Third Time’s a Charm – Another Coconut Cake

A couple of years ago I decided to bake the Peninsula Grill Coconut Cake, after finding a recipe for the cake on the Martha Stewart website. The cake was very time intensive to make.  Also, after seeing everything that went into the cake it lost just a bit of its charm.  Now, I don’t expect my cakes to be healthy, after all they are cakes, but the Peninsula Grill Coconut Cake is DECADENT even for a cake!

Coconut Cake

Don’t get me wrong, I have every intention of ordering the Peninsula Grill cake again when I am at the restaurant and ordering a single slice to share with my husband is an option.  (Although, even then, we usually have leftovers.)  I don’t, however, think I’ll make this cake again unless I am having a large party.  After serving about a dozen friends over half of the approximately twelve pound cake remained. (You can see the cake I baked here.) Even after sending friends home with generous slices I was left with over one-fourth of the cake, proving that you can have too much of even a very delicious thing.

Anyways, that is all by way of explanation for why when I needed to make a coconut cake for a surprise party for my husband I set out in search of a new recipe.  I came across a recipe for a triple layer coconut custard cake with cream cheese frosting on The Cookbook Chronicles that the author said was inspired by the Peninsula Grill cake, but re-written to produce a lighter and moister cake.  When the author noted that she had been testing the recipe for the last five years I knew I’d found my cake for the surprise party and a fellow blogger who shares my obsession with coconut cakes.

The cake was good. Really good, as in this may be the best coconut cake I’ve ever had good.  It is decadent, but the addition of lemon juice to the cream cheese icing helped balance the richness and sweetness of the cake and gave the cake a bright fresh flavor.  Also, it was a little less dense than the Peninsula Grill cake. This is still a large cake although it is a bit smaller than the Peninsula Grill cake.

To make the cake:

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Shortening and flour for preparing the pan

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread all of the shredded coconut for the cake and for the cake filling (below) over the lined baking sheet.  Bake the coconut for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.  The coconut will brown quickly so check it often to avoid burning it.  Allow the coconut to cool.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and sift the mixture into a medium bowl.  In a small bowl, mix together the coconut milk and sour cream   In the bowl of stand mixer, beat the oil and butter on medium-high.  Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract.  Beat until combined.

With the mixer on low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture.  Then add about one-half of the coconut mixture for the cake.  Repeat.  Add the remaining dry ingredients.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites until medium peaks form. (The beaten egg whites should hold a fairly defined peak pretty well, but the top of the peak should curl over on itself when the beaters are removed from the egg whites.)  Using a silicon scraper, very gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter.

Grease and lightly flower three 8-inch cake pans. Divide the batter evenly among the three pans (a kitchen scale can help).  Bake the cakes for about 20-25 minutes, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

(My oven isn’t big enough to bake three cakes at a time on one shelf and I have had poor results trying to baking cakes on multiple shelves of the oven. I baked  two of the cakes together and then baked the third after. The third cake took a little less time to bake than the two that were baked together.)

Let the cakes cool completely and then remove from the pans. I made these the night before I assembled the cake and stored them well wrapped in the fridge.

To make the filling:

  • 3 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 1/2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds
  • 2 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup sour cream

Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl.

Combine the cream, coconut milk, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, shredded coconut, and butter in a pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  When the butter is melted add the cornstarch mixture.  Continue stirring until the mixture begins to boil and thicken.  Turn down the heat to medium low and cook for an additional ten minutes.  Remove the mixture from the heat and add the sour cream.

Transfer the filling to a bowl.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and place the filling in the fridge.  Stir the filling occasionally until it is completely cooled. (I let the filling cool in the fridge overnight.)

To make the frosting, I used the following:

  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

In a large bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter using an electric mixer or stand mixer.  When the mixture is light and fluffy add the powdered sugar and continue to beat on low speed.  Add the lemon juice and zest.

To assemble the cake, line a cake stand with parchment paper.  (The parchment paper should be under the cake just enough to keep it in place, but not too much or it will be difficult to remove. It doesn’t have to look pretty!)

Assembling a cake

Level each of the cake layers with a knife or cake cutter.

Assembling a cake

Place the bottom layer of the cake on the paper-lined stand. Top with one half of the filling, the second layer of the cake, the rest of the filling, and the top layer of the cake.

Assembling a cake

Assembling a cake

Assembling a cake

To avoid getting crumbs in the frosting, place about 1 cup of the frosting in a small bowl.  Frost the cake with a thin layer of frosting out of the bowl. Don’t worry if there are crumbs in the frosting! Place the cake in the fridge until the frosting hardens and dries (about 20 minutes).  Use the remaining frosting to frost the cake.

Assembling a coconut cake

Use a spatula to press the toasted shredded coconut into the frosting while it is still wet.  Gently remove the parchment paper from beneath the cake by tugging on the edges of the paper. If not serving the cake immediately, cover the cake with plastic wrap and store it in the fridge until about 30 minutes before serving.

Oh and if you are wondering how I managed to keep the surprise from my husband, I told him that the cake was for a fundraiser bake sale.  I then dropped the cake off at a friend’s house.  He was definitely surprised later that day!

Coconut Cake

Looking for a coconut cake that’s a bit simpler? Check out this Coconut-Buttermilk Pound Cake recipe. Want to go all out and bake the Peninsula Grill Coconut Cake? Check out this recipe for six layers Coconut Cake goodness.


Do you have a favorite coconut cake recipe? If so, I’d love it if you would share the recipe or a link to your blog with the recipe in the comments!

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