Southern Coconut Cake

February 20, 2009 – Comments (40)

This month’s installment of The Cake Slice features Southern Coconut Cake. So far, every recipe that I’ve made out of Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes has exceeded my expectations, and I highly recommend that you go out and treat yourself to this cookbook.

Impossibly moist white cake layers are subtly flavored with unsweetened coconut milk, enveloped by a cream cheese buttercream frosting (I gained 5 pounds just typing those words) and covered with sweetened flaked coconut (oops, another 5 pounds).

With all of the cake making happening in my kitchen this month, I cut the recipe in half and baked the cake layers in two 6″ round pans. The instructions for the cake were pretty straightforward, and the layers were baked without a hitch.

The cream cheese buttercream frosting is a bit more involved to coordinate the whipping of the egg whites and heating of the sugar, but the efforts will be rewarded with a frosting that has all the flavor of your traditional cream cheese frosting but with a lighter, fluffier consistency. Good grief, I could have eaten an entire batch this frosting right out of the bowl!

The assembled cake is really beautiful, and I thought the coconut flavor in the cake was nice and subtle. Again, the frosting was out of this world delicious and it wasn’t coyingly sweet or rich…perfect!!
This recipe is on my short list for my friends J&T. You see, they are getting married this September, and I’ve been honored with the responsibility for their wedding cupcakes and dessert display. Am I just a bit panicked? — absolutely!!! Aside from the nervousness, I’m really excited about the opportunity to create something delicious for people that I adore. I’m going to try this recipe out in cupcake form and see how it turns out… wish me luck!

Southern Coconut Cake
Makes an 8-inch triple layer cake

For the cake:
5 large egg whites
½ cup of milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 cups of cake flour
2 and 1/3 cup sugar
4 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter (8oz.) at warm room temperature
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 ½ cups of sweetened flaked coconut for garnishing cake

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment circle and butter the circle.
Put the egg whites in a bowl and whisk slightly. Add the ½ cup of milk and the vanilla and whisk to mix thoroughly; set aside.
In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, beat dry ingredients well in order to break up any lumps. Add the butter and coconut milk on low speed and beat just to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy about 2 minutes.
Add the egg white mixture in 2 or 3 additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Divide the batter among the pans.
Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake taster inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes. Then turn the cakes out and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on an 8-inch cake round. Cover this layer with 1 cup of the buttercream frosting. Spread it evenly all the way to edge of the cake. Then sprinkle ½ cup of shredded coconut on top. Add the second layer and repeat the process. Top with the final layer of cake and frost the top and sides of the cake.
Place the remaining 1 ½ cups shredded coconut on a large baking tray. Pick up the cake and hold it on the palm of one hand over the tray. Using the other hand scoop up the coconut and press it to the sides of the cake. Continue with this process until the sides of the cake are covered. Set the cake on a serving plate and sprinkle any remaining coconut on top of cake. Chill cake for at least one hour to allow frosting to firm up a bit.
Cream cheese buttercream frosting
12 ounces of cream cheese, slightly chilled
1 stick of butter plus 6 tablespoons of butter (7 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup of confectioners sugar, sifted after measuring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup of water
3 egg whites
Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium speed until slightly fluffy and smooth. Add the butter 1-2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy. Set aside at room temperature while buttercream is made.
Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup reaches the softball stage 228 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
Meanwhile, place the egg whites in mixer bowl and have the mixer ready to go. When the syrup is ready, turn the mixer on med-low and begin mixing the egg whites. Slowly add the hot syrup to the whites taking care not to pour onto the beaters, it may splash. When all the syrup is incorporated, raise the speed on the mixer to med-high and beat the egg whites until mixture has cooled and stiff meringue forms.
With the mixer on low, begin adding the cream cheese mixture by the spoonful. When all is incorporated, raise the speed to medium and whip until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

40 Responses to Southern Coconut Cake

  1. Gigi says:

    STUNNING!What a beautiful cake! Yours came out picture perfect.

  2. vibi says:

    I’m sure this will be said many time in your coming comments… but wow! This cake could very well pass for a wedding one!

    How elegant and classy…

    Very, very nice Linda!

  3. Jo says:

    Beatifully done. Love the whiteness of the cake and the frosting and the layers looks so deliciously moist.

  4. Natalie says:

    This looks divine! I may have to turn it into a cupcake. :)

  5. pinkstripes says:

    Your coconut cake looks wonderful! YUM!

  6. The Food Librarian says:

    So pretty Linda! And good luck with the cupcakes. I would love to see them!

  7. Amy says:

    Holy jeez- this is an absolutely gorgeous cake!! I’m seriously drooling and looking at my watch thinking, “hmm, I wonder if I have time to make this tonight?” YUM!!!! Absolutely stunning.


  8. Risa says:

    This looks amazing! I want a slice.

  9. Cheri Sicard says:

    What a gorgeous cake. Coconut cake is one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Melissa says:

    Wow! It really does look incredibly moist. My mouth is watering. :)

  11. Lindsay says:

    You put an asterisk next to the cream cheese and the flour – were there special instructions?

  12. Katie says:

    Your cake looks beautiful! I know what you mean about the fluffy cake layers and the dreamy buttercreamm. Love your photos.

  13. Linda says:

    Lindsay – those asterisks were typos (no special notes/instructions). I’m not the best proofreader, so thanks for noting them! :)

  14. Kevin says:

    That cake looks amazing!

  15. Mary Jo says:

    love your pictures!!!

  16. steph- whisk/spoon says:

    now that’s a cake! looks great on that cute cakestand, too. i agree about the frosting–way too good!

  17. Lindsay says:

    Oh cool, I want to make the cake but was worried I’d miss a crucial tip/step! I’m still working on my confidence as a baker :)
    This looks delicious and your blog is wonderful! It’s bookmarked for sure :)

  18. Sara says:

    Gorgeous looking cake!

    I love coconut cake but haven’t come across a recipe for it using coconut milk. It sounds like it would be delicious.

  19. Ingrid says:

    Your cake looks spectacular!!! Wonderful photos.

    That is awesome that you’re making the desserts for your friends. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that all goes well.

  20. TeaLady says:

    I like that you left the left the top plain. And four layers…. Beautiful!

  21. The Bahens says:

    Your cake is gorgeous! And your photography is gorgeous too! Great job on your cake. I had some leftover batter and made cupcakes. They didn’t have that nice domed top that box mix cupcakes have, but they tasted amazing, and no one would see the top underneath all the frosting and coconut anyway!

  22. SUGAR B says:

    Where have you been all my life?

    You are so my blog friend.

    Your baking pics are the bomb. I am so loving this cake.

  23. Jaime says:

    i love your cake plate!

  24. Justine says:

    although my cake looks nowhere near as pretty as yours, I also made it and it was amazing! you can see picture on my blog:

  25. Ging says:

    I am making this cake right now as we speak! The only thing that I have come across that is confusing is that in the frosting directions, you mention adding vanilla with the cream cheese, but you do not list that in the ingredients. So, do you put vanilla in there? I did just in case, there was no way I was going to mess this cake up! What’s a little vanilla going to hurt anyway!

  26. Lisa Marie says:

    I have a question regarding the process in which you assemble the cake batter. Its different from the standard procedure where you cream the butter and sugar together first, then add the dry and liquid – is there a reason for the way this batter is put together the way it is?

  27. Anonymous says:

    I have made this cake twice within a week and both times it got rave reviews. This is definitely the coconut cake recipe that I will be using from here on.

  28. cc mac says:

    since the icing has eggs in it…does it need to be refrigerated if one needs to prepare it a day in advance for next day serving

    (meaning putting the entire cake with icing in the fridge…until next day?)

    has anyone has problems…with the eggs cooking once you pour in the hot sugar mix?

  29. Linda says:

    CC mac –

    If you heat the sugar to the approrpiate temperature and gradually incorporate it into the egg whites, the eggs should heat and you won’t have to worry about raw eggs. As long as you add the sugar gradually while you’re whipping the egg whites, you won’t have scrambled eggs.

    The frosting is a bit loose, thus needing the refridgeration to get a better texture to frost the cake. With that said, would definitely recommend storing the cake in the fridge (not necessarily overnite) before serving.

    Hope this helps!

  30. cc mac says:

    thank you Linda.

    I plan on baking the cake Saturday afternoon…..and then serving on Sunday…because there will be NO time on Sunday to make anything.

    If I bake Saturday afternoon…I should put the cake in the refrigerator until Sunday afternoon….should that be okay? So it will be a little under 24 hours in the refrigerator.

    (or maybe Sunday before we leave for Easter church…take it out of the fridge so it warms up before serving?)

    But I should NOT…put the frosting in the fridge than ice later right?

    I should ice the cake when the icing is made?

    thanks for all your help!

  31. Linda says:

    cc mac –

    The cake, whether it is in its separate components or assembled should do just fine in the fridge overnite. if you’re just storing the cake layers, would recommend wrapping each layer in plastic wrap so the exterior doesn’t dry out.

    re: icing, I typically refrigerate the frosting a few hours THEN frost the cake, as this buttercream is a bit looser than others. IMHO chilling the frosting overnight shouldn’t be an issue (can’t say with certainty though, as I’ve not done that before)

    You could actually assemble the cake and it should hold in the fridge overnight without a problem (that I’ve done without a hitch).

    Good luck and please let me know how it turns out!


  32. cc mac says:


    My grandmother and great grandmother always made this cake for Easter.

    I am making it for my in laws for the first time and my mother in law is a chef…so I need it to be perfect so she doesn’t criticize me.

    I plan on this….make the icing first….and put it in the refrigerator to chill for awhile….and then start making the layers.

    I will ice the cake on Saturday…and keep it in the refrigerator assembled overnight….so nothing dries out.

    That way…I can just pull it out of the refrigerator Sunday to eat!

    do you think I should take it out of the fridge so it has time to warm up for 3 hours or so?

    or does it taste good cold?

  33. Anonymous says:

    I just tried to make the icing. The cream cheese mixture was no problem and so incredibly yummy and fluffy. The egg whites whipped up fine. But when I made the syrup, the sugar didn’t dissolve all the way, it went hard on the side of the bowl…then when i added the cream cheese mixture to the otherwise fine and fluffy egg whites + syrup, the whole mixture collapsed and turned runny instead of fluffy. I am sure it is too loose to use on the cake and the amount seems less than the cream cheese mixture was originally. Can anyone help?

  34. Anonymous says:

    When you are heating the sugar and water, just as the mix starts to boil, use a basting brush and brush water just above the water line. This will keep the sugar from crystalizing along the edge. you can do this a few times, but once is usually enough. And do not stir! Did you be sure to add the cream cheese mix slowly? You can also try folding half the egg whites in the cream cheese mixture to lighten it up before folding the rest together. granted I haven't made this yet, these are just some typical fixes. Hope that helps! I can't wait to try this cake!

  35. Priscilla says:

    Did you ever make cupcakes with this recipe? I am trying to find a cupcakes recipe for my wedding. I'm making cupcakes in place of a cake. Thanks so much! =)

  36. Linda says:

    Hi Priscilla,
    I ended up going with other recipes for my friend's wedding, so have yet to go the cupcake route for this recipe.

    I would definitely recommend that you take this recipe for a test run in cupcake form, as some cake recipes can be a bit dry as cupcakes. As a full size cake, the layers are perfectly moist, so this recipe should translate well into cupcakes.

    I hope this helps!


  37. Pastry Ninja says:

    I love it! The sponge itself is wonderful.
    I ended hand folding the meringue into the cream cheese for the second batch I tried and it came out a bit fluffier than the first. I'm definitely gonna have to try the frosting again on a few other cakes! Beautiful Cake!


  38. Baking is my Zen...sweet nibbles for the soul says:

    I LOVE coconut. This looks wonderful.


  39. wendyb964 says:

    LOVE the 6″ pans! Didn’t discover them until last year. And to think of all the pounds/cake we ate since high school cake decorating. One bakery in SF ONLY makes 6″. Elegant and plenty for all but the biggest parties: who wants to serve a cake with 1/3 gone? Even in the name of testing I can only eat so much. Cheesecake? That’s another whole story. Love the post on coconut cake. Off to pin it now. :) This Pinterest thing is new to me. Thank you.

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