pandan cupcakes with coconut buttercream and caramel filling.

After a month living in an ovenless apartment in Jakarta followed by a week on the road, it’s good to be back in my kitchen! Given the mouthwatering array of cheap food on offer in Indonesia, I didn’t think I’d miss cooking and baking as much as I did.

As my previous post attests to though, I ate exceedingly well while I was away! I came back inspired to create a cupcake using a flavour combination quintessential to Indonesian sweets – pandan, gula melaka (palm sugar) and coconut.

Pandan essence/paste (L) and flavour (R)

The essence/paste is vivid green and gooey.

Pandan is still a relatively unknown flavour to the western palate. It comes from the leaves of the pandanus plant, a bushy looking thing with long leaves. It’s a hard taste to describe; I guess I’d say it’s a kind of aromatic coconut? The flavour (and its accompanying bright green colouring) is extracted directly from the fresh leaves. I’ve never seen them here in New Zealand, so I have to make do with the sticky green paste and colourless flavouring that is available in most Asian supermarkets.

An Indonesian layer cake coloured and flavoured with pandan.

I ran a taste test on some friends, some of whom didn’t quite know what to make of them. I guess it’s hard when we so often try to compare what we eat to our previous experiences of similar flavours. But I urge you to hunt down these ingredients and give the recipe a try. Pandan has a gentle flavour, which is enhanced by the sugar and coconut elements, so it shouldn’t be a scary experience!

Pandan Cupcakes with Caramel Filling and Coconut Buttercream

Makes about 3 dozen standard sized cupcakes!

Pandan cupcake batter
200g butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 3/4 cups plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon pandan essence (green)
1 Tablespoon pandan flavouring (colourless) – NB: you could opt to use 2 Tablespoons of either the essence or the extract, but combining the two gives the best balance of flavour and colour.

Caramel filling
1/2 cup sugar
40 g butter
1/4 cup cream at room temperature

Coconut buttercream icing
170g butter, softened (I would recommend using a vegetable oil substitute such as Olivani, because they are less yellow than butter and will result in whiter coloured icing.)
3 3/4 cups icing sugar
2 Tablespoons coconut milk
NB: If you are planning to pipe your icing, rather than spread it with a knife/spatula, I’d recommend doubling the amount of icing.

  1. Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 180˚C and line muffin/cupcake trays with cases.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and mix slowly until just combined.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl and mix lightly.
  5. Add milk, pandan essence and pandan extract, then mix gently until colour is distributed evenly.
  6. Half fill each cupcake case , then bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Caramel filling: Put sugar in a clean, dry saucepan and melt it over a medium heat. Do not stir until half the sugar is melted. NB: It will be very hot. Be careful – and don’t use plastic utensils!
  8. When the sugar turns a dark golden colour, take off the heat. Add butter and stir until it is melted.
  9. Add cream and stir quickly until the caramel is smooth.
  10. Allow to cool completely – it will thicken substantially.
  11. Coconut buttercream icing: Beat butter until soft and pale, then add coconut milk.
  12. Add icing sugar a little at a time, beating until smooth.
  13. Assembly: When cupcakes and caramel are completely cool, it’s time to get filling. This can be done in two ways: cutting a hole out of the top of the cupcake (pictured below using the bottom of an icing tip, but an apple corer or small knife would work just as well) and using a piping bag to put the caramel in, or fitting your piping bag with a narrow tip and putting it directly into the middle of the cupcake. If you choose the second method, be careful not to overfill or your cakes will burst!

    Insert the icing tip about 1cm into the cupcake, twist, then scoop upwards to prise a small section out.

  14. Ice!

    Cross-section of a filled cupcake

    © thebakingof 2012


  1. choclatedog · · Reply

    OMG That looks amazing! You should check out this site ( they’re also based in Jakarta and make delicious baked goods!

    1. Thanks for the tip! I’m back in New Zealand now but always keen to see what people are doing over there.

  2. Hello! I tried this recipe today and it turn out gorgeous and super yummy! I made cream cheese frosting though. Thank you so much! 🙂

    1. Hi Hazie, thanks for this comment. Glad the recipe turned out well – great idea to use cream cheese frosting! Sorry it’s taken me ages to get back to you – I’m now working on a new food website, It’s launching soon – Would love you to check it out sometime!

  3. Hi, Nice recipe! are you able to convert the cups measurements to grams instead? I noticed for the coconut buttercream, 3 3/4 cups of icing sugar is used. When I use online tools to convert, it is 753gm of icing sugar. Is this correct? Seems like too much sugar. hence I wonder if the online conversion tool is accurate.

    1. Hi Ant, 3 3/4 cups is 470gm. Sorry it’s taken me ages to get back to you – I’m now working on a new food website, It’s launching soon – Would love you to check it out sometime!

  4. […] anything featuring puff pastry; I went through a definitive cupcake phase (even developing a recipe inspired by Indonesian flavors), but my preference now is for cookies – “biscuits”, as we non-Americans call […]

  5. […] got the original idea for this from The Baking off… blog where it was topped with a coconut buttercream. I thought that the flavor combination was […]

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