Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Buttermilk Coconut Cake

I'll admit that in a Hill Country election for best dessert, coconut cake would finish behind pecan pie.  It's geography; we're far from coconut palms, but pecan trees grow in the blackland prairie just south of our hills.  So before I start talking about how good this coconut cake recipe is, I'll say I'm not disloyal to the national dessert of Texas.  My mama's recipe for pecan pie, the one I use on the rare occasions I indulge, is among the best.

But my father remembered the coconut cake I made him for Father's Day and asked for a coconut cake for his birthday.  I don't make desserts when it's just me and Denny but Dad knew I'd make one for him.  I'm happy he's still here.  And I believe this:  Eat your cake while you can, especially at 87. 

The Father's Day cake was the FIRST coconut cake I'd ever made and it was good.  But the birthday coconut cake was better than good.  It might have been the best coconut cake in the world; if I'd made it with fresh coconut I cracked and peeled and grated myself.  But then it would have been pink from the blood of my fingertips scraping over the grater.  And the air blue from expletives undeleted regarding grated fingertips. 

So fresh coconut aside, I'm sharing my possibly-best-in-the-world recipe with you in case you want to give sugar to someone you love.  Big, tall, three-layer sugar.

The cake recipe is one I adapted from Paula Deen's Basic 1-2-3-4 Cake, the icing from the Never Fail Frosting recipe in the Southern Living Our Best Recipes cookbook, copyright 1970.  And we all know that southern women are the coconut cake queens, don't we?

A note to success:  Great texture is a function of following the directions.  Don't shortcut creaming or skip sifting.  These two operations lift the cake from heaviness to tenderness.

1 (14 oz.) pkg Baker's Angel Flake Coconut (one package will be enough for the cake and the icing)

Cake Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups sifted flour (sift before measuring flour, then add baking powder, soda and salt and sift 3 more times)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
large pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened coconut, whizzed in a food processor or blender until minced

Cake Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans.  
Using a stand mixer, cream butter until fluffy.  It took about twice as long to beat my cold butter fluffy
Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6-8 minutes. Color and texture will lighten.  
Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.  
Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour.  
Add vanilla and coconut and beat just until mixed.  
Divide batter equally among prepared pans.  Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3 or 4 inches above counter, then dropping it flat onto counter (this part was fun, I dropped from higher because it makes a bigger noise).  Do this several times to release air bubbles and assure a more level cake.  
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.  
Cool in pans on wire racks 5-10 minutes.  Then invert layers onto cooling racks.  
Cool completely and spread cake layers with frosting to make a 3 layer cake.

Icing Ingredients
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
4 unbeaten egg whites
6 tablespoons water
1 tsp vanilla extract

Icing Directions
Combine all ingredients in top of a double boiler.   Don't let the simmering water touch the bottom of the pan (helps prevent grainy texture).  Use mixer to stir.  Beat briskly 7-10 minutes or longer until frosting is fluffy and holds a stiff peak.

Frost the top of the lowest cake layer and sprinkle liberally with coconut.  The coconut provides friction to keep the next layer from sliding sideways on the frosting, as well as adding coconut flavor.  Repeat.  After placing the third layer, frost the top first and then down the sides.  Sprinkle coconut on top.  

I didn't try coconutting the sides (how would one do that, throw it?) but it would probably be fun if you don't mind a coconut kitchen.  After tasting, we thought the coconut in the cake itself and on the icing was plenty.

I sent the leftover cake home with Mom and Dad.  I think they even ate it for breakfast.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.


  1. Hello Kathleen!! A friend sent me a link to your blog--what a wonderful life you live! I live north of San Antonio and work in Kendalia (south of Blanco). I am totally wanting to find a escarpment black cherry tree now! I've tried to plant our 1/2 acre with natives for the wild ones too... funny how when we try to do that and then I am in the city and see a scad of cedar waxwings eating ligustrum berries!!!
    Take care!

  2. Hello Kathleen,
    Dropping by on my way from Ms Moon's and I gotta say, that is the most beeyootifull coconut cake I have seen since my grandma Buckner's, who lived in Springfield, MO. I think she and my Ma called that kind of icing "boiled icing". I could taste it just reading the recipe, it was kind of marshmallowy.

    I do think I will have to make this _with_ fresh coconut when I get back to California.

    Bisous from southwestern France,

  3. Coconut cake, breakfast of champions....

    Nothing says love like home baked cake by golly. Your Daddy is a lucky lucky and very well loved man.

    Coconutting the sides? I dimly recall some trick with wax paper and sort of pressing the stuff on like glitter on glue... Don't know that the mess would be worth it though. Gilding the lily for durn sure. Looks plenty delicious as is.

  4. Happy Cake Eating Life Loving Birthday to your father.
    My husband and son both have birthdays this week, perhaps I'll convince them to try this instead of the usual ice cream cake . Although it is much easier to make, this sounds divine.

  5. Kathleen,
    I don't even like coconut, but DAMN that looks good!

    Sending love,


  6. In addition to sending my wishes for a happy birthday to your dad, I have three words for you:
    yum, yum, yum!

  7. Coconut cake, was my dad's favorite, too. Mother made him one for every birthday.
    She put coconut on the sides, by filling her hand with it, and just placing it on the sides.
    I never tried to make one. Yours looks delicious.
    Speaking of coconut, have you tried the coconut chess pie from Wimberley Pie Co.? Yum....
    Happy Birthday to your dad. Enjoy every minute you have with him.

  8. omigosh, that's most mouth-watering thing i've seen in decades. i've gained weight just lusting after one teeny bite.

  9. On my thirtieth birthday, Mr. Moon made me a coconut cake from the coconut on up and it was heaven. He also asked me to marry him that day and gave me a ring. I won't forget that birthday EVER.
    And that one-two-three-four cake? I got second place in a cake-baking contest with one of those a long, long, LONG time ago. It IS a heavenly cake and yes, you have to beat the hell out of it.
    Thanks for the memories and happy birthday to your sweet old daddy.

  10. It'd be nice if you'd make a Mac version. I can't get it to download in Safari.

  11. This cake looks so tasty I had to get Mr I to take a look~~He makes all the baked goods at C&L! I hope the celebration for your dad is/was wonderful. gail

  12. That cake looks like one of those cakes that would make my eyes roll to the back of my head with the first bite. (That's a good thing!) I caught up with your other posts and see you have a lot of culinary skills - that shrimp dish and the pancakes for example. I'm thinking about giving the A.H. Shrimp a try. It does look good for a cold night.

  13. Kathleen-
    I am truly blessed to be able to work at a local wild animal rescue organization in the hill country.
    The red fox is one of the sanctuary's resident, being a former pet therefore not a good candidate for release. He lives in with several other foxes so he's not alone. Handsome, isn't he!!
    Email me any time--I bet we have many many stories to share!!

  14. Oooh! You should know better than to put a picture like that in front of a pregnant person!!! NO fair. . .UNLESS you want to bring one by?! Please?!!! Looks delish!

  15. Made this for my twin daughters 17th birthday cake yesterday. Followed the recipe exactly and it was to die for! Absolutely beautfiul cake that WOWS with presentation. The cake was dense and moist, exactly what you want in a coconut cake. The three layers came out even and beautiful. Stacked nicely and did not slide off or look lopsided which can happen with 3 layer cakes. The icing was beautiful. What a gorgeous as well as delicious cake. This is going in my file for THE coconut cake. I actually prefer this one to the more commone ones with whipped cream icing. This one is more southern old fashioned goodness, and boy was it good with my cup of coffee for breakfast this morning. Thanks for sharing.

  16. your recipes look great !!


  18. This cake was amazing! I made it for Easter and it was perfect. The frosting was so light and fluffy, and fat free!!! The cake was moist. Be careful to not overtake, it was almost dry because I may have left it in the over a touch too long. I added some drained crushed pineapple in between the layers for an added surprise. Yummy!


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