Kona Cupcakes & Kahlua Buttercream

If the warming weather and fast approaching summer are inspiring visions of beaches and little umbrella-topped-drinks, I’m with you.  Probably since our first really warm day this year (in, like, February) I’ve been fantasizing about going on a trip somewhere to soak it all up.  Say, Hawaii?  California?

Ahh, the beach.  Of course, while I’m dreaming here, I may as well wish for a pony.  And maybe some calorie-free chocolate cakes. 

Alright – we can’t always have everything, but we have been working hard for that beach body, right?  Or… maybe we still have a little ways to go on that?  (Well check it out – here’s how to get THAT wish.  Note: Some work may be required!)

In any case, I do think it’s important to find your happy place somewhere between physical awesomeness and mental peacefulness.  It’s like going for a long run on the beach and then enjoying a leisurely splash in the ocean.  Or feeling a little sore after yesterday’s workout and then savoring a mini Kona cupcake or two.  Each part seems a little better because of the other, doesn’t it?

Still, I’ll admit, there have been many times when I’ve been guilty of focusing too intently on physical results to properly enjoy its counterparts, rest and nourishment.  But if I’m tired and grumpy all the time… I’m not convinced it’s worth all the effort. 

I find it far more pleasant to find a middle ground and just be happier about everything in general.  I could be happy for a few moments when stuffing my face with tons of pizza, or happy when checking out my hard-won six pack or whatever (yeah I totally don’t have one) – but I wouldn’t feel so great the rest of the time.  I’d much rather nom on one really good slice of pizza and still be confident about my strong, healthy body.  Balance.

That’s what I was thinking when I mixed up a batch of these cupcakes.  Or, something along those lines at least.

The flavors are reminiscent of a beach vacation – the Steve and I went to lovely Kona for our honeymoon, where coffee and macadamia nuts are ubiquitous.  In thinking about getting ready for summer, and possible bikini-wearing, remember to balance out all your hard work with some healthy treats from time to time!

Kona Cupcakes & Kahlua Buttercream

½ c. coconut oil, melted

½ c. applesauce, room temp or warmer

1 c. sugar

¼ c. agave nectar or honey

4 large eggs, preferably room temp

1 c. white whole wheat flour

2/3 c. cake or pastry flour (whole wheat if you can find it)

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

3 T. finely ground dark roast instant coffee

1 c. almond milk

1 T. vinegar

¼ c. coffee liqueur (if not available, use 2 tsp. vanilla extract plus 1 tsp. instant coffee in 3 T. hot water)

1/3 c. chopped macadamia nuts

Macadamia halves and chocolate covered espresso beans for garnishing.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray two regular or 2 mini muffin pans with cooking spray.

In a mixer, combine coconut oil, applesauce, sugar, and agave nectar.  Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well in between each addition.

Heat the almond milk (140-160 degrees F) and add the instant coffee.  Add the vinegar and coffee liqueur.  Allow to cool.

Combine flours, baking powder, soda, and salt in a bowl with a whisk.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the almond milk mixture to the mixer bowl, mixing in between each alternation and beginning and ending with the flour.  Gently fold in the chopped macadamia nuts.

Fill the muffin cups almost all the way to the top and bake in the oven – 10-12 minutes for the mini muffins and 16-18 minutes for the larger muffins.  The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow the muffins to cool in the pans for 3-4 minutes, and then remove gently to cool fully on a wire rack.

When cooled completely to room temperature, frost with your homemade Kahlua Frosting and top with a macadamia half and espresso bean each.  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days if not serving immediately.  But hey, why wait!

For the Kahlua Frosting:

I used the basic proportions of a buttercream frosting, with a few additions/substitutions for flavor.

½ c. coconut oil, softened but not melted

½ c. unsalted butter, softened but not melted

3-4 c. powdered sugar, sifted

1 T. vanilla extract

Up to 4 T. coffee liqueur or espresso (can be made with instant powder)

Basically, the idea is to whip it all together into a dreamy consistency, but why describe it in detail when so many others have already done it much better than I could? 

A good recipe with guidelines for making it correctly can be found here:


One tip, though: If you want to pipe your frosting, it is a good idea to chill it first for about 30-40 minutes before putting in the piping bag!