Easter Lambycakes, or Coconut Cupcakes

by Laurel on March 30, 2010

I wasn’t the biggest Easter fan as a child. The day usually began with my mother having a nervous breakdown over a disastrous lamb cake, after which I would be forced into some frilly, pastel-colored outfit I hated and be dragged, along with the broken lamb cake to a party at my uncle’s house on the family ranch. It was fun to see all my family, and there was always a brief moment of excitement when the Easter-egg hunt began, but being the youngest of 12 cousins, most of the eggs were snatched before I even got my bearings.

The original Lamb Cake.

But times change. I eventually grew out of the obligatory egg hunt, replaced by new, younger cousins. I have learned to love dressing up in frilly outfits, although pastels are still not my favorite color palette. Most importantly, however, my mom perfected a no-fail recipe for the lamb cake, and passed this wisdom on to me. The lamb cake is a firm Easter tradition in my family: it’s a simple white cake batter baked in an antique lamb-shaped mold, coated with sticky icing and coconut shavings to resemble fur. The finishing touches are given by two raisins for eyes and a satin ribbon around the neck. For years my mother would suffer over the preparation of the fragile cake, only to have an ear, nose or head fall off at the last minute. It was often inedible because the number of toothpicks holding it together. She explains the tradition in her own words below:

“I inherited the traditional ( and once terrible) task of making the Lamb Cake each Easter. The antique cast iron mold of a cute little lamb, and memories from my childhood of the thrilling cake seduced me into thinking I should have the Lamb Cake mold. As I remember the story, it belonged to Florence Herff, my great grandmother who I never met but my mother says was a lot like me. She raised my mother and so the mold came down the family tree. Now I’m not sure Florence ever actually make the cake, because Anna, the housekeeper/nanny who lived with the family for three generations, was always there. When I was a child it was Anna who made the cake, seemingly effortlessly. I cannot remember an Easter without the lamb. Anna passed away 35 years ago so I inherited the mold, but not the recipe.”

– Carolyn Chipman-Evans

I am not around much at Easter time anymore, and I must say that distance makes the heart grow fonder. When springtime rolls around I find myself reminiscing about the Easter egg hunt, the pastel dress, but most of all, for my mother’s lamb cake. This year, in honor of Easter, I made miniature lambycakes. To most, they’re merely coconut cupcakes. But to me, they’re a celebration of generations of family tradition – sans toothpicks.

Myself at the Easter egg hunt as a child, helplessly watching my older cousins snatch all the eggs.

Mini Easter Lambycakes, or Coconut Cupcakes:

  • 1 13-to 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (380 g)
  • 1 cup / 150 g all purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 Tbsp / 90 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup / 130 g sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Seeds scraped from 1 split vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • cream cheese icing (recipe below)
  • 3.5 oz / 100 g shredded coconut

Bring coconut milk to boil in large deep saucepan over medium-high heat (coconut milk will boil up high in pan). Reduce heat to medium low; boil until reduced to 1/2 cup, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat; cool completely. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F/180°C. Line 10 muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar; beat on medium-high speed until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add egg and beat well, scraping down the side of bowl, then beat in seeds from vanilla bean (or extract). Add half of the flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended. Mix in the reduced coconut milk. Add remaining flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended.

Divide batter among muffin cups – an ice cream scoop is useful for this if you have one. Bake cupcakes until tops spring back when gently touched and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, then decorate with cream cheese icing and sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Cream Cheese Icing:

  • 8 ounces / 250 g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 stick / 115 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups / 360 g confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar vanilla, salt and cornstarch. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff,  or add another tablespoon of cornstarch. Makes 6 cups – you’ll have extra!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lalalaleah March 31, 2010 at 10:26 pm

These are beautiful and sound delicious! I hope to make them this weekend. On a separate, but coconut/cupcake-related note, I dreamed up the following and am curious how the flavor combo would turn out: vanilla cake, lime curd filling, cream cheese frosting with toasted coconut flakes on top. What do you think? I assume one could make lime curd just as easily as one could lemon…

Laurel April 1, 2010 at 10:05 am

That sounds delicious Leah. I haven’t made “filled” cupcakes yet, that should be my next challenge!

ideb April 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Meravigliosi questi cupcakes al cocco! Un saluto

Vanessa April 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm

My mother always made the lemon pound cake Easter lamb, and seeing yours brings back memories… I am impressed with your artistic detail as my mother was an artist with food as her medium. Yours is the first lamb cake I’ve seen to rival hers, so I am interested in trying your recipes. I was searching for a coconut cupcake recipe as I do not presently have a lamb mold or much time to bake before the holiday… your cupcake ingredients sound so pure and flavorful for Easter. I look forward to tasting these little lambkins! Can the cupcake batter be made with an electric handheld mixer?

Laurel April 2, 2010 at 10:04 am

Hi Vanessa! Thank you! I’d love to see a picture of your mom’s lamb cake! Doing a search online I found all sorts of people that have similar experiences inheriting a mysterious lamb mold – apparently it’s a tradition that originates in Eastern Europe. Vintage Griswold lamb cake molds go for up to $380 on ebay! If you don’t have a mold on hand, though, the miniature lambkins are a pretty alternative, and outrageously delicious. You’re right about the flavors – the coconut absolutely sings here, and is perfect for Easter. The batter can absolutely be made with an electric handheld mixer!
Happy Easter!

kate April 3, 2010 at 2:21 am

I love anecdotal recipes! And I also love the idea of you in a frilly pastel dress – I was under similar duress as a child, but my mom used to match my sisters and I…yikes. Easter eats were the only thing that made that better. This cupcake recipe looks great!

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