Crazy for Coconut Cake

By Megan McDonald April 12, 2011

Megan's triple-layer coconut cake.

I’m proud to say that, last Sunday, the coconut cake I made for the Asolo Rep’s “Men Who Cook” event was auctioned for $550. And even I (a fairly self-deprecating baker) have to admit that this is a killer dessert—it’s three layers of vanilla cake with a coconut cream filling and cream cheese frosting that’s topped off with a dusting of fluffy, toasted coconut flakes.

I found this recipe, which was originally featured in Bon Appetit, a few years ago after reading about the infamous coconut cake at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, S.C. “I could make that,” I thought. So I did, for an office party, and now I get requests for it throughout the year.

The thing about this cake is that it feels Southern; it feels like comfort food. When I taste it, I’m immediately transported to a place where it’s served with sweet tea and a Southern accent on a whitewashed front porch bordered by bougainvillea in bloom. Which is why I want to share the recipe with you, in case you’re feeling inspired to bake something delicious and familiar.

A quick note: This cake is not for the faint of heart. It’s two days of cook time (the filling has to set overnight), and it’s definitely not low-cal—the ingredients list contains more than a pint of heavy cream, five eggs, three sticks of butter and sour cream, among others. (My recommendation: don’t buy low-fat version of the ingredients. Trust me.) But if you’re a coconut lover, it’s worth every bite. And if you’re not—well, this cake might be the converting force.


The Infamous Coconut Cake

Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, October 2001


2 Tbsp cornstarch

2 Tbsp water

1 tsp good vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 1/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes

1/4 cup sour cream


3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (i use king arthur)

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

5 large eggs

1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp good vanilla extract


2 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature (recommended: Philadelphia)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups confectioners' sugar

1 tsp good vanilla extract

For Filling:

Stir cornstarch, 2 Tbsp water, and vanilla in small bowl to dissolve cornstarch. Bring heavy cream, sugar, and butter to a boil in heavy medium saucepan. add cornstarch mixture and bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir in coconut. cool completely, then mix in sour cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in another large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in cream and vanilla. Carefully stir flour mixture into butter mixture. Divide batter equally among pans. Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool completely.

For frosting:

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter in large bowl to blend. Then beat in powdered sugar and vanilla extract.

To assemble:

Place 1 cake layer on cake plate. Top with half of filling. Place second cake layer atop filling. Top with remaining filling. Place third cake layer atop filling. Spread cream cheese frosting over top and sides of cake. Pat toasted coconut over top of cake, pressing gently to adhere. (This cake can be prepared up to one day ahead; simply cover and refrigerate, then let stand at room temperature 3 hours before serving.)

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