I’ve never been a fan of beach vacations. My pale Irish skin hates the sun, I don’t like swimsuits, and I hate sweating. We have always taken ski vacations in the winter, and even our honeymoon was to Maine in the fall.
But when we got the chance to take a sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands, I knew we couldn’t pass it up. No matter how much sunscreen I had to buy. We chartered a 43 foot catamaran sail boat with three other couples, and spent a week sailing, sunning, hiking, and eating some amazing seafood.
More importantly, we drank some fabulous cocktails. Best vacation ever.
The Painkiller is the official drink of the British Virgin Islands. It’s officially trademarked by Pusser’s Rum, which has its own great backstory, but legend has it that the drink originated at the Soggy Dollar bar at White Bay on the island of Jost Van Dyke.
White Bay is one of the few places we visited that doesn’t have a dinghy dock. Which means that after you moor your boat just off the pristine white sand beach, the only way to get to shore is to swim. Hence the name – everyone pays with some soggy wet dollars.
The bartenders line up cup after cup of painkillers on the bar all day. Add in some fried food, hammocks on the beach, and perfect weather and there’s no reason to leave.
While the official recipe for the painkiller is a secret, we know it contains pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut, Pusser’s rum, and is topped with freshly grated nutmeg.
For my fellow sailors, I wanted to create a cupcake that was true to the drink recipe. My previous coconut cake and frosting recipe used coconut milk, but I wanted to use cream of coconut for the Painkillers. So I started with a standard white cake recipe, and made adjustments until I felt like I captured the taste of the original drink.
Cream of coconut is very different from coconut milk or coconut water or coconut cream. Coconut water is the liquid from the center of the coconut. It’s clear and only slightly sweet. Coconut milk is coconut water mixed with pureed coconut, minus some of the fat, resulting in a milk-like consistency and a stronger coconut flavor. Coconut cream is the same, only with more coconut.
Cream of coconut, on the other hand, is like a piña colada in a can. Cream of coconut is coconut cream, but with added sugars and stabilizers. It’s extremely sweet, thick and syrupy. If it gets cold, it can separate, with the fat sitting on the top. I find it’s best to puree the cream of coconut with an immersion blender before using it so you don’t get chunks of coconut fat left over. This is especially important if you’re using it for drinks.
I used rum extract in the cupcakes (why waste real rum if the alcohol is going to bake out?) but added coconut rum to the frosting. And for an adult twist, I also soaked the cupcakes with some rum, but that step is optional.
6 large egg whites
1/2 cup cream of coconut
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1/2 teaspoon rum extract (why waste real rum if the alcohol is going to bake out?)
2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 ounces), sifted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 12 pieces, softened, but still cool
Zest from one orange
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch table salt
1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks), each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened, but still cool
1/4 cup cream of coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 T coconut rum
Nutmeg for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with 24 liners of your choice.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg whites, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, extracts and zest until combined.
Mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add the butter, beating at low speed until you get moist crumbs with no large clumps.
Add 3/4 of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed for one and a half minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 20 seconds longer at low speed.
Distribute the batter in the cupcake cups so they are about 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To make the frosting, create a double boiler using a pan with an inch or two of simmering water, topped by the metal bowl from a stand mixer. Add egg whites, sugar, and salt to the bowl. Heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar completely dissolves, around 120 degrees.
Transfer the bowl to the mixer and beat on high speed using a whisk attachment. Continue mixing for 10 minutes or so, until the whites are glossy and sticky and drop to around 80 degrees. Reduce the speed to medium-high, and add the butter in pieces until completely incorporated. With the mixer running, add cream of coconut, vanilla extract, and coconut rum. Beat for an additional minute or two, until completely combined.
If you want to make these even more alcoholic, soak the cupcakes with rum before frosting. You can do this by poking holes in the top and brushing several times with a rum-soaked pastry brush. For an even stronger cupcake, fill a small squeeze bottle with rum, poke the tip into each cupcake and give it a nice squeeze. I took the second approach and had people convinced they were getting quite drunk from eating dessert.
After you frost the cupcakes, grate a little bit of fresh nutmeg on top of each one.