Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

vanilla bean coconut cupcakes with coconut frosting and shredded coconut on a plate with a linen
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Our vanilla-coconut cupcake recipe couples the warm perfume of vanilla beans and tropical flavor of coconut for a delicious, just-sweet-enough treat that everyone will love.

Let Them Eat (Cup)cake(s)

It’s almost impossible not to smile while eating a cupcake. Compact, fluffy and moist, this vanilla bean and coconut with vanilla bean coconut buttercream frosting cupcake recipe is our very favorite. Rich with lightly fruity flavors of coconut and vanilla, these pale beauties are as at home at a barbecue as they are at a baby shower. When topped with a perfect cloud of homemade coconut buttercream and flaked, toasted coconut, they look mighty impressive, too. 

How To Make Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes

Deeply flavorful and fragrant with coconut and fresh vanilla beans, these are hands-down the best coconut cupcakes ever. They’re not hard to make, but they are a bit of a process. Cupcakes are a multi-bowl, multi-step kind of recipe, there’s just no way around it. The secret to success is knowing which step to tackle when—and we don’t recommend multitasking. One thing at a time. Your patience will be rewarded with vanilla-coconut cupcakes!

  1. Reduce coconut milk—full fat, please!—by simmering it until it has reduced by half. This is a great thing to do ahead of time, since it takes a while and the reduced coconut milk will keep perfectly well in the fridge for up to two days.  
  2. Make the cupcakes! Dry ingredients prepped and mixed. Wet ingredients—we’re calling the vanilla bean a “wet” ingredient, which seems right, right?—prepped and mixed. Dry mixed into wet, and into the oven they go! 
  3. Bake the cupcakes! 
  4. Make the coconut buttercream! Use an electric or hand-held mixer to whip the reduced coconut milk and seeds scraped from a vanilla bean into butter. Give it a taste-test as often as you deem necessary. 
  5. Cool, frost, indulge! It can be hard to wait, but don’t slather your coconut frosting onto those vanilla coconut cupcakes until they are totally cool. If you jump the gun, you’ll have a melted coconut buttercream disaster on your hands. It’ll still be delicious, but SO not pretty. 
Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

Why Reduce the Coconut Milk?

Our coconut vanilla bean cupcake recipe—both the cupcakes themselves and the coconut buttercream frosting—get their lovely concentrated coconut flavor from unsweetened canned coconut milk that has been reduced over heat. Coconut cupcake recipes often call for coconut extract, but we prefer the creamy, natural flavor that using real coconut milk brings to the table. A bit of simmering is all it takes to make reduced coconut milk, and the resulting big coconut flavor in your vanilla bean frosting is really worth the effort. 

How To Make Vanilla Bean-Coconut Buttercream Frosting

Our homemade buttercream recipe is a cinch to make, but it’s very tool-dependant. Use either an electric stand mixer, or a hand-held mixer to whip your buttercream into shape. BTW, this fresh coconut buttercream is just as good on full-sized cakes—we love it with lemon cake—as it is on these coconut cupcakes. Here’s how to make it: 

  • Bring the unsalted butter to room temperature. 
  • Beat the butter with an electric mixer until it’s silky-smooth and airy. 
  • Whip in the reduced coconut milk and fresh vanilla, inhaling as you go (because OMG it will smell so good). 
  • Scoop the finished frosting into a pastry bag with tip for mess-free cupcake piping—or, you can use a Ziploc bag with the tip snipped in—and frost away. 

Vanilla Beans VS Vanilla Extract

Using fresh vanilla beans in these vanilla coconut cupcakes isn’t just for show—although we do love seeing those little black flecks peppered throughout the frosting. We love them because they have such a powerful fragrance—they are more expensive than vanilla extract, but this time it’s worth the splurge. However, if you’re not feeling up for a splurge, not to worry. For this vanilla bean cupcake with coconut frosting recipe, you can substitute one and a half teaspoons of pure vanilla extract for one split vanilla bean. 

Tools You’ll Need:

Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting on a plate with toasted shredded coconut

More Sweet Treats To Love

Once you’ve nailed these moist coconut cupcakes, you’ll have all the confidence you need to tackle more incredible desserts. 

I Say Cup, You Say Cake. Cup! Cake! Cup! Cake!

We know you’ll love these vanilla bean-coconut cupcakes. We also know that should you share them, because you’ll forever be known as “that person who makes those amazing cupcakes.” So, while you’re whipping up one of your many batches, post a picture to Instagram of your cupcake lovelies and tag @themodernproper and #themodernproper. Happy eating!

Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

Serves 18

Reduced Coconut Milk

2 13-to 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk*


2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
seeds scraped from 1 split vanilla bean or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup reduced coconut milk (see above), room temperature


1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (2 sticks)
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup reduced coconut milk (see above), room temperature
Seeds scraped from 1 split vanilla bean or 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted (for garnish)


Reduced Coconut Milk

  1. Bring coconut milk to boil in large deep saucepan over medium-high heat (coconut milk will boil up high in pan). Reduce heat to mediumlow; boil until reduced to 1 ½ cups, stirring occasionally, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat; cool completely. Transfer to small bowl. Cover; chill (coconut milk will settle slightly as it cools). DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.


  1. Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F.
  2. Line eighteen 1/3-cup muffin cups with paper liners.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
  4. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar; beat on medium-high speed until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in seeds from vanilla bean and remaining egg. Add half of flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended. Add 1 cup reduced coconut milk; mix just until blended. Add remaining flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended.
  5. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake cupcakes until tops spring back when gently touched and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes in pans to rack; cool 10 minutes. Carefully remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on rack.


  1. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, 1/3 cup reduced coconut milk, seeds from vanilla bean, and salt. Beat on medium-low speed until blended, scraping down sides of bowl. Increase to mediumhigh and beat until light and fluffy.
  2. Using pastry bag fitted with large star tip, pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. (Alternatively, top each cupcake with 2 tablespoons frosting. Using small offset spatula, swirl frosting over top of cupcakes, leaving ½-inch plain border.) Sprinkle with coconut. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight containers; chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Bon Appétit | April 2009
by Abigail Johnson Dodge