Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

December 28, 2010 at 11:40 pm 75 comments

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Even as a little kid, I liked flying home. Not the chaos of the security checks, the trip itself, or even the weary drive back to our house. But I love that first step outside SeaTac Airport. When I exit the airport after hours of flight and days of vacation – I breathe in the Pacific Northwest air as slowly and deliberately as I can. No matter where I’ve been or how much I enjoyed myself, that first breath always tastes like the freshest, cleanest air I’ve ever known.

My flight back from Boston was forgettable. I took a taxi from my school at 5 am, spent a two hour layover in Chicago, and finally made it to Seattle after 12 hours. As tired as I was, I anticipated the step outside. I usually get this incredible emotion, a mix of contentment and familiarity, a rush of glassy lakes and painted mountains. I dragged my suitcase outside with me, looked out at the flat grey sky, and inhaled.

But… nothing.

Instead, there was something else – a strange feeling I couldn’t place. It sat in my chest, somewhat uncomfortably, even as the Toyota pulled up and I saw my mother for the first time since summer.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

When we came home, the first thing I did was walk to the kitchen. I expected fireworks to burst in my heart, rainbows to pump through my veins and surge out my fingertips when we reunited. Nothing had changed in my absence. The walls were the same marigold yellow, the same checkerboard tile covered the floor, but somehow it wasn’t the kitchen I’d remembered and missed. It looked cramped and dim, hardly big enough for three people and two dogs.

I wheeled my bag into my old room, pulled out my Boston sweatshirt, and fell asleep without unpacking.

Over the next few days, I saw Grandma and my parents, which made me feel like daybreak inside. Almost at once I caught up with old friends, a both strange and easy experience. But during the afternoon, with no classes or job to distract me, I got bored. If I wasn’t asleep, I suffered from bad headaches all day. And that uncomfortable feeling lodged in my chest hadn’t vanished.

By now, I’ve figured out what the feeling is… homesickness. I know it’s ridiculous to feel homesick for school when I’m home. I also see how pointless it is to wallow in sadness, pining for Boston, while I have three weeks left in this beautiful place. If I don’t appreciate the rain, family, and happiness I can only find in Seattle, I’ll regret it a month later when I’m gone.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

The solution for the headaches didn’t come in Tylenol. It’s a healthy combination of Mom’s noodle soup, Dad’s sweater hugs, damp dog paws all over my bed and the tug of a camera strap. It’s a sifting of flour on my apron and cinnamon dust on my palms. It’s not exactly a bitter pill to swallow.

One of the best things about being home is the food. Predictable, but it isn’t even the food as much as the ingredients. There are the luxury items I haven’t bought in college – all natural creamy peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up before spreading. Soft handmade tortillas, brown rice, even almonds! It’s a joyful thing to appreciate a quick handful of almonds before dinner. And produce! Even in winter, at home I’m eating crisp spinach and sweet Asian pears.

The school menu never changes, and most of the fruit comes out of a can, soaked in sugary syrup. At home, every flavor is amplified. The grapefruit I sliced with my first breakfast back was so clean and fresh, the sharpest thing I’d tasted in ages. After I devoured it, I thought about citrus the rest of the day. I’ve been drinking grapefruits the way parched survivors reach for water.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Reacquainting myself with our kitchen is like slipping into a familiar song. Every measuring cup is where I know it’ll be. Pans still clink and clatter in our cupboard, and that old bag of shredded coconut still has some life in it. The microplane zester, still my favorite tool in the room, is just as sharp as ever. The result? Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting.

Even baked into a cupcake, the grapefruit manages to refresh. It’s light and zingy, pairing beautifully with the sweetness of coconut. And the frosting? I wanted something mellow and subtle, and the green tea powder I bought from Pike Place Market over the summer was just the right touch.

When I opened that oven door, the warm air that surged up was so fragrant and sweet. I was caught off guard by how hot it was, and how good it felt against the oven mitt. Later, in bed, I rolled over and pressed my nose into my hair – it smelled like sugar. It was one of the best smells I’d almost forgotten.

I think I’ll bake again tomorrow.

[It’s good to be back. See you in 2011!]

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 21 cupcakes

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
Zest of 2 grapefruits
2 large eggs + 2 large egg whites
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with paper liners.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and coconut together in a large bowl. In an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and grapefruit zest until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well between whites.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the coconut milk and ending with the dry ingredients. Fill the cupcake tins 2/3 full and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks before frosting.

Matcha Frosting
Adapted from Savory Sweet Life

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon matcha (green tea powder)
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

Beat the butter in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed for a few minutes. Add the powdered sugar and matcha. Stir on the lowest speed possible (or give it a few turns first by hand to avoid sugar flying everywhere) until the sugar’s incorporated into the butter. Then beat on medium speed and add the vanilla extract and salt. Beat for 3 minutes, then beat in a tablespoon of milk, adding more (or less) if necessary. More milk will make a thinner frosting, more sugar will make a stiffer frosting.

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75 Comments Add your own

  • 1. outsideoslo  |  January 12, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Those cupcakes sound wonderful. Enjoy these times–the transition from high school to college, from college to career, are a special and sweet time. They may be tinged with homesickness and other emotions, but it can be a time of helping one start to realize what’s most important in their life.

  • 2. Michelle  |  January 14, 2011 at 3:58 am

    I don’t think I have ever read anything, much less a blog post that describes my life to a T!! When I was home over Christmas break I I couldn’t wait to get home for the holidays, it’s the time I wait all year for! I was a little upset that I wasn’t able to go home until December 23 because I had friends visiting me in Nashville. When I hit that Missouri state line though I couldn’t have been more excited, my brother was even home from Afghanistan, nothing could go wrong. But from the time I got home, I never felt Christmasy and I wasn’t quite as happy. I loved seeing family, eating at my local spots, and being with my best friends, but it was weird..I felt homesick…but for Nashville. I was actually really excited to go back. As soon as I got off my plane and then again when I walked through the door of my apartment, I felt easy and at home. It was the craziest feeling and I was so happy. But now my roommate still isn’t back from home so I have been alone, which has again turned me homesick for my original home. Which has meant curling my hair late at night (bizarre I know!) and A LOT of baking. Of course I am pretty much the only one to eat it. I am just ready for normalcy! Oh, and my hair smells like oranges..I have had the same craving for citrus. I think I have had 3 oranges today alone. So weird!

  • 3. Lola  |  January 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Waouh!! All your recipes look amazing!! I’m french and even if i love backing i have to say that you are one of the most talented baker i’ve ever seen! Thanks for all your great coking ideas !! Good luck for college! Bye from France (sorry for my horrible english)

  • 4. Jasmine M  |  January 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Hi your story is so well written. I’m preparing for leaving for college in the fall and I can’t image not being able to bake for months at a time. Although I don’t make pastries nearly as elaborate as your’s. It seems odd to me though that you pine for school while you are at home. I guess everyone has a different experience.

  • 5. Tori Greaves  |  January 15, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Oh, I so know that feeling – dreadfully homesick… when you’re at home?!

    I spent a semester in Washington, DC last year, and coming home for spring break was one of the more painful things I’ve had to do. Your really do invest your heart when you are going to school and living away from home. And by doing so, that school becomes a home!

    But you are right: we have to practice living fully in each and every moment- at school or at home. Whether that’s enjoying our family, hanging out with friends, or simply baking! And by the way, those cupcakes look delicious!

  • 6. Imaginarium of Pau  |  January 16, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Nice cupcakes! Looks very delish. I love your blog entries. Keep it up! :)

  • 7. Lauren  |  January 18, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Elissa, these cupcakes look amazing! The matcha frosting looks so unique, I can’t wait to try it myself! I loved reading this post, I relate to so much you say, being an avid baker myself and having recently graduated from a Boston school. Can’t wait to check back in soon and see how you are doing!

  • 8. Culinarian  |  January 21, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    these look fabulous! Have you ever thought about culinary school?? I have a great blog about it if you want to check it out :)

  • 9. Lauren B.  |  January 25, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    It’s a quite different experience returning home not only from college but from any place that we have been for an extended period of time. It’s the memories and time shared with others that make what we each consider “home” so wonderful.

  • 10. fridayswithcoco  |  January 27, 2011 at 10:05 am

    This looks absolutely delicious. I’m learning so much from your website. Thanks! :)


  • 11. Isabel Kitchen  |  February 2, 2011 at 2:07 am

    These are adorable! I love the unusual flavors I can’t wait to try them. Your such an inspiration for me. I am looking to pursue a career in Culinary Arts and I can tell it’s truly your form of expression as it is mine. A true passion of ours!

  • 12. The Bird Cage  |  March 2, 2011 at 11:25 pm


    These cupcakes turned out wonderful! I delighted my guests tonight with this absolutely elegant creation. Everyone was asking me for the recipe, so i just directed them here.

    Thank you for sharing them :)

  • […]  my niece, Lindsey, who was having a Japanese themed thirteenth birthday party and Elissa, from Seventeen and Baking, who had posted this cupcake about a month ago and I have been drooling ever […]

  • 14. Moving and more to come! «  |  July 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    […] cupcakes with Matcha tea frosting (recipe + […]

  • 15. michele  |  July 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    your posts are so sweet, you’re making me miss my mom! and she’s only a half hour away! this is my first time visiting your blog, and i’m amazed that you started taking photographs and blogging at such a young age, you’re so great at it! can’t wait to read more! :)

  • 16. betty  |  August 8, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    the crumb looks amazing yum love the mix of coconut and grapefruit :)

  • […] found the recipe for these cupcakes on the terrific blog 17 and baking and have been dying to make them for months. […]

  • 18. namaycush  |  January 17, 2012 at 11:20 am

    This looks soooooooo tasty!

  • 19. ssctina  |  April 9, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    how strong is the matcha flavor of this cupcake?

  • […]  my niece, Lindsey, who was having a Japanese themed thirteenth birthday party and Elissa, from Seventeen and Baking, who had posted this cupcake earlier, and I have been drooling ever […]

  • 21. pbeustoot  |  April 18, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Always proof read your recipes. The eggs are written wrong, it only mentions the whites, and it doesn’t say when to add the vanilla.

  • […] Read all the instructions at […]

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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