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I’d been wanting to make Ina Garten’s coconut cupcakes ever since I bought her Barefoot Contessa cookbook over a year ago. I love Ina’s recipes and I faithfully watch her show. Her food is simple yet delicious. Classic, with a twist. I rely on her books when I entertain, and they haven’t failed me yet. People are always impressed with the things I make from Ina’s books.

I do admit, though, I usually skip the chapter on baked goods. There’s nothing inherently wrong with her pecan squares or her croissant bread pudding. In fact, they look fabulous. I just have a wee bit of a problem with adding a pound of butter to whatever I bake. Maybe it’s me and I just haven’t baked enough to know how rich a lot of baking can be. It’s one thing to buy a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie to go with your latte at Starbucks, quite another to see all the fat that goes into such a cookie when you make it at home.

Take those pecan squares of Ina’s. Her recipe calls for 1 1/4 pounds of butter for the crust and 1 pound of butter for the topping. Her recipe makes twenty squares. Do the math. That’s a heart attack waiting to happen. I’m all for butter–I can’t live without it. But really, sometimes too much is too much.

But I couldn’t get the coconut cupcakes off my mind. When the opportunity to make them presented itself in the form of my brother’s birthday last week, I finally made them. Needless to say, I reduced the amount of butter called for in Ina’s recipe. I don’t think it diminished the cupcakes in any way. Despite my building them up in my mind for so long, they did not disappoint, and I’ll definitely make them again.

I did add a twist of my own, though. Lemon. I love lemon. Everything tastes better with lemon, in my humble opinion. I added the juice of a couple of lemons to the batter and the icing, along with their zest. They gave these rich cupcakes a bit of contrast and a refreshing tang, and the little yellow flecks of zest made them look even more scrumptious.


Ina Garten’s Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

adapted from “The Barefoot Contessa” cookbook

Makes 18-20 large cupcakes



1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cups sugar

5 extra-large eggs at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

cream cheese icing (recipe below)



1) Preheat oven to 325F. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Mix in vanilla extract.

2) Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. 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 7 ounces of coconut.

3) Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each cup with batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

4) Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and finish cooling on a wire rack. Frost with cream cheese icing and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 pound cream cheese at room teperature

3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 pounds icing sugar, sifted


Blend together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electirc mixer. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.


I did not change the icing recipe in any way. I was afraid that if I began tinkering with it, it might not come out right. You might want to use just a little icing for each cupcake and freeze the rest for next time.


choccupCake is not something I eat very often.  It ordinarily finds it’s way to my plate at birthday parties or other celebratory occasions when refusing a piece can make one look like a party pooper or chronic dieter.  In these cases, the cake is usually dry and tasteless, smeared with greasy supermarket bakery frosting that I end up scraping onto the side of my dish. 

Cupcakes, on the other hand, are a different story.  It wasn’t that long ago that these portable sweet treats seemed like a throwback to another era, something you’d find on a buffet table beside a Jell-o mold and  macaroni salad.  But what is old always becomes new again, and suddenly cupcakes were popping up all over the place.  A bakery that only sold cupcakes opened up in my neighborhood.  I went to a wedding and instead of a wedding cake there were beautifully frosted cupcakes served on a tree-tiered platter.  The cupcake had reached the height of sophistication.

When I first discovered food blogs (not that long ago) I noticed that a lot of people blog about cupcakes. There are even blogs solely devoted to them.  I can see why.  The variations are endless, they’re a lot easier to make than a layer cake, and they allow the baker unlimited creativity.  As a single person, I would never bother making a cake for myself, but I make cupcakes for my own enjoyment.  I halve the recipe and put what I won’t eat in the freezer for another time. They freeze well and make a perfect treat for my little niece when she comes for a visit.

This recipe is one of my favorites, adapted from the pages of a little book I found called Perfect Baking, published in the UK by Parragon. Devils’ Food cupcakes are a double whammy of nostalgia.  The addition of sour cream here makes for a really light and fluffy cupcake–which is probably why I like them so much.


Devil’s Food Cakes with Chocolate Frosting



Makes 18

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup (115g) firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

3/4 cup (115g) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup (25g) unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup (125ml) sour cream

For the frosting:

4 1/2 ounces (125g) semisweet chocolate

2 tablespoons icing sugar

2/3 cup (150ml) sour cream

3 1/2 ounces (100g) semisweet chocolate for garnish (optional)


1) Put 18 double layer paper cases on a cookie sheet or 18 singles divided between 2 muffin tins. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.

2) Beat the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking soda and cocoa in a large bowl until smooth. Fold in the sour cream. Spoon the batter into the paper cases, 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until risen and firm to the touch.

3) To make the frosting, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool. Whisk in the sugar and sour cream until combined.

4) Spread the frosting over the tops of the cupcakes and let set in the refrigerator before serving.

5) To garnish the cupcakes, shave the semisweet chocolate with a potato peeler or simply chop with a sharp knife.

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"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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August 2020
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Photos and text copyright 2009 by Darina Kopcok
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