Coconut Cupcakes

Elizabeth’s back today with a second installment of One Last Bite. It has been years since she made these cupcakes, but when she was in grad school, she was known for them. Elizabeth, take it away…

Party invites always came with requests for “those incredible cupcakes you brought to the last shindig.” And now I remember why I loved making this recipe so much (aside from the glowing reviews): it helped to slow me down. As a grad student, whenever I got too stressed and over-caffeinated, I turned to baking. I started with quick, boxed brownie batters and refrigerator cookie dough, but none of these prepared mixes kept my hands and mind busy long enough to calm me down. And then I found this recipe.

This isn’t a fast recipe that you bake at the last minute, dumping your ingredients into a bowl, giving it a little mix, and tossing it in the oven. It’s a recipe that requires all of your attention to get everything just right. These cupcakes do take time—a few hours, counting the time it takes to let the eggs, butter, and cream cheese reach room temperature, to cream the butter & sugar, to add the eggs one at a time, to wait (rather impatiently) for the cupcakes to cool completely before you can frost them. But then, after all of that waiting, and mixing, and baking, and waiting some more, and frosting, you’ll take one bite and discover that these cupcakes are somehow both dense and fluffy—both thick in the thighs and light on their feet. That they are full of coconut flavor. That the cream cheese frosting adds the perfect tang and creaminess. In that one bite you’ll suddenly realize that, like Spring, it was definitely worth the wait.

Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large (or 6 large) eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 teaspoons coconut milk
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:

12 oz. cream cheese (1 1/2 standard boxes) at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 1/2+ cups confectioners’ sugar (to taste), sifted
1 1/4 cups unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

Note: Make sure that the necessary ingredients are at room temperature or sifted. If you don’t, the ingredients won’t mix properly and you’ll end up with flat, dry cupcakes and lumpy frosting.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, at least five minutes. (NOTE: This step is very important! If you cut back the time on creaming the butter & sugar, you’ll get dense, dry, and very sad cupcakes—and nobody likes a sad cupcake.) With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the coconut milk and the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In three parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in seven ounces of the sweetened coconut. Fill each liner 3/4 full with batter. Bake for 18 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Start checking at 18 minutes. If your oven runs hot, you don’t want to over bake these cupcakes. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth. Taste and add more confectioners’ sugar if you prefer a sweeter frosting, mixing until smooth.

Once the cupcakes are completely cool, use a piping bag (or a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off) to swirl on the frosting. Top the frosted cupcakes with a generous pile of the sweetened coconut and finish with a few flakes of toasted coconut for color. Sit down, have a cupcake with a glass of champagne, and marvel at the fact that you just made the most delicious cupcake you’ve ever eaten.

*Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, photos by Lauren Craig

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