Sponge cake soaked in chocolate sauce, then dipped in unsweetened, shredded coconut is one of the most famous homemade sweets. They are called čupavci throughout the entire Balkan region, from Croatia through Slovenia, and in Bosnia Herzegovina.
The cocoa and coconut combination
Cocoa (chocolate) and coconut are a great food pair, which works well in desserts, hence it is often used. These ingredients haven’t been used for a long time in European cuisines, as chocolate was introduced to Europe in 1550, while coconut became available only around the 16th and 17th centuries.
The cake with several names
Čupavci means “furry” because of the fuzzy surface the coconut provides. The most famous member of the cocoa-coconut cake family is certainly the Australian lamington. Most probably, the cake itself was first created there, but it is difficult to know the real story behind this sweet.
It came to life on the turn of the 20th century, in the Governor of Queensland’s (Lord Lamington) household and its story was written down by his wife in her journal. According to the diary, the cake was improvised by the family’s chef, Armand Galland on the event of an unexpected visit. He dipped the leftover butter sponge into a thick chocolate sauce, and then sprinkled it generously with shredded coconut.
It was an instant hit of course, and the guests even demanded the recipe. Coconut wasn’t such a common ingredient at that time, but Galland was familiar with it, because it was introduced to him by his Haitian born wife.
As coconut became widely available, the cake found its way to the kitchens of the middle class and it quickly became well known almost everywhere on the globe. It is called ystervarkies in South Africa, coconut bar in the US and coconut cube in Central and Eastern Europe, including Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and Hungary.
Dough and variations
This cake needs dense, not crumbly dough, so it holds its shape after the chocolate covering. Classic recipes recommend sponge cake as a base, traditional lamingtons are made with butter sponge or the so called ‘2 4 6 8’ recipe when 2 eggs, 4 oz. butter, 6 oz. sugar and 8 oz. flour are mixed together.
Butter or any sort of shortening make the sponge cake moist and with a longer shelf life, which is a crucial point, as the cake can easily get dry under the coconut cover. Honey sponge is also often used as a base, but it’s crunchier, because it’s made with baking powder.
Beside the simple chocolate-dipped version, there is a more complex one. The sponge is halved horizontally, filled with raspberry-flavored pastry cream and cut into 2-inch cubes, to be covered with chocolate sauce all around, and then sprinkled with shredded coconut. Newer variations include other fruits, such as pomegranate and passion fruit, but simple apricot jam and cream is also works great as a filling.
Assembly and storage of čupavci
The freshly baked dough has to be cooled down before it’s cut into 2-inch cubes. You need a wire rack and tongs or a dipping fork at hand. The chocolate sauce should be room temperature at the time of dipping and the coconut should be in a deep bowl.
The chocolate sauce is made of chocolate or cocoa powder, some kind of shortening, milk and sugar, but you can spice it up with a tablespoon of rum or other liqueur (coconut liqueur also works here), just for the aroma.
The čupavci cubes should be covered with the sauce all over, but not soaked as they would get too wet, and couldn’t hold their shape. After dipping into the coconut, they should rest on the wire rack for an hour or so, and then served or kept in a metal box for up to 3 days.
- 2½ cups flour sifted
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup caster sugar
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup milk
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- A few drops vanilla essence
- 1 cup margarine
- 3 oz. chocolate 60% cocoa
- 1 tablespoon rum
- ¾ cup milk
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 3½ cups shredded coconut
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Separate the eggs.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff.
While beating at low speed, gradually add the oil, 6 tablespoons of flour and the baking powder.
Then gradually add one yolk at a time.
Finally add the rest of the flour.
Pour the batter into a 10x14 inches rectangular baking pan lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until the cake begins to separate from the edges.
In a non-stick pan, melt the margarine over medium heat.
Add the milk and bring to a boil.
Add the chocolate and sugar.
Mix well until a cream forms.
When the cream just begins to boil, remove immediately from the heat.
Finally add the rum and mix well.
Cut the biscuit into 2-inch cubes.
Using a skewer or fork, dip each cube into the hot cream.
Wait a few seconds for the excess cream to drip, then place the cube on the coconut and remove the fork.
Wait 3 minutes, then using another skewer or fork, roll each čupavci into the coconut.
After covering them with coconut, place the čupavci on a wire rack.
Wait 30 minutes and serve, or store in an airtight container.