Coconut cakes are the crowning glory of the Christmas feast in many a Southern household. They are found throughout the region, and recipes date back to the early years of the nineteenth century.
This cake was part of every Christmas from my first to the present day, some half century later. I remember my grandfather heading out to the car port, hammer in hand, ready to do battle with the obstinate brown nut that held the sweet meat and milk that grandma would turn into this delicious cake. Use caution in cracking the coconut, as they can be tricky; but the flavor of fresh coconut over that of canned or frozen is well worth the extra effort.

For the cake:

  • 1/2 pound butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup coconut milk (see note below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons orange extract
  • 4 cups cake  flour

DO NOT preheat oven.

With the cocoanut held by an assistant or firmly between your knees, use a hammer and a large, clean nail to pierce the coconut through two of the “eyes” on its top. Carefully pour out the cocoanut milk into a large glass or bowl and set aside. Hit the cocoanut with the hammer to crack it open, and carefully remove the white flesh with a sharp knife. Set aside.
Grease and flour a 10” tube pan. . Cream butter, Crisco, and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Pour orange extract into cocoanut milk. Sift dry ingredients together into separate bowl. Add 1/3 dry ingredients to sugar and egg mixture, then follow  with 1/2 of the cocoanut milk. Beat at slowest speed until flour is just mixed .Add second third of dry  ingredients and the rest of the cocoanut milk and beat until the flour is just mixed. Scrape the bowl and add the rest of the flour. Mix until just blended and pour into pan.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a cake tester or broom straw comes out clean. Don’t open the door for the first hour or the cake will fall. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes and remove from the pan. Let cool for 1/2 hour before slicing .
Slice cake into 3 layers using dental floss or large serrated knife.
Frost cake with frosting

For the frosting:

  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 egg whites (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • Fresh coconut, grated

Combine sugar, cream of tartar, salt and water in heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is clear. Cook until mixture reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage).

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Let mixer continue to run and slowly pour the sugar mixture in a thin stream down the side of the mixing bowl (don’t let the sugar mixture come into contact with the beaters). Add the coconut extract. Continue beating until stiff peaks form and frosting thickens to desired consistency.

Cover  a layer of the cake with frosting and sprinkle with coconut, Repeat for all 3 layers and top of cake. Frost sides and gently press coconut onto sides to cover. Refrigerate overnight before serving, and keep refrigerated.

2 Comments so far »

  1. Patti Lawrence said

    October 18 2010 @ 4:58 pm

    I’m excited to find your recipes. I have a question – a couple of cake recipes say put in COLD oven or don’t preheat the oven. I’ve never heard of this so I’m wondering why? Just curious. Anyway, you have a lot of recipes my mama and grandma made so I’m excited to try them.

  2. Chef Rick said

    October 23 2010 @ 8:47 am

    @ Patti–
    The cold oven allows the cake to heat through as the oven heats and makes it rise more evenly, or so Grandma Hill always told me.

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