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Christmas Coconut Cake

Makes: 8 to 10 servings

This Christmas cake will make your friends gasp: three white cake layers covered with a light snowfall of flaked coconut. This recipe came from my Great-Aunt Molly, who always used fresh coconut milk in her cake. If I’m feeling unusually energetic, I do the same (see Tip). Otherwise, I substitute coconut cream, which is a lot easier to manage.

My cousin Vera Mitchell Garlough used to make this cake with her mother and sister. Vera wrote: “Mama used the standard boiled frosting from her Searchlight Cookbook, 1931 printing. The method called for boiling sugar and water until it made a thread when dripped from a spoon, then adding the very hot syrup very slowly to stiffly beaten egg whites, beating all the time. Then, we did not have the luxury of an electric mixer in our home so sister Barbara and I, while young girls, learned to make this frosting as a team. She poured while I beat, then she beat while I poured—using an old wire whisk. Somehow, it became stiff and always turned out right and we never scalded ourselves with the hot syrup. In later years, when she bought a double boiler, Mama used this standard recipe, which I use today.”

It’s challenging to press coconut into the sides of the cake. When pressing the coconut in, the icing invariably sticks to my fingers and mars the frosting’s finish. I’ve discovered that throwing small handfuls of coconut toward the side of the cake makes it adhere quite well—a messy but effective technique for creating a gorgeous-looking cake.

For those who want to follow Aunt Molly’s original recipe, here are her directions for extracting coconut meat and liquid from a fresh coconut: “First buy a fresh coconut. To select the best one, shake it to listen for a lot of milk inside. Prepare the coconut by first making a hole or two in one end with a hammer and ice pick. Stand the coconut up over a small bowl or glass measuring cup to catch the milk as it drains out. Next, crack the hard outer shell with a hammer, then pry off the pieces. The inner white coconut meat can then be grated [with a handheld microplane grater]. Refrigerate both the milk and grated coconut until ready to use.”


  1. 1Place an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and another in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch cake pans, then line each with a parchment paper round. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour; knock out the excess.
  2. 2Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, coconut milk, and coconut cream until smooth. Add the flour mixture in 3 increments, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 increments, starting and ending with the flour mixture. After each addition, mix at low speed just to combine the ingredients. Stir in the vanilla.
  3. 3Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until evenly blended. Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Set two layers on the top rack and the third on the lower rack. Stagger the cake layers on the oven racks so that no layer is directly over another. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Monitor the layers carefully for doneness; each one may be done at a different time. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto wire racks to cool completely.

To make the whipped cream filling:

  1. 1Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream on high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the coconut cream and the fresh coconut, if using.

To make the frosting:

  1. 1Whisk the egg whites, sugar, water, cream of tartar, and salt in a large stainless-steel bowl until thoroughly combined. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of barely simmering water. Using a hand beater or handheld electric mixer, continue beating the egg white mixture for 4 minutes. Add the mini marshmallows in 2 increments while continuing to beat. Wait until the first batch of marshmallows has melted before adding the second. Continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes more, until stiff peaks form. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and continue beating until the frosting is thick enough to spread.

To assemble the cake:

  1. 1Stack one cake layer on a serving plate and spread the top with half of the whipped cream filling. Repeat with a second layer. Stack the final cake layer on top of the first two and cover the cake’s top and sides with the frosting. Sprinkle the coconut on the top and sides of the cake.
  2. 2Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and store for 1 day at room temperature or up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
  • Christmas Coconut Cake

This recipe, while from a trusted source, may not have been tested by the CHOW food team.
Reprinted with permission from The Pastry Queen Christmas: Big-Hearted Holiday Entertaining, Texas Style by Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman, copyright © 2007. Published by Ten Speed Press.

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