We’re all for classic vanilla cupcakes or a towering old-fashioned coconut cake, but sometimes you need something subtle and easy. That’s what we think of these lofty coconut cupcakes made with coconut milk in both the frosting and batter. It makes for a rich, moist coconut cupcake experience.–David Leite

Coconut Cupcakes FAQs

How do I make fluffier cupcakes?

Adding cornstarch to the flour mimics cake flour, which makes for a lighter and more delicate cake.

What’s the best way to store these cupcakes?

The cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day. For longer storage, freeze the unfrosted cupcakes for up to 3 months. Thaw and frost before serving.

How do you fix separated coconut milk?

It’s very common for canned coconut milk to separate, and sometimes shaking isn’t enough to recombine the fat and liquid layers. If this happens, dump the contents of the can into a bowl and whisk until recombined.

Cake stand with 7 frosted coconut cupcakes, four unfrosted cupcakes on the table, and a bowl of frosting.

Coconut Cupcakes

5 / 3 votes
Adding coconut to the batter and the frosting gives these cupcakes an incredible depth of flavor.
David Leite
Servings24 cupcakes
Calories264 kcal
Prep Time40 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time1 hour 15 minutes


For the coconut cupcakes

  • 1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk, shaken
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

For the coconut cream cheese frosting

  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 ounces full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon canned unsweetened coconut milk, shaken
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, for topping


Make the coconut cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and adjust an oven rack to the center position. Line 2 cupcake pans with cupcake liners. Lightly spray the top of the pans with a nonstick cooking spray with flour, such as Baker’s Joy or Pam Baking Spray with Flour, just in case the cupcake tops stick to the pan (don’t worry if the spray gets in the liners).
  • Pour the coconut milk into a medium bowl. (If, when you opened your can of coconut milk, the coconut milk had separated from the coconut cream floating at the top of the can, then you’ll want to recombine them with a whisk or immersion blender.) Add the lemon juice.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and then beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  • Turn the speed down to low and beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the coconut milk-lemon juice mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining coconut milk–lemon juice mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture and then scrape down the bowl and beat again until the batter is just combined. Quickly mix in the shredded coconut; do not overmix.
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake pans, filling each cup about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, until the cupcakes are set, lightly golden, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean (note that one pan may finish baking before the other). Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the coconut cream cheese frosting

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters), beat the butter and cream cheese until creamy and well combined. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar, and then beat in the vanilla, coconut milk, and salt.

Frost the cupcakes

  • When the cupcakes are completely cooled, use a butter knife or small offset spatula to swirl the frosting lavishly over the top. Sprinkle with the shredded coconut, pressing it gently so it adheres, and serve. (You can frost the cupcakes up to 1 day ahead of time and store them in an airtight container at room temperature.)
Once Upon a Chef Cookbook

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Serving: 1 cupcakeCalories: 264 kcalCarbohydrates: 49 gProtein: 2 gFat: 8 gSaturated Fat: 6 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 10 mgSodium: 99 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 38 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2018 Jennifer Segal. Photo © 2018 Alexander Grablewski. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Coconut lovers, make these coconut cupcakes and you will not be disappointed. I always judge a cake’s potential by the batter—would I eat the batter for pleasure and skip baking? Yes, indeed! So flavorful and it bakes up in a fast 20 minutes.

The finished cake is perfectly moist with a nice texture—not too airy not too dense. As the author describes, adding the shredded coconut to both the batter and the frosting really makes these cupcakes. I might differ a bit on the coconut milk which itself does not lend much coconut flavor. If coconut milk is not one of your kitchen staples, and to save a few dollars, I would substitute milk or heavy cream and the cupcakes would be just as delicious.

I love the look of the finished cupcakes, like perfect little snowballs and reflected the snowy weather outside my Minnesota kitchen window in winter. Luckily, the frosting recipe makes an ample amount so you can make a mountain of buttercream and coconut on the smaller cupcakes—no one would ever complain about more frosting!

I did like the pinch of salt, it seemed to cut the sweetness of the frosting and I might add a touch more next time. I placed my shredded coconut in a bowl and dipped the tops of each frosted cupcake into the bowl. I think this saved a few minutes rather than having to sprinkle or press the coconut with my fingers. This recipe made exactly 24 cupcakes—great for sharing and gifting to friends. Especially if you don’t want to end up eating them all yourself!

This is an excellent recipe resulting in a moist and flavorful coconut cupcakes with a slightly dense texture. They’re not light and fluffy by any means, even with the addition of cornstarch. This could be attributed to my use of Canadian flour, however; I might remake this with actual cake flour and see what a difference it makes.

Even so, they are delicious and coconut-y. I found it only made 20 cupcakes but I do have ridiculously deep muffin tins. I don’t have much to say about the recipe itself—it was easy to follow and I didn’t need to make any adjustments. The icing was also delicious and easy to make; I did use toasted coconut on top because that’s what I prefer.

These coconut cupcakes are quite good. The cupcakes are moist and flavorful. The batter was simple to make and came together quickly. Mine baked for 22 minutes and they were perfect. The coconut flavor in the cake part was almost undetectable to me, although there is the texture of the coconut flakes.

The frosting is out-of-this-world scrumptious. The recipe allowed for a very generous dollop atop the cupcake, which was incredible because I truly couldn’t get enough of it. The frosting had a beautiful spreadable texture, not requiring me to thin or thicken in any way. The recipe yielded 24 cupcakes. And they turned out pretty—just like the picture!

These coconut cupcakes weren’t hard to make and they tasted good. I think the frosting could have a greater coconut taste, but this is a preference. The consistency was spreadable like other frostings.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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