These tropical Pina Colada Cupcakes have crushed pineapple, coconut, and rum in the batter. The coconut icing is sweet and creamy – like a vacation in cupcake form!
We’ve been enjoying the first few sunny, spring-like days here. I’ve been aching for days like these while growing tired of winter’s landscape. I know pina colada flavors are more popular in summer months, but I just couldn’t help myself. March started off with my dad having heart surgery. Which, as you can imagine, was scary and anxiety-inducing. (He’s going to be just fine!) But after all the grey days, and the hospital ambiance, I felt like needed a vacation – even if it’s in cupcake form.
Chock-full of pineapple and coconut, and topped with light coconut buttercream, these Pina Colada Cupcakes are just the little respite I needed.
Start by creaming sugar and butter together, then adding eggs one at a time. This is a predictable beginning for cake making, and the quantity of batter is easy enough to manage using a hand mixer.
Next, add in all of the batter’s liquid ingredients. This includes a big dose of rum. Coconut rum will give you the best flavor, but if you just have regular rum on hand that’s fine too. The alcohol content will cook out during baking and leave behind the concentrated rum flavors. If you’d rather not use alcohol, you can substitute an equal amount of canned coconut milk with a half teaspoon of rum extract.
Fold in the flavor!
Mix in the flour until a fluffy cake batter is formed. Then, fold in flake coconut and crushed pineapple. For this recipe, I prefer unsweet flaked coconut, but most home bakers will have sweetened flaked coconut on hand. That will work too, the end result will just be slightly sweeter. I recommend giving the sweetened coconut an extra chop before adding it to the batter. It can be rather stringy otherwise, and shortening the strands makes for a nicer texture in the cakes.
Fill the muffin cups with the batter. A trigger ice cream scoop does the job just right, about 2/3 full.
After the cupcakes are baked and cooled, frost them using a simple coconut buttercream made with butter, confectioners’ sugar, heavy cream, and coconut extract. I used a piping bag fitted with 1/2 inch round decorator tip to pipe a circle of frosting around the outer edge of each cake. You can do this too, or simply smear on a little frosting around the edge with an offset spatula. Either way, dip this first layer of frosting in toasted coconut flakes.
Then, use a bag of frosting fitted with a closed star piping tip to make a tall swirl inside the toasted coconut circle.
Add a maraschino cherry on top, and if you’re feeling fancy, decorate them cocktail-style with a mini paper umbrella (found here).
I sat each cake inside pretty gingham paper cups for a pretty presentation. You can find them here. You can bake the cupcakes directly in these liners, but they are bigger than standard liners. Since most people use regular paper liners, I wanted my recipe testing to reflect that. You’ll get about 16 cupcakes in standard liners.
The ingredients for these Piña Colada Cupcakes are simple and widely available year-round, so that’s when you should make them. Meaning, whenever you have the craving for them (or need a mini vacay!).
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, but still sweet and tropical tasting, check out my Tropical Ambrosia Salad!
Pina Colada Cupcakes
It doesn’t have to be summer to enjoy these tropical cupcakes! They’re great year-round. So refreshing and full of pina colada flavor.
See the recipe notes for tips on how to serve these with no alcohol added, and for my favorite alternate whipped cream topping. It’s chilly and creamy – perfect for the warm days ahead.
Cupcake tins (2)
Cupcake liners (16)
Trigger ice cream scoop, optional
Disposable piping bags (2)
Large 1/2-inch round decorator tip
Large closed star decorator tip
Paper cocktail umbrellas, optional
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons whole milk at room temperature
- 1/4 cup coconut rum or plain rum mixed with 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- 1/4 cup unsweet flake coconut or sweetened flake coconut chopped finer
- 1/2 cup crushed pineapple drained
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream plus more to thin if needed
- 2 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
- 1/3 cup toasted coconut for garnish (see notes)
- 16 maraschino cherries drained and patted dry with paper towels
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line cupcake pans with 16 cupcake liners.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl; whisk to combine.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla, milk, and rum, and mix on low speed. Beat for 3-5 minutes until the consistency is smooth. Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.
Add the flaked coconut and pineapple; fold in by hand.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans, filling each cavity about 2/3 full (a trigger ice cream scoop is perfect for portioning!).
Bake for 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat together the butter and confectioners’ sugar on low speed. When the mixture is just combined, add the salt and mix again. Increase the mixer speed to medium and add the heavy cream and coconut extract. When just combined, raise the speed to high and beat for 5-7 minutes. Add more heavy cream to reach smooth piping consistency, if needed. Beat until the frosting is lightened to almost white color and fluffy.
Transfer 1/2 of the frosting to a piping bag fitted with the 1/2-inch round tip. Transfer the other half to a piping bag fitted with the large closed star tip.
Place the toasted coconut on a shallow dish.
Pipe a circle of frosting around the top edge of a cupcake using the 1/2-inch round tip frosting bag. Immediately dip the edges of the frosting into the toasted coconut (see video for technique).
Pipe a swirl of frosting in the center of the cupcake using the large closed star tip frosting bag. Top with a maraschino cherry and a cocktail umbrella.
Repeat the process with the remaining cupcakes until they are all frosted and decorated.
To toast coconut, sprinkle it on a 13×9 baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before using on the cupcakes.
Whipped cream frosting alternative: To make these chilly for summertime, replace the coconut buttercream recipe with homemade whipped cream. Beat 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream in a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup of fine granulated sugar while beating. Beat in 2 teaspoons coconut extract. Divide whipped cream between the designated piping bags with decorator tips and pipe as directed.
No alcohol version: Replace the 1/4 cup of rum with 1/4 cup canned coconut milk; add 1/2 teaspoon rum extract to the recipe. You can also use 1/4 cup of pineapple juice in place of the rum. It may curdle the batter a little due to the pineapple enzymes, but will become more consistent when the flour mixture is added.