South Carolina Coconut Cupcakes


These coconut cupcakes are my take on the Ultimate Coconut Cake from Charleston’s Peninsula Grill. The original recipe is made up of 12 layers of cake between sheaths of custard; this recipe takes all of the same elements and shrinks them down to single servings. 

South Carolina is full of surprises, not least of which is its state dessert: coconut cake.

I went to school in South Carolina (a place where the food is as good as the landscape is beautiful) and food is how I learned about the culture. My college had a great cafeteria (the pizza was weird, but South Carolina is not known for its pizza). On any given day, I got as much cheese grits, boil’d peanuts, collard greens, and biscuits ‘n’ gravy as I could fit in my mouth …

College was a magical gustatory experience.

I was kind of hoping the state dessert would be the Pig Pickin’ Cake — which I loved when I was 19, but haven’t had since. It involves boxed cake mix, canned pineapple and cool whip — a potluck favorite if there ever was one. But if I had to guess at a state dessert, it would be banana pudding – the kind with Nilla Wafers (one of my favorites — I’ve definitely eaten my weight in banana pudding). My favorites aside, I had never heard of this coconut cake.

Apparently, it’s derived from a restaurant in Charleston called the Peninsula Grill — learning that kind of made sense. Charleston is in its only little bubble and isn’t quite the same as the rest of the state much like New York City is nothing like the rest of New York State. It’s… special. This coconut cake is special as well  (but without the snark). It has twelve layers of deliciousness.. Cake alternates with custard topped with frosting and sprinkled with toasted coconut. It is a dreamy cake worthy of a wedding that you can order with your peasant dinner or order it to be shipped to you from the restaurant for a cool $130. I’m not sure I would pay that much for a cake, but the effort that goes into this particular cake warrants the price.

So.. I made the cake. And then.. I made it my own in the form of cupcakes… with a lot of tweaks (adding coconut oil and coconut flour to give it extra coconut goodness).

Here it goes:

Custard FillingCoconut-Cupcakes

  • ¾  cup whole milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 TB granulated sugar
  • 1 ½  TB cornstarch
  • ½  teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tsp rum
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over low heat. Whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture then return the mixture to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until thickened. Watch it! It thickens fast.  Coconut-Cupcakes

Scrape the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the rum and vanilla extract followed by the coconut oil. Let cool to room temperature then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least three hours.Coconut-Cupcakes


Cake BatterCoconut-Cupcakes

  • ½ cup +2 TB unsalted butter
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • 1 ½  cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs, 2 egg whites
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TB coconut flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 3/4 cups half and half
  • 2 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut flakes, toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line cupcake pan with papers. In a bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, coconut oil and sugar until it’s  fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy, scraping down sides of the bowl as you go. Coconut-Cupcakes With the mixer on low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. When it’s combined, add ⅓ of the half and half. Continue alternating until it’s all combined. Spoon batter into cupcake pan.  Bake for about 15 minutes. Insert a toothpick. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Let cool completely before removing from pan.



  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, slightly chilled but not cold
  • ¼  cup cream cheese
  • ½  teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Beat together the butter, coconut oil and cream cheese. Gradually add the sugar followed by the vanilla.



To fill the cupcakes, use an apple corer to cut out a center piece of the cupcake. Fill a pastry bag (or ziploc bag with the corner cut) with the custard. Fill the holes, top them with frosting and sprinkle the toasted coconut on top.Coconut-Cupcakes

This is one of those cupcakes that make me feel like a legit baker. They are pretty impressive little desserts — and I don’t like toot my own horn.


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