Southern Coconut Cake

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful

When we first started planning our wedding, we didn’t really know what we were doing. Sure we’d been to our friends’ weddings but hadn’t paid much attention to details like chair set-ups or music or stemware. So when we sat down to talk about what we wanted our day to look like, we had only one goal in mind: we wanted it to feel like us. Nothing forced. Nothing to appease someone else or for the sake of an uncertain tradition. Throwing a bouquet and the whole garter thing wouldn’t feel like me so we ditched it. Stuffy venues and fussy catered meals wouldn’t do. In the end, we were lucky to stumble upon an incredible working farm on Whidbey Island, had a big family-style Southern meal at a long table under the stars, and some real-deal cake. Not the dainty slices of fondant-draped jewels you often see in wedding magazines. We had big slices of coconut cake.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful Last week was our second wedding anniversary and we both wanted to do something special, but we’re also watching our pennies and wanted to be smart about it, too. The more I thought about what I wanted to get Sam, the more I wanted for us to have more time together — just the two of us. In the broad scheme of things, I feel like we’ve done a great job mapping out time for each other’s work life, social lives, even exercise — it’s all a very precise weekly balancing act. But we still haven’t completely figured out how to get more time together as a couple. We’ve been on a few dates since Oliver was born and had a rule that we don’t talk about work or the baby for the entire meal; it’s always eye opening how it takes a good chunk of time to fall back into a groove of talking about all those things that made you interested in one another in the first place. And I want us to be sure to remember those things.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful So I ended up getting both of us a book (I chose this one!) as part of the new Megan and Sam Book Club. When Sam asked if it was monthly (with enthusiasm), I explained that it was most certainly not: it was a quarterly book club; I didn’t want to set us up for failure right out of the gate. The gist of the book club is that we both read the book by the agreed-upon date, then arrange for childcare, choose somewhere to eat or drink (or both) that we’ve been wanting to try, and come ready to discuss the book. I’ve got my highlighter ready.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful About a week before our anniversary, Sam told me to block out a few days in the middle of the week — that we were going somewhere. He wouldn’t tell me where, and hints were quite slim. I knew Oliver was coming along and I knew that I should pack a few warm things but I didn’t know if we were flying or driving or what to expect. I have a horrible sense of direction, so in truth, setting out on the highway gave little away. But I started to have a sense of where we were going when we neared Deception Pass, heading towards Whidbey Island. Then the golden pastures started to look more and more familiar and I felt a tightness in my chest as I recognized the open roads and prairie. We were going back to the farm.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful Sam had arranged for us to stay there for two nights last week; we slept in the room where I got ready on our wedding day, sat out on the back porch and watched the sunsets, and cooked most meals in the farmhouse kitchen. Sam brought along ingredients for us to make the dinner we had on our wedding night: fried chicken biscuit sandwiches, slow-braised pork, succotash, cocktails and — of course — that coconut cake.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful I realize this is a blog and a space for the written word, but so often during those two days I felt at a real loss for words. And I still do. Looking out at the large lawn where we said our vows two years ago and seeing our baby son crawling around, dirtying his knees and constantly looking back to us for approval felt immensely moving. Oliver was a thought at the time, most certainly, but a faraway thought and having him join us in the house last week somehow made our vows feel even more special: we were doing it.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful During the two days, we cooked a lot and ended up walking around the farm with Oliver. We went to Ebey’s Landing Park and hiked the bluff trail all along the water. We managed to forget the baby carrier, so we literally carried Oliver the whole way, trading off every few minutes, and feeling pretty exhausted by the time we got to the turnaround point. We drove the few miles into Coupeville one evening and walked down the pier to look at the boats, wishing we could sneak a baby into Toby’s for a beer, which we did the night of our wedding (sans baby, obviously).  Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful We also ate cake morning, noon and night. For our wedding, we ordered our  cakes from The Wandering Goose, a great Southern cafe in Seattle. The owner, Heather Earnhardt, made us three different cakes: coconut, lemon and her Brownstone Front (a really special mash-up of cocoa, brown sugar and caramel). The great irony (as I’m sure some of you can relate to) is that we ate very little cake on our wedding night: there were so many people to talk to and a small window of time to dance — which left very little time for cake. So we’re lucky that we can stroll into the cafe and buy a slice if we like, but we’re even luckier that Heather just came out with her first cookbook, Big Food, Big Love with recipes from The Wandering Goose.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful Sam baked the cake layers and made the frosting the night before we left for the farm last week and I kid you not when I tell you that this cake tastes exactly like our wedding cake: it really is the best coconut cake I’ve ever had. It’s not a dainty affair by any means, but I rarely want dainty when I’m craving a good piece of cake. It’s possible I snuck Oliver a tiny bite despite my plans not to give him sugar until he’s one (which I already let slip once). He started kicking his feet in excitement and grabbing for more until he became distracted by the hydrangeas on the side of the house and the roosters making a ruckus. And he was off again. I was off chasing him again.

Southern Coconut Cake | A Sweet Spoonful

Sometimes you get into a rut of work, baby, house project, work, baby, house project and then you get a reprieve in the week and an open prairie to look out on and a taste and glimpse back at your wedding day and realize how truly sweet and very big it all is.

Southern Coconut Cake

Southern Coconut Cake

  • Yield: One 3-layer, 9-inch frosted cake
  • Prep time: 50 mins
  • Cook time: 30 mins
  • Inactive time: 30 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr 50 mins

The ingredient list here isn’t small, but keep in mind this is a very large cake! A few personal notes: we used coconut milk for the cake (although Heather says you could use coconut cream as well, which you’ll notice is included in the ingredient list). And while she calls for almond extract in the cake (and I’ve kept the recipe below true to the original ), I think the extract can often can taste artificial, so I choose to leave it out – totally personal preference and up to you. Because the cake is so moist, it’s good covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days. That being said, I think it’s absolutely best served room temperature, so let it sit out for a few hours before serving.

Excerpted from Big Food Big Love with permission from Sasquatch Books.

Ingredients

For the Cake:

2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups canned coconut cream or coconut milk from 1 (19-ounce) can, such as Mae Ploy
1 tablespoon extract vanilla
1 tablespoon extract almond
1 tablespoon extract coconut
3 cups sugar
7 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups (7 ounces) sweetened coconut flakes

For the frosting:

20 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
7 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

To Top:

2 1/4 cups (7 ounces) sweetened coconut flakes, toasted, for decorating (see note)

Instructions

Thoroughly butter three 9-inch cake pans, making sure to coat the sides, and line the bot- toms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and set the pans aside. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together. In a small bowl, combine the coconut cream and extracts.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after every two eggs. Reduce the speed to low. Add the flour mixture and the coconut cream mixture in alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix in the coconut flakes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans.

Bake until the cake springs back when you touch the center with your finger, and it is pulling away from the sides of the pan just a bit, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Let the cakes cool in the pans until you can touch the pans comfortably, about 15 minutes, then flip the cakes out onto the lined baking sheets to cool completely before frosting.

While the cakes cool, make the frosting. In
the clean bowl of the stand mixer, mix the cream cheese and butter until no lumps remain. Add the confectioners’ sugar and extracts and blend until smooth. Frost between the layers, around the sides, and on top of the cake with the frosting. Decorate the top and sides of the cake with the toasted coconut.

Note: Toast the coconut flakes on a baking sheet at 300 degrees F until golden brown, about 10 minutes, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes. Be sure the coconut is completely cool before decorating the cake.

Comments

  1. Jeb

    Such a wonderful read, Megan. Happy Anniversary to you and S.

    1. Ruth

      I agree! wonderful read, felt like I was there. Happy Anniversary!!

      1. megang

        Thank you so much, Ruth! So sweet of you to say.

  2. Kate

    What a beautiful, wistful, lovely post! I'm loving your writing lately and how you're so honest about how it can be tough to find balance after you have a child.

    1. megang

      Awww, thanks so much, Kate. That makes my day. Very nice to hear. The writing is one of my favorite parts of the site, so it's nice to hear people are enjoying it. Have a great rest of the week!

  3. Katherine

    Beautiful cake! Looks delicious; i love coconut! I just started looking at your blog after hearing about it from Orangette and Joy the Baker. Wonder why the heck it took me so long to get here! This is one of the best blogs I've ever seen - great looking photos, recipes, and stories.

    PS This cake reminds me for some reason of a General Robert E Lee cake - maybe because they have the same texture and are both southern cakes. I think you would like that cake because it's also moist and has fresh flavors (lemon and orange). Hopefully this is as good as the Lee cake!!

    1. megang

      Hi, Katherine and thanks so much for the note and generous comment. I will have to look up this General Robert E Lee cake; I haven't heard of it! Thanks so much for the tip.

  4. mcs3000

    Beautiful, beautiful post. Happy Anniversary, Megan + Sam! XO

    1. megang

      Thank you, Mary!! xoxo

  5. Bronwen

    Could I cut the ingredients in half to make a smaller cake :-) ?

    1. megang

      Great question and I don't see why not. The only issue is the number of pans (as you obviously aren't going to be able to use 1.5 pans ... what about making cupcakes with them instead? Let me know what you decide. Also! I should mention that the cake actually freezes beautifully so if you end up making it and deciding to freeze half, the other will be fine for a few months.

  6. Patty

    Happy Anniversary Megan. September is a great month to be married. Last Sunday (9/25) we celebrated 45 years of marriage. We had 3 sons - no grandchildren YET but I am still hoping. When things get crazy or rough, remember that wedding day and this Anniversary Trip and why you married your husband. The last 9 months have been very bad here with a huge health scare for my husband. I truly didn't think we would make 45 years, but we got terrific word last week that they can't find any cancer cells and he had his last chemo today. Be happy Megan and don't let anyone get between you and your little family. Celebrate them every day.

  7. Chez

    Hi Megan, firstly, happy anniversary! I can't think of a better way to celebrate than what you have described - well done Sam! I am very interested in this cake and would love to try it. I have a couple of questions - first, sweetened coconut flakes isn't readily available in Australia (I've never seen it). Could I use unsweetened and perhaps beef up the sugar in the cake and frosting (and if so, how much). Also, I can't fit three 9 inch pans into my oven at once. Would the batter suffer if one pan sat out while I cooked the other two, or should I just reduce the ingredients by one-third and make a two-layer cake? Your advice would be appreciated! Thank you!

    1. megang

      Hello! Ok, so I wouldn't add more sugar (it's plenty sweet as it is) and I'd just use the unsweetened flakes. I think it will be just fine and won't suffer at all. And I can't think of a reason why the batter sitting out while the other two bake would be a bad thing at all ... just a little more time consuming for you, but won't hurt the cake a bit. Good luck and let me know what you think!

  8. Sarah // The Sugar Hit

    This post was absolutely beautiful. Your writing really is lovely, you really painted a picture of your gorgeous wedding and hiking along the bluff...what I'm trying to say is, write a food memoir and then take my money already!

    Plus, this coconut cake looks insanely good. Do you know the last scene from When Harry Met Sally? They talk about the coconut cake they had a their wedding, and this really reminded me of that. Damn delightful, lady!

    1. megang

      You are too kind, Sarah. Thank you so, so much for your sweet comment. Makes my day! And you know, I DONT remember that scene, but sounds like I need to go back and rewatch. Hope you're having a great weekend.

  9. Marisa

    I was just clicking around this afternoon and ended up reading this post. I'm aware that I'm a big softie, but your beautiful writing and the obvious love and gratitude you have for your little family made me tear up! <3 Thank you for sharing, Megan. Happy Anniversary to you both!

  10. Denice

    My husband happened upon your cookbook at our local library and checked it out for me today as he knew it was just my style. As I was delving into it I looked up your blog. This was the first recipe I clicked on because I LOVE coconut cake. And then I saw your picture of the beautiful farm house from MY wedding!! So fun to learn that we got married at the same place! (Although, totally jealous you got to go back there with your little one--would love to take our daughter there someday!) We were married there back in June 2011. And my mom made a small coconut cake for our wedding as well. If I still lived in Seattle we would probably have to be friends. ;) Looking forward to trying out some of your recipes soon!

    1. megang

      Denise! That is crazy! What a funny coincidence. Wasn't the farm beautiful? I fantasize that they'll want to sell it to us someday ... but guessing the chances of that are slim. I'm so glad you're enjoying the cookbook + hope you find the occasion to try out this cake someday! Happy New Year!

Join the Discussion

Fall Baking

Dark and Spicy Pumpkin Loaf

Dark and Spicy Pumpkin Loaf

It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!

Read More
Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie with Kamut Crust

Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie with Kamut Crust

I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.

Read More
For Three Days, A Student Again

For Three Days, A Student Again

This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.

Read More
Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies (Plus a Treat for You)

Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies (Plus a Treat for You)

Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking. 

Read More
Honeyed Spelt Cornbread with Fresh Cranberries

Honeyed Spelt Cornbread with Fresh Cranberries

I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.  

Read More