Sunday, August 28, 2005

Cupcakes of the Caribbean

Last weekend, my friend invited me to his tropical themed BBQ. It was a casual get together, with a bunch of his old friends, and a few of his new friends, like me. He and his wife provided a bountiful spread of themed food, and I volunteered to bring dessert. After a bit of thought, I decided to make rum cupcakes with coconut frosting. I then embarked upon a search for rum cake recipes, which led me to a recipe for a Malibu Rum cake. But here's the catch. It was by that blasphemous semi-homemade fake, Sandra Lee. I debated for a couple of days whether I should use her "recipe," since I'm normally against cake mixes because they contain so many ingredients that have nothing to do with food, like the copious amount of preservatives. In the end, time won out, and I decided that it wasn't cheating to use the mix for the cupcakes, if I made homemade frosting.

As you might expect, the cake mix turned out very good cupcakes. Her alterations of the recipe, namely adding rum (instead of water) and a package of pudding, made for very moist, rum flavored cupcakes. I'm actually reading a book right now entitled Something from the Oven, by Laura Shapiro, about the rise of the packaged food industry after WWII. It has some fascinating things to say about cake mixes, and the reservations women had about using them. I highly recommend it. As many 50's housewives did before me, I repressed my guilt about making cheaters cupcakes, and delved into the frosting preparation.

I took my recipe for frosting from the Cook's Illustrated website. Their coconut layer cake sounded delish, and the frosting seemed easy enough. I've made buttercream frosting before, and it was fairly easy, so I figured this would be similar. I thought the hardest part was whisking the eggs whites and sugar over the simmering water. I was worried I would cook them or overdo it or something, but all was well. After they reached their correct temperature, I assume to remove any chance of getting salmonella, I put them in the mixer and whisked them up to sticky peaks. The would have been gorgeous and delicious just like that, but I figured it would be wise to finish the recipe. The only warning I will give is that in the middle of adding the butter when making buttercream, the mixture looks like it's curdling or breaking or something has gone terribly wrong. It hasn't, don't worry. Add the rest of the butter and it will all return to normal and create lovely, creamy, obscenely decadent frosting.

This frosting was light as air when it was done, and it easily piped out of my pastry bag to create satisfying ploofs of frosting. I used the big round tip, because I wanted the frosting to pipe up thick and tall on the cakes. After a little sprinkle of coconut, they were finished. A little army of tiny cakes ready for battle.

Happily, they were well-received. I was shocked at how similar the frosting tasted to the etherial store-bought cupcake frosting, the ones that come in the special plastic cupcake containers. It was a little disappointing, actually. But my tasters all seemed pleased with the cupcakes, and they were legitimately homemade, so I quickly forgot about it. It's amazing how popular bringing homemade treats to a party can make you. That was a good thing too, since I knew no one but the hosts of this party. But everyone there was incredibly friendly, so I had a very nice time. Maybe I'll try making a different treat for next year's shindig.

Malibu Rum Cupcakes

1 package (18.25-ounce) Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe classic yellow cake mix
1 cup Malibu Rum
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 package (3.4-ounce) Jell-O vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
4 eggs

Combine all ingredients in a mixer and mix until smooth. Pour into a cupcake pan lined with cupcake papers until cups are 3/4 full. Bake according to the directions on the cake mix box. Let cool completely before frosting.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch table salt
1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks), each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened, but still cool
1/4 cup cream of coconut (if you don't have that, use sweetened condensed milk + coconut extract to taste—this is what I used, and it worked great)
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup, or more, sweetened shredded coconut

While cupcakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature. Be vigilant when toasting the coconut—it can go from golden to burnt very quickly.

For the Buttercream: Combine whites, sugar, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2-inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.

Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. (Don't worry if it looks like the mixture is breaking or curdling, it will be fine.) Beat in cream of coconut/sweetened condensed milk and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute.

Put frosting in a pastry bag fitted with the tip of your choice, and decorate your cupcakes as you like. Or spread onto the cupcakes with a knife or frosting spatula.

Sprinkle the toasted and cooled coconut on the frosted cupcakes. Enjoy!

Recipes courtesy of Sandra Lee and Cook's Illustrated.


Blogger Mona said...

Wow wow and wow. Those cupcakes make the ones I just made look so boring! These sound amazing! Makes me want to pop a straw in one and just drink it away...Malibu being in the title and all :)

9/05/2005 10:38 AM  
Blogger Rachael Narins said...

Oh wow, I would absolutly LOVE that coconut cake you still have it? Would you be willing to email it to me? (Insert sheepish grin) If so, Im at

OH, and I included you in my LA Food Blogger list, at, better late than never!

I hope you will start posting more often, I love your blog!


11/01/2005 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for just a recipe! I can't wait to try it! Thanks bunches!

Wonder what it would be like with Captain Morgans Tattoo rum?? More like a Dr. Pepper Cupcake probably. I'll have to try that too.

4/22/2008 3:46 PM  

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