Food & Drink

From the recipe files: Classic coconut cake

Easter weekend is a great time to tackle a from-scratch coconut cake.
Easter weekend is a great time to tackle a from-scratch coconut cake. Todd Sumlin

A coconut cake from scratch isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t shortcut cooking. But if you want something for your Easter or spring table that tells the people around the table that they’re special, this is the crowning touch.

Put it out, on a tall cake stand, and it will make a statement. Just tuck your hands behind your back so now one sees your nicked knuckles. (Or maybe you should make sure they see your hands -- a few marks prove that you grated that coconut with your own hands.)

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Classic Coconut Cake

From “Southern Cakes,” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle, 2007). McDermott combines this with a boiled icing called White Mountain. But we think her 7-Minute Icing, adapted for stand mixers if you don't have a hand mixer, is easier and just as delicious.


3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Juice from a fresh coconut with enough milk added, if needed, to make 1 cup

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs


1 cup sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

2 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3-4 cups fresh, grated coconut

HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 (9-inch) cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt, whisking to mix well. Set aside. Stir vanilla into coconut juice mixture and set aside.

BEAT the softened butter in a large bowl with a mixer at medium speed until creamy. Beat in the sugar, stopping to scrape down the sides if needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

STOP the mixer and add about a third of the flour mixture. Beat well at low speed, then beat in half of the coconut juice. Continue, beating in a third of the flour and the remainder of the juice, then the final third of the flour.

DIVIDE the batter between the cake pans, spreading evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, turning pans halfway through, until the tops spring back when lightly pressed and the edges are beginning to pull away.

COOL cakes in pans on wire racks or on folded kitchen towels for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks and turn top-up to cool completely. Ice with frosting as directed.

FROSTING: Bring about 3 inches of water to an active simmer in the bottom of a double boiler or in a medium saucepan. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, egg whites and cream of tartar in the top of the double boiler or in a mixing bowl that will fit snugly in the pan. Beat with a handheld mixer on low speed for 1 minute, until pale yellow and foamy.

PLACE over simmering water and beat at high speed for 7 to 14 minutes until white, thick and shiny. Continue beating until it forms firm peaks and loses some of the shine. Remove from heat and beat in the vanilla. Spread between cake layers, topping with a generous amount of fresh coconut. Frost sides and top of cake, topping with more coconut.

STAND MIXER: If you don't have a hand mixer, combine the ingredients in the mixing bowl and whisk well. Place over the hot water and whisk for several minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and no longer sounds gritty and the mixture registers 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Move the bowl to the stand mixer and beat on high speed until it forms peaks and just starts to lose its shine. Frost cake, adding coconut as directed.