Fluffy coconut cupcakes topped with a tart and tangy key lime frosting!





We might only be halfway through April, but my mind is ALREADY in summer mode. Bring on the warm evening walks, beautiful sunsets, and most importantly, tropical flavors! 



So this week, I decided to kick off summer just a little earlier with these Coconut Key Lime Cupcakes!



With a moist and supremely soft base of coconut cake and a creamy crown of key lime frosting, these cupcakes pretty much SCREAM summer. 

And seriously, how cute are they?



It’s been quite a while since I’ve made up a batch of cupcakes, seeing as the pandemic has cancelled all plans of the past year. So when I had a recent family gathering, I knew this was my chance to finally pull the ol’ cupcake pan out. Although I do enjoy making cakes, there’s just something so therapeutic when it comes to decorating cupcakes. This is especially true when you’re surrounded by the heavenly aroma of freshly-baked coconut cupcakes.



Of all the tropical flavors, without a doubt, my favorite is coconut. Its flavor is rather subtle, slightly sweet, a little nutty, and similar to vanilla. Since coconut isn’t that strong in flavor, I infused these cupcakes with two times the coconut–coconut milk and coconut extract. Technically, it’s three times the coconut if you count the toasted coconut on top, but right now we’re just talking about the cake. 



If you’re new to using coconut milk, it’s usually found in the international/Asian section of most grocery stores. It’s basically shredded coconut flesh that’s been pureed with water and strained to create a rich, flavorful liquid. Make sure to get the coconut milk that’s sold in a can, and NOT the coconut milk sold in a carton next to all of the other refrigerated milks. The refrigerated kind is different. Also, don’t buy “cream of coconut” or coconut cream. The label should say coconut milk, and it should also be unsweetened.

When you crack open a can, there’s usually a layer of solid white stuff at the top. This is the “coconut cream,” and it contains more fat and protein than the milky-looking liquid it is sitting on top of. You know you have a quality can of coconut milk when there’s a good amount of coconut cream at the top and it’s not just cloudy liquid. The brand I used was Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk. You can either shake the can up to combine the cream and the milk, or dump it into a pot and stir over low heat until it comes together. I ended up doing the latter.

Since you’ll only be using a half cup in the recipe, you’ll have some coconut milk leftover. I suggest using it in soups, smoothies, cocktails, iced coffees, puddings, or other baked desserts that ask for milk!



To give these cupcakes that deliciously moist crumb, Greek yogurt is incorporated into the batter. I’ve used sour cream a lot in past cupcake recipes, but I always have the best perfectly-domed results with Greek yogurt, specifically 0% fat greek yogurt. My go-to brand is Fage. I’m guessing it’s the thicker consistency and reduced fat content in the Greek yogurt that creates the nice rounded tops.



Moving on to the frosting, I decided to go with something that’s not quite as rich or heavy as your standard cream cheese frosting. In fact, technically, it’s not really frosting. It’s more like a no-bake key lime cheesecake filling.

First, you whip up some heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Then you combine a brick of cream cheese with some lime juice, lime zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Then you stir in some powdered sugar before folding in your freshly-whipped cream.



Feel free to use regular limes if you can’t find key limes, or if you just don’t feel like cramping up your fingers from zesting such tiny limes. While they are a bit of a pain to zest, their dainty size is perfect as a garnish for each cupcake.



To add extra flavor and “coconuttiness” to these cupcakes, each one is sprinkled with a little toasted shredded coconut.

To toast the coconut, preheat the oven to 325°F. Spread the sweetened coconut flakes out on a baking sheet in a thin layer and bake for 5-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure even browning. If you’re using sweetened coconut flakes, baking time will be less due to the fact that sugar speeds up the toasting process.



Is it summer yet?


Coconut Key Lime Cupcakes Yields: 17 Cupcakes Ingredients
Cupcakes:

1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon coconut extract

1/2 cup coconut milk*

Key Lime Frosting:

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese

3 Tablespoons key lime juice**

1 Tablespoon key lime zest**

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

2 cups powdered sugar

To Decorate:

Lime slices

Toasted shredded coconut
Instructions
Make the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350ºF degrees. Line a 12-count muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until lightened and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Beat in the Greek yogurt, vanilla, and coconut extract on medium speed.

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Add the coconut milk, then mix until just combined, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 19-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with few crumbs attached. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the Frosting: In the chilled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Transfer whipped cream to a separate bowl in the refrigerator, and return bowl to mixer.

Switch whisk attachment out for paddle attachment, and beat cream cheese, lime juice, zest, vanilla and salt on high until smooth and creamy. Gradually mix in the powdered sugar, a half cup at a time, until combined. 

Remove bowl from mixer and fold in the whipped cream with a spatula. Transfer frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip, and pipe onto cupcakes. 

Garnish each cupcake with a lime slice and toasted shredded coconut. Serve immediately, or store covered in the refrigerator.
Notes
*Coconut milk can usually be found in the International aisle of most grocery stores. It comes in a 13.5 ounce can. If there’s a thick, solid white layer at the top, just pour all of the contents of the can into a saucepan, and heat it on the stove until it comes together.

**Regular limes can be used in place of key limes.

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