White Chocolate Cupcakes

Oh, White Chocolate. Poor, misunderstood, totally underestimated White Chocolate. Come here. I feel you. The awkward young teen in me (the one with the pointless "clear" braces and oddly shaped bangs, whose coltish gait made her fear all things athletic) pulls you to her AAA-cup breast to tell you it will be all right, that you have lots of wonderful qualities. And someday, even the most elite of the culinary community will come to embrace you and then wonder what took them so long. When that happens, don't forget that I was always here, loving you all along, even when everyone was dissing you and saying you were so 80s.

In fact, I love you so much that I buy you in bulk, and sadly shake my head when I notice that the bins of your dark and bittersweet competition are always visited more than yours. But then, maybe that's the problem right there. It's sort of true what your haters say--you're not really chocolate. You're cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla, no actual chocolate in you to speak of. But you know what, White Chocolate? That's not your fault. Your name is just a label. A label that some moron gave you as a way to categorize you for their own convenience. But one day you'll graduate from high school and head off to college and be able to start fresh, and--wait, what? Oh.

So I was saying. Cocoa butter and vanilla is a lovely thing to be--at your best, you're dreamy and creamy, a breath of sweet vanilla in every bite. I like to think of you as Vanilla Chips or Vanilla Bar, and use you in fabulous ways that break the monotony of having the dessert course be an endless cycle of chocolate and fruit-based desserts. And with recipes like White Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream to show off everything that's great about you, well, you are a star.

Other than just being delicious, one of your most endearing qualities is your ability to play well with others. Like in this recipe, which satisfies my cupcake craving like none other. Coconut milk, of all things, is the secret, undetectable ingredient here that gives you even more sparkle in a cake that is so perfectly sweet, so moist, with a richness I've never experienced before in a white cake. Pairing you with cream cheese in a luscious buttercream is nothing short of White Chocolate Dynamite (which, coincidentally, would be an awesome moniker for me to use in a dance contest someday). I love you, White Chocolate. Thanks for being you.

White Chocolate Cupcakes Adapted from The Craft of Baking

The original recipe says this recipe yields 14 cupcakes--I easily got 18, using a leveled 1/4 cup of batter in each cup (I used a standard ice cream scoop). I'm sure the white chocolate called for in the original recipe is meant to be chopped bar chocolate, but I had tons of high-quality white chocolate chips on hand, so I used them instead and everything turned out delicious. I also opted to add some confectioners' sugar to the frosting, to stiffen and sweeten it up a bit, but it's not necessary--add it only to your taste.

The cakes and the icing keep beautifully, tightly covered and refrigerated, for up to 3-4 days so these are great make-ahead cupcakes. Unsweetened coconut milk can be found in nearly every supermarket under a few brand names, usually in the Asian foods aisle.

If you can find them, white chocolate vermicelli (thinner, crunchier and much tastier than regular jimmies) make the perfect finishing touch for these cupcakes, adding crunch and extra white chocolate flavor.

Makes 18 cupcakes

For the cakes:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 8 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped bar or chips 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk 5 large egg whites

For the frosting:

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 4 1/2 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped bar or chips Up to 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar, to taste (see note)

Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners, 12 in one and 6 in the other.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. When it's just warm to the touch, stir it into the butter mixture on low speed, just until combined--it may separate a bit, but it will come back together. With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the coconut milk in three batches until well-blended. Transfer the batter to a medium bowl.

Clean and dry the bowl of the mixer. Whip the egg whites on medium high speed until they reach soft peaks, about 4 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter in three additions.

Fill the muffin cups no more than 3/4 of the way full with the batter. Bake one tin at a time until a toothpick just comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a cooling rack, then turn them right side up and let them cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt together until light and smooth. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler and cool until it is just warm to the touch. Scrape the white chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and beat to combine. Taste the icing and check the texture--if you like your icing sweeter and with a bit more body, add in some confectioners' sugar. If the frosting is too soft to spread, refrigerate it for about 20 minutes and then whip it for 30 seconds before using. Ice the cupcakes generously and decorate as you wish.

The iced cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.