Coconut Cake Recipe

Jaime and I first had this coconut cake at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, and it quickly became one of our favorite desserts.

We made sure to get a slice when we were in Charleston this past weekend and I may have kept the leftover on ice in our hotel room and eaten it for breakfast the next day. . . .  Hey, I was on vacation! And, if you are wondering why we had leftovers if the cake is so good, then check out this photo from the Peninsula Grill website and count the layers (six!).

Anyways, when I asked Jaime what type of cake he wanted for his birthday, he immediately asked for this coconut cake.  Since at the time we were living several hundred miles away from the Peninsula Grill simply purchasing a cake was not an option, so I was thrilled to find the recipe for this cake on the Martha Stewart website, “courtesy of Robert Carter from the Peninsula Grill, in Charleston, South Carolina.”  Score!

Coconut Cake

I apologize for the poor quality of the photo, but I was so busy eating cake that I forgot to take photos.  Luckily, after having a slice of cake my brother had the presence of mind to snap the above photo on his phone.  As you can see from the photo, this is a large cake.  After serving a dozen or so people, we still had well over half the cake left.

Coconut Cake

This recipe is adapted from the “Ultimate Coconut Cake” recipe on the Martha Stewart website, which credits “Robert Carter from the Peninsula Grill, in Charleston, South Carolina.”

To make the coconut cake, I used the following:

I made all of the components for the cake the day before I assembled the cake.  I refrigerated each of the components overnight with the exception of the toasted coconut.

To make the simple syrup, I used:

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar

I combined the water and sugar in a small saucepan.  I heated the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture boiled and the sugar dissolved.  I removed the syrup from the heat and let it cool.

To make the cake, I used:

  • Vegetable shortening and flour, for pans
  • 4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract

To make the cake, I preheated the oven to 325 degrees.  I greased and floured two 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening and flour.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, I mixed together the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes, until the butter and sugar mixture was light and fluffy.

I added the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

I combined the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) in a large bowl.  I mixed together the heavy cream, vanilla, and coconut extract in a medium bowl.

With the mixer on low, I added the flour and cream mixtures to the butter mixture, alternating between the flour and cream mixtures. I mixed the batter until just combined.

I spread 1/2 of the batter into each of the pans using a rubber spatula.

I cooked the cake for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake came out clean).

While cakes were baking, I made the filling and frosting.

To make the coconut filling, I used:

  • 5 cups heavy cream
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 9 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 tablespoon water

I chopped the coconut using a pulsing food processor.

I combined the cream, sugar, and butter in a saucepan over medium high heat and brought the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.  I stirred the mixture occasionally. I cooked the mixture until the butter melted and the sugar dissolved.

I combined the cornstarch, vanilla, and water in a small bowl and stirred the mixture until the cornstarch was completely incorporated.  I added the cornstarch mixture to the cream mixture and cooked it until thickened.

I removed the cream mixture from the heat and mixed in the chopped coconut.  I spread the resulting mixture in a 9” x 13” cake pan, covered the pan, and refrigerated the mixture overnight.

To make the frosting, I used:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds only

Using a stand mixer, I beat the butter and cream cheese until combined.  I added the sugar and vanilla and beat until the frosting ingredients were combined and the frosting creamy.

To make the coconut topping, I used:

  • 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut

I spread the coconut on a cookie sheet, which had been lined with parchment paper.  I baked the coconut in an oven preheated to 375 degrees.  I used a spatula to stir the coconut every couple of minutes.  I baked the coconut for about 10 minutes total.  Once the coconut had cooled I stored it in a sealed bag overnight.

In the morning, I transferred the filling to the bowl of a stand mixture and beat the mixture with the paddle attachment until fluffy (about 5 minutes).   I also beat the frosting until it was spreadable.

To assemble the cake I cut off the top of each cake so that the top of each cake was level.  I carefully cut each cake into three layers.

I placed a layer of cake on the cake stand.  To avoid lines in the interior cake, make sure that the bottom layer of the cake is from one of the layers cut from one of the cake bottoms and that the cut layer is “bottom down.”

I brushed about one-fifth of the simple syrup on the layer and then topped the layer with about one-fifth of the filling.  I repeated this process with the next four layers of cake and topped the stack with the final layer of cake.  If I were making this cake again, I would make sure that the layer cut from the other cake bottom was used as the top layer of the cake and used “bottom up” to avoid a dark line in the interior of the cake (visible towards the top of my cake).

I frosted the cake with a thin layer of frosting and refrigerated the crumb-coated cake for about 30 minutes.  I frosted the cake with the remaining frosting.   I pressed the toasted shredded coconut into the sides of the cake.  I refrigerated the cake for about 5 hours before serving.

This cake cuts best when cold, but tastes best at room temperature so I cut the cake immediately after taking it out of the refrigerator.  I tried to encourage everyone (pretty unsuccessfully) to wait a few minutes before eating.

We had a lot of leftover cake so I froze a few slices wrapped in plastic, aluminum foil, and freezer bags.  This worked well.  When we wanted a slice of cake we simple took a slice out of the freezer and let it defrost for about 20 minutes.

For another variation on this cake, a hot air-balloon shaped Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Filling, see this post.

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