third of the oven, and the pecans on a rack in the upper third. Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes, stirring every couple minutes, until both are toasted and fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside.
Make the dulce de leche (see note) or warm pre-made dulce de leche in a glass bowl in the microwave in 30 second bursts. When warm to the touch, stir in the vanilla, toasted pecans and coconut.
Fill the cupcakes. Using a pairing knife, cut out a conical section from the top of each cupcake. Scoop some of the warm filling into the hole. You can leave the cupcakes as-is, simply frosting over the hole, or you can tear off the extra cake from the removed portion and place the top back on.
Make the frosting. In a mixer bowl, sift together the cocoa and powdered sugar. Add the softened butter, and beat with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add vanilla and milk and beat at medium speed until it comes together in a thick, smooth, creamy frosting, adding more milk as needed. (Raising the mixing speed to high and beating longer will result in a lighter-colored and textured frosting; If you want to keep it thicker and darker, avoid beating at high speed.) Fill piping bag fitted with desired tip and pipe frosting into tall swirls over cupcakes. If you plan to spread with a knife, using less frosting, see notes.
Dulce de leche. You can purchase dulce de leche pre-made, or you may have some left over from another baking project. It's fine to use this -- just warm it up so that it's easier to work with!
If you decide to make the dulce de leche for these cupcakes, there are a few different methods. I often simply go with the microwave method. Although the texture is a bit sticky and thick with the microwave method, it's faster, and I don't think the texture makes a huge difference in this recipe. Microwave method: empty can of condensed milk into a glass pyrex bowl. Microwave at 50% power for 4 minutes, pausing to stir midway. Then, continue to microwave at 30% power for another 15-20 minutes, pausing every few minutes to dribble in a little water and whisk. (The water helps keep the texture smooth.) Stop when the color is a nice golden.
You can also make dulce de leche in the instant pot, in an oven water bath, on the stove top in a double boiler, or by boiling the unopened can. Do what works for you!
About the frosting. If you don't want to pipe dramatic swirls of frosting, you can make 1/3 less and that will be plenty. Same method, but here's the math for you: 4 cups powdered sugar, 2/3 cup cocoa, 1 cup butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1-2 tablespoons milk.