Coconut Cupcakes

There are not many rules at our house, but one rule is we should be never run out of chocolate syrup. That's right, never! We usually buy our chocolate syrup at the big grocery warehouse places like Costco so we can get two giant bottles for the price of one regular sized bottle at a regular grocery store. Would you like to know how often we are out of chocolate syrup... quite often it turns out. Rules are made to be broken, right? Now you're wondering what does this have to do with anything, especially coconut cupcakes? Well, as always just bear with me and hopefully we'll connect the dots by the end.

In the afternoons David likes to sit down and have what he calls "a moment". He goes to his coffee brewer contraption and makes himself a cup of expresso. While it's brewing he adds a pump of some caramel flavored liquid he picked up at the coffee chain store down the road. Meanwhile, he steams the milk to frothy perfection and then mixes it all together in a crystal clear, double walled mug. The finishing touch is a little drizzle of chocolate syrup on the top. He then takes his crafted coffee masterpiece to the chair outside, where it’s warm and quiet and he takes a moment to enjoy it. He even ignores his phone until he finishes the cup. This is a daily thing. Okay, I hear you asking, how is it possible to go through so much chocolate syrup with just a drizzle on his coffee every day? Well, that's where I come in. I have never been a coffee drinker (yet I like the flavor when it's in ice cream or candy) but as anyone who has had a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino knows, if you put enough sugar and chocolate into your coffee suddenly you got something quite delicious. So, my version of the afternoon moment goes like this... get a little milk and a tiny amount of coffee, add a whole lot of chocolate syrup and some ice cubes and blend it in the blender until you have a frozen chocolate delight. Then I'll top that with whipped cream if I have it, and pour a good amount of chocolate syrup on top of that. This is not an everyday thing for me, but it does drain the bottle pretty fast.

For a little while now our bottle of syrup has been nearly empty, which meant it was time for us to drive out to Costco about 20 minutes away, and do some bulk shopping. Before we left we looked through the flyer we received in the mail to see what was on sale, and took inventory of any other items that we might need. Coupons in hand we set out. On the trip there we talked about some non-essential items we should look for, such as new storage containers or batteries. Now, if you've ever been to a Costco you'll know that they have these little stations set up where they prepare samples for you to taste, which is supposed to tempt you into buying that product even though you probably don't need it. I make David go to those tables (I’m too shy) and get me one of the sample cups every time we pass a station and sometimes when we pass it again on the way out. It's like a little amuse-bouche while you’re shopping (for the university kids that go on the weekend it's more like a free meal that’s been cut up into tiny little portions).

So there we were, wandering up and down the aisles sampling products, looking through our coupons, discovering new items we didn't need but looked at anyway, and filling the shopping cart with the things we wanted. We stopped to compare prices on items we usually buy at other stores to see who has the best deal and made notes for future reference. While we waited in line to pay we looked around at the other people’s baskets to see what they were purchasing. It seemed like everyone had better things than us, I speak mostly of the folks that had cartons of cookies or one of those giant pies, or even the box of huge muffins that always look so tasty. One man even had two giant boxes of Hagen Daz ice creams bars (how did I miss those?). Our cart had a frying pan, trashcan liners, dishwashing liquid and the few other boring items. Once we finally left the store we looked down at our purchases and realized that we forgot to get chocolate syrup. The one thing that started everything and we didn't get it. With all the coupons we had, with the distractions of the sample tables, with the price comparisons of products we weren't buying, and the gawking at the muffins, pies, and cookies we just simply forgot.

This brings me to an observation on memory. My memory isn't bad, but it is flawed at times and downright mystifying at others. Lately I have a tendency to get up, start walking, and then forget why I got up. I then return to the place I was, sit down and bang; it comes back to me. I have a habit of jotting down a number on a piece of paper but with no other information at all, as if I am going to be able to recall what it was for later. I had a friend at work that sometimes in the middle of a conversation would just stop talking and get this blank look across his face. You could see his eyes looking around as if whatever he was trying to say was floating in the air in front of him, but he just couldn't find it. I'm not that bad yet but I do wonder if I am headed in that direction. One day I turned on the notes app in my phone and there was the number 1196x. Umm... really? What is that? It was obviously important at some point, but now it's just meaningless. My issue is, I can't just delete it. What if I remember what it was for later? What if it's a winning code or the combination to a safe?

As a much younger person I had this big idea to get people to stop speeding (at least in California). The way my idea worked was through memory association. The California Highway Patrol is often referred to as CHiPs (you may have seen the television show if you are old enough) and I thought a good product tie-in would be with Chips Ahoy cookies. Each time a person got a speeding ticket, along with the ticket they would get a small package of Chips Ahoy cookies. That way they next time (and every time) they saw those cookies in the store they would not be able to forget that they got a speeding ticket. I thought this was a brilliant idea at the time, though perhaps not the best marketing strategy for Nabisco. Though I freely admit that this is just a stupid idea all around, fraught with logistical problems, I am convinced that memory association works... and here's where this all comes together.

Every time I see a Costco I think about chocolate syrup. When I think about chocolate syrup I think about chocolate milk. This usually makes me think of other kinds of milk, and one of those is often coconut milk. When I think of coconut milk I think of two things. One, the first and only time David and I ate Thai food (everything we ordered had a heavy coconut flavor) and two, you guessed it... coconut cupcakes. See, I knew we could connect chocolate syrup and coconut cupcakes together.

These cupcakes are so good, I have baked them in lieu of birthday cakes. Both the cake and the icing are infused with coconut milk which gives this cupcake its great flavor, but it's not overpowering either.

I first came across this recipe in Bon Appetit magazine and I cut it out immediately, but it was a year or so before I actually made them. when I got around to baking them, they came out perfect, and that is a rare occurrence for me. I was shocked! There isn't too much to getting them together, nothing complicated, nothing much out of the ordinary. But that doesn't always matter the first time I make something I'm not familiar with. They do take a little time to prepare so pick a day when you won't feel rushed and can enjoy the process. This recipe will make 18 standard size cupcakes so there will be plenty to go around if you feel like sharing.

Here is my recommendation for when they are completely done. Take one, put it on a little plate, make a cup of coffee, expresso, tea, or whatever makes you happy and find a little sunny nook you can relax in and do as David does, have yourself a moment. Enjoying moments like these might just be the best thing about food.

If you would like to print or save a copy of this recipe, you'll find it here.  Also you can link to the original recipe as Bon Appetit printed it here.

Here's how I made these along with my tips:

The first thing we need to do is reduce some coconut milk and allow it to cool to room temperature. To do that we need:

  • 2 (13 to 14) ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk

Put the coconut milk into a large pot. A large pan is necessary as the milk can boil and sputter pretty high and you don't want a mess. Put the pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. I Keep stirring it at this point so the milk doesn't scorch on the bottom and so sputters are kept to a minimum.

When it boils, reduce the heat to medium low and let it boil until it is reduced to about 1½ cups. Adjust your heat to keep the milk bubbling if need be. Reducing should take between 25 and 30 minutes. Carefully give it a gentle stir every few minutes while it is reducing. And be aware that as it thickens it can really spit, especially as you start to stir it! Do not walk away from it either- something I wish they had mentioned in the original recipe.

Remove from the heat and transfer the milk to a small bowl and let it cool completely.

While the coconut milk cools gather the cupcake ingredients and let them come to room temperature.

For the cupcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2¼ teaspoons baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1⅓ cups sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (or 1½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste)

  • 1 cup of the reduced coconut milk at room temperature.

Okay, so let's get this party started.  This is pretty much a straight forward cake recipe. I found nothing out of the ordinary here so it was pretty easy to follow along.

To make the cupcakes:

Preheat your oven to 350 F with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Place 18 paper liners into two standard muffin tins, 9 liners per tin, and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or with an electric mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until smooth, about 30 to 45 seconds.

Pour in the sugar and beat on medium high until it's well blended, about two minutes.

Add two of the eggs, but drop them in one at a time letting them get fully mixed in each time.

After the second egg is mixed in, scrape down the bowl and paddle, add in the vanilla bean seeds and the last egg and beat again on medium high speed until everything is well mixed, about 30- 45 seconds or so.

Stop the mixer and add to the bowl half of the flour mixture, then mix on low speed just until it's blended.

Stop the mixer again and add one cup of the reduced coconut milk then again mix on low speed just until blended.

Stop the mixer and add the remaining flour mixture then mix on low speed just until blended.

Give the bowl a final scrape down to clean the sides of the bowl, folding in any last bits of flour and to be sure that everything is incorporated.

Evenly divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake about 20 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back and between the racks half way through.

Like most cakes, the cupcakes are done when a toothpick that's inserted into the center comes out clean and the top springs back when gently touched. You don't really want the cupcakes to take on much color, so monitor them closely towards the end of their baking time.

Put the pans on a wire rack and allow the cupcakes to cool about 10 minutes before carefully removing them from the pan. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on the racks, before you start frosting them.

While the cupcakes cool you can get the ingredients for the frosting ready.

For the frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 2½ cups powdered sugar

  • ⅓ cup of the reduced coconut milk. At room temperature

  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (or 1½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste)

  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

  • 1½ cups sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted for garnish - optional

Again using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or with an electric mixer) beat the butter on medium low speed, until smooth, about 1 minute.

When the butter is smooth turn off the mixer and add to the bowl, the sugar, ⅓ cup of the reduced coconut milk, the seeds from the vanilla bean, and the salt.

Beat together on medium-low speed until everything is blended, then scrape down the bowl to be sure everything will get mixed in.

Now, increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, that should take about 2 minutes and 30 seconds to 3 minutes.

Here is where you get to be creative. Frost the cooled cupcakes using a pastry bag fitted with the tip of your choice, or simply use a small offset spatula to apply the frosting to the cupcakes. Note if your using a pastry bag the frosting near your hands can warm up a bit and can get a bit loose. Don't worry as it will firm up in the refrigerator. Lastly sprinkle the tops with lightly toasted coconut if you like, I usually do half with and half without.

You should store these cupcakes in the refrigerator in a covered container but let them come back to room temperature before you eat them.