Coconut Cake

Happy birthday to me! Well, to Seattle Palate at least. I can’t believe it’s only been a little over a year for this little food blog experiment; seems like I’ve botched more recipes than any one person should in a single year. But I have to admit that there have been some pretty good ones in there, too. I can’t think of a more fitting recipe for today than birthday cake. This is a special one; it’s my Dad’s favorite coconut cake. Unfortunately it’s not his Mother’s recipe – somehow it didn’t survive through the generations. But it’s a pretty good substitute. The white cake is light and fluffy and when it’s in your mouth it turns into a wonderfully creamy bite of coconut heaven. But then again I’m pretty biased – I think you could slather cream cheese frosting on just about anything and it would be wildly delicious.

I make this cake every summer for my Dad’s birthday when we’re all at the Jersey Shore for the annual family beach week. There’s a rotating cast of 20 or so Winner’s who congregate at 50th street for two weeks each August. Usually the infamous Jersey humidity takes a toll and the icing melts completely sending the cake sliding apart before your plate even hits the table, but it’s pretty delicious nonetheless.

Last year we were going through some old photographs and came across this one of my Dad’s Mother. She died before I was born so I never got to meet her, but looking at this picture of her, I can’t help but feel like there might just be a little bit of her in me that makes me feel so at home in the kitchen. Just look at this picture! She certainly belongs on the cover of a 1950’s issue of Ladies Home Journal. I am just swooning over it.

I am so sorry that I never got to meet her, but I do love hearing my 90-year old grandfather tell stories about her. (He’d be really mad that I just outed him as a 90-year old, by the way. He’s terribly modest, though he still out-fishes, out-beaches, and out-corn-holes the rest of us every summer.) And usually when we eat big slices of this coconut cake, at the beach with the sun haze still hanging in the twilight and the lightning bugs doing their thing, the stories come out. It’s definitely my favorite time of the summer.

P-pop (as we all affectionately call him) has more tales to tell than there are days in the summer. I call them “tales” because I have a very difficult time believing that 100% of them are 100% true. At least I hope they’re not completely unexaggerated. For instance, just this summer P-pop was telling us about how he had my Dad driving a tractor at age 6. Of course my Uncle insisted that he was only 5 when he was first put on a tractor. I’m chalking it up to sibling rivalry and the ability to keep a straight face that most of my family members have. (It was a slow tractor and not too big, P-pop explained, so you don’t have to worry.)

Just at the point where the stories reach the very edge of plausibility, it’s about time for another piece of cake. Thank goodness it’s a big cake so there’s plenty to go around. I’m not sure if the cake is really that delicious or if the family time is just that good. Either way, might I propose that you whip up a coconut cake and invite some friends and family over and see for yourself. Enjoy!

Coconut Layer Cake

Click here to print this recipe.
From: Bon Apetite, December 1999
Serves: 12
Time to prepare: 4 hours, including cooling. 30 minutes active time.

2 3/4 cups all purpose 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 Lépez)*
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
Pinch of salt
4 cups sweetened shredded coconut

2 (8-ounce) packages Philadelphia-brand 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

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make the cake:
Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.

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 egg yolks and vanilla extract.

On low speed, beat in dry ingredients and then buttermilk, each just until blended.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites with pinch of salt in another large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold beaten egg whites into batter.

Divide cake batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

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.

Toast coconut by spreading it on a baking sheet and placing in the oven after the cake has cooked. Cook for a few minutes, until the edges are slightly browned. Keep a very close eye on it – it will go from perfect to burned in literally seconds.

Make the frosting: 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.

Assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on cake plate. Spread 1 cup Cream Cheese Frosting over cake layer. Sprinkle 1 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.


  • Canned sweetened cream of coconut is available in the liquor section of most supermarkets nationwide.
  • To help make frosting the cake easier, put the cake in the freezer and the frosting in the fridge for a half hour or so before frosting.
  • Coconut Layer Cake can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours before serving.

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