Friday, March 9, 2012

Do Not Fear the Coconut Cake

I love cake. Especially coconut cake. For my father-in-law's birthday, I tried out a coconut cake recipe that I must share with you. It was so good, moist and full of rich coconut flavor. However, it was not a thing of beauty. In fact, it was quite ugly. Let me tell you what not to do when baking a cake. Don't try to use parchment paper instead of greasing and flouring your pans. In a moment of laziness, I had the brilliant idea to pour the batter over parchment paper in the pan and magically peel it away once baked. I had seen it done on cupcakes so I figured it would work. Wrong! Some of the cake ending up sticking to the paper and the shape ended up a little wonky. What I love about cakes, though, is how a little bit of icing can correct most wrongs. Top it with coconut, which hides even more flaws, and you're home free. You don't need a mix or canned icing. There's nothing to fear with coconut cake!

A little slice of heaven - coconut cake.

No, it wasn't the most beautiful cake in the world, but it made a lot of people happy -- and that's what counts. The recipe is very simple and contains a secret ingredient you'll find at the liquor store or the drink mixer section at the grocery store. Pretend you are making a Pina Colada and pick up a can of Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut. Be careful not to get coconut milk which is very different. Made in the Dominican Republic, Coco Lopez is a probably not-so-good-for-you concoction of coconut, sugar and emulsifiers. But, we're making a dessert so we're not so concerned about that, right?

The secret ingredient revealed!

The coconut cream really adds a lot of moisture to the cake and gives the cream cheese icing a boost of coconut flavor. For me, the coconut flavor was rich enough that I don't think you need any artificial coconut flavor. My father-in-law is a huge coconut fan and this cake certainly met his approval. I think I will try it again for Easter and let the boys decorate it with jelly beans and maybe try a bunny shape?! We shall see. But one thing is for sure, I will grease the pan thoroughly!

Celebrating with coconut cake.

Coconut Layer Cake
Recipe adapted from this Cake Central recipe

Printable Version

3 cups cake flour (I used half cake flour/half whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup canned sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco López)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (I was out of buttermilk and used 1 cup milk plus 1 tsp. lemon juice)
1 tsp. lemon zest (optional)

Cream Cheese Icing
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup canned sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco López)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon zest (optional)

2 1/2 - 3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. (Note: I ended up using 8-inch pans and used leftover batter for cupcakes.) Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and sweetened cream of coconut in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time and add vanilla extract. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients alternating with buttermilk, until just blended.

Divide cake batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (Note for smaller pans or cupcakes probably around 30-35 minutes. Check with toothpick.) Cool cakes in pans on rack 10 minutes. Run small sharp knife around pan sides to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.

Place bottom cake layer on cake plate. Spread a layer of cream cheese over cake and sprinkle approximately one cup sweetened shredded coconut over. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle remaining coconut over cake, gently pressing into sides to adhere. (Coconut Layer Cake can be prepared up to one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature before serving.)

To make the icing ...
Beat cream cheese in medium bowl until fluffy. Add butter and beat to blend. Add sugar, sweetened cream of coconut and vanilla extract and beat until well blended. You may need to play with the proportions a bit to get the consistency to your liking. If you feel it is too thick, add a 1 tsp. of milk. If too thin, add more powdered sugar.


  1. My mother was a great baker and her coconut cake was always one of my favorites. I'll have to try this. BTW, I always line the bottom of my cake pans with waxed paper and it works like a charm every time.

    1. Thanks, Brenda! I'll have to try waxed paper next time. Do you cut to fit? Maybe the parchment would have worked if I had cut it. Coconut cake is one of my favorites, too!

  2. coconut cake is one of my absolute favorites! i have never made it though - i need to be brave and try!