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 Ingredients1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
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
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.
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
4 unbeaten egg whites
6 tablespoons water
1 tsp vanilla extract
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.