107. Coconut Cake–Paradise on a Plate

28 Aug

Four layers of coconuttyness by The Thrillbilly Gourmet

If you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time, you’ve most likely dined in one of Tom Douglas’s many fine establishments. Seeing as they’re second in number only to Starbucks, it isn’t hard to do. Unless you are broke and have no generous friends. Then it could be something of a challenge seeing as Tom doesn’t give it away.

“How does this relate to Southern coconut cake?” you may be wondering. Well, actually, it doesn’t. It relates to Tom’s triple coconut cream pie. I believe that means there’s coconut in the crust, filling, and whipped cream, but honestly, I’ve never slowed down enough to check. This is some MY-T-FINE pie, my friends. But what it isn’t is good old-fashioned coconut cake. Apparently, folks around these parts fail to recognize the awesomeness of said dessert. Either because they’ve never had it or because they don’t know what’s good.

Every Seattle baker and his/her Facebook friends are doing renditions of red velvet cake that range in flavor from so-so to what Gordon Ramsay might refer to as “the dog’s dinner,” but nobody’s even attempting coconut cake. Well, some of the local cupcake places sprinkle a few flakes of coconut on top of buttercream icing and call it coconut, which I suppose it technically is. But no. To my mind, coconut cake was, is, and forever shall be comprised of no less than two, but preferably three or more layers.

Dear Cupcake Royale, more icing, please!

Why are Southerners so fond of layer cakes? Simple: more icing per square inch. (Sorry, y’all, but I’ve been out of the South so long, I can’t remember if the correct word is “icing” or “frosting.” Somebody help me out here.) With a cupcake or sheet cake, there’s only one sad, lonely layer of icing. And woe be unto you if someone serves you a slice from the middle. Which, incidentally, never happens with a layer cake. You always get a wedge that includes at minimum three layers of frosting–top, middle, and side–and quite often you’ll encounter an extra middle layer. Pardon me for going all mathematical, but that’s a 3 to 2 or 4 to 3 ratio, which always trumps 1 to 1. At least as far as icing is concerned.

Please note that I’m not a cupcake or sheet cake hater. Anyone who knows me will vouch that I’m an equal opportunity cake eater. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for layer cake every time.

You might think from the name that a Southern coconut cake would feature a fair amount of coconut, coconut milk, or even the dreaded “coconut” flavoring. Nope, many coconut cakes contain nary a flake of coconut. They’re usually regular old white cake all dolled up in coconut frosting. Heaps of frosting with heaps of coconut. Not that anybody’s going to snub a cake with actual coconut in it, but…(Sorry, y’all, I just got sidetracked looking at photos of/recipes for coconut cake on the Internets. But now you have my undivided attention again. Except that I’m hungry.)

Well, anyhow, what makes a Southern coconut cake special is that it’s always super moist and the icing is usually slightly sticky. If you encounter a dry coconut cake with dry icing, run! Ok, that’s a bit drastic. Perhaps you should merely mosey along. Unless there’s no other dessert option, in which case, you’ll have to make do.

Here’s where I should probably tell y’all the secret to making a traditional Southern coconut cake. Sadly, I haven’t the foggiest. I live with an avowed coconut hater, so this particular cake is pretty far down on my to-bake list, seeing as I’d have to consume the whole thing myself. Not necessarily in one sitting, but still. I’ve thought about making one as a party/potluck contribution, but that would involve procuring a cake carrier. Which would involve finding a place to stow said carrier when not in use, and my cabinets exceeded maximum capacity three mixing bowls ago.

A few months back, as I perused a cookware store, a book called “Southern Cakes” beckoned me to come hither. And thither I went. After one glance at the stunning coconut cake on the cover, I promptly added the book to my library queue. (A shout out to my friend Linda who clued me in that one could check out cookbooks from the library. Who knew? Just be careful not to spill.) I made a few of the recipes—including one called “Celestial Chocolate Cake,” which turned out to be worthy of its name. If you like to bake (or just drool over pretty pictures) I highly recommend this particular cookbook. Also, it makes an excellent gift. Hint, hint!

In the meantime, I’ll leave y’all with my grandmother’s recipe. As always, the directions/measurements are vague, so your results may vary.

P.S. What’s your favorite Southern cake? Please do tell!

My Mom’s Mother’s Coconut Cake

3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 t baking powder
1 pinch soda
1 t vanilla

There are no mixing instructions, so use your best judgment. Also, I have no idea how long it should bake or at what temperature.

2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
Coconut (No amount specified. Add however much you want, I reckon.)

Cook filling in double boiler until it thickens. Add vanilla.

I believe my mom once mentioned that it’s better to make the cake the day before you plan to serve it. But I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been able to wait that long to eat cake.

Photo Credits: Coconut layer cake courtesy of The Thrillbilly Gourmet, Coconut cupcake by Sea Turtle–Flickr Creative Commons.

20 Responses to “107. Coconut Cake–Paradise on a Plate”

  1. Joel August 28, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I love this post! My mom still makes my great-grandmother’s coconut cake for special occasions. Its always a hit.

    • Kim Holloway August 28, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

      Thanks! I never can resist someone’s grandmother’s cake. Great-grandmother, even better!

  2. vintageyall August 28, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Thanks for the recipe. It sounds like a wonderful version of an old fav.
    As for my entire family’s favorite cake, it has to be the “CHOCOLATE SHEATH CAKE”
    (aka: Chocolate Sheet Cake or Texas Sheet/Sheath Cake”) We had it for every
    gathering. Now I have converted it into a yummy cake pop option in my little side baking business. It’s the best!

    If you want a very unique southern PIE fav, it is the cherry cream pie. Use a basic coconut cream pie recipe and leave out the coconut and add in canned whole cherries (not pie filling) into the cream part. YUMMMMMY! I have never found it in a recipe book, but my
    mom and my aunt (both passed away now) used to make it all the time. Talk about a show stopper.

    • Kim Holloway August 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      I’m going to have to branch out into cake pops one of these days. A chocolate sheet cake version sounds like a great place to start!

  3. Hippie Cahier August 28, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    This was the first item in my reader when I logged on. What a delightful sight to behold.

    My attempts to buy the cake plate from some friends’ wedding registry turned into a comedy sketch, resulting in the new-old tradition of my brining coconut cake to any gathering, to be displayed in the cake plate that eventually arrived. There’s a shindig next month. I will be trying your recipe!

    • Hippie Cahier August 28, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      . . . “bringing”. . .

    • Kim Holloway August 28, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

      Aww thanks.

      That reminds me of the botched wedding present I got my sister. She collects Candlewick glassware, so I found a punch bowl online and had it shipped to her. The tray underneath didn’t survive the USPS. I found one on eBay to replace it, but some bitch kept outbidding me. Turns out it was my sister. For the record, I won!

  4. Mallory August 28, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Frosting! 🙂

  5. amanda August 28, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    I’ve been in Seattle a long time too, but I’m pretty sure in the South we always said “frosting.”

    • Kim Holloway August 28, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

      Thanks, y’all, frosting it is!

    • vintageyall September 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

      Okies say icing. : ).

      “Chocolate cake with white icing.”

      Love your blog…love being southern.

  6. Karen cronacher August 28, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    That’s a lot of Paula Dean butter

    • Kim Holloway August 28, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

      2 1/2 sticks is nothing! Paula uses at least 4. 🙂

  7. Joe August 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    I make a killer Pina Collata cake and a killer strawberry cake. Both use a cake mix as a base and the strawberry tastes just like my granny’s that she made from scratch. People in Utah are amazed by both but then they still serve jello with various canned ingredients.

    • Kim Holloway August 31, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      Oh, that’s hilarious about the Jello. I found a Jello recipe book from the 70’s at a used book sale, which has some interesting recipes. I’ll have to get around to writing about Jello one of these days.

      Piña colada cake sounds awesome! Is there rum involved?

  8. Joe August 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    I meant pina colada. Never type when you’re doing 10 other things.

  9. Tiffany November 12, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    So, my mama’s birthday just passed and guess what kind of cake she wanted?! Coconut layered cake, of course. So, since I’ve enjoyed your blog so much, I decided to make this recipe. It turned out EXCELLENT! I’ll share what I did…

    I beat the sugar and butter together on high til it was fluffy, then added the eggs one at a time (my mama said “just slap ’em all in there at once… It’s fine.” but I did not!). I combined the rest of the dry ingredients and added them in three parts, alternating with the milk. Then I mixed the vanilla extract in.

    I divided the cake in three pans and baked ’em at 350 for about 20 minutes. I don’t recall the exact time, as I’d polished off a pitcher of frozen adult beverages by then. But, y’all know how to use toothpicks and check if it’s done, I’m sure. I let the cakes cool in the pans for about 15 minutes (or 30, like I said… A pitcher o’ booze..) then I dumped ’em on a rack to cool more.

    Now for the frosting, I didn’t cook it. I added more powdered sugar and let it be. It was enough to frost between the layers, the sides, the whole shebang. EXCELLENT recipe, if I may say so myself! My mama said it tasted just like the one her mama used to bake for her! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Kim Holloway November 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

      Hey Tiffany,
      Glad the cake turned out well! Thanks so much for the hilarious and helpful mixing instructions. I am going to have to make this when I’m at my sister’s this Christmas.

  10. Rebecca September 15, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    I too have an ugly green and plaid recliner, my late husband and I purchased it in Tacoma at a discount furniture store after we had visited relatives in the mid-west in 1990. Everyone had a recliner. They were so comfortable. We just had to get it! Even though it was uglier then ever and the fabric was itchy, it was in primo shape and was very comfy. My husband would come home from a long day as a solider and take off his boots and play with our baby daughter and cuddle in that recliner.
    My husband died soon after that in an accident. I took his chair with me back to Alaska, where I am from. My new family a few years later came with some pets, one being a cat. The recliner was downstairs in the basement and got “used” by the cat as a scratching post. By the time I saw it , it was ruined! I brought it upstairs to my livingroom and tried to make it “fit in” by covering it with sheets abs blankets. But now years later the cat is gone and I can finally get it repaired and reupholstered . That $50 chair is gonna cost a small fortune , but I figure I’ve had it almost half my life it should finally get a little tlc! I have a “before” photo, how can I post it?

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