This is the coconut cake I am serving Easter Sunday. If my coconut cake were a person, it would be a lady in an Easter dress with a matching hat at church. At first glance, you would notice that she is not as pulled-together as most of the other ladies there. Her dress is loud; her hair is too big; and her lipstick is running. She is singing the hymns loudly and a bit off key. Still, there is something about this woman that draws you in. She is joyful and she’s letting it all hang out. Her exuberance is contagious. Who cares what she looks like?
And so it is with my coconut cake. Skilled bakers make stunning cakes. (No runny lipstick or big hair). I do not. My problem is the frosting. Where I intend a graceful swirl, my clumsy fingers create a blob. My cakes never look pretty, but they always taste delicious. I could give up and buy a beautiful professionally made cake, but the thing is, the family would rather have mine. When it is time to cut the cake, I am the only one who notices the blobs and cake crumbs in the icing. Noone else sees a mess. They love the cake.
Layer cakes are old fashioned but will never be out of style. I don’t know exactly why, but the coconut layer cake is a Southern Easter tradition. Recipes for it are handed down in families and proliferate Southern community cookbooks. I think that its Southerness is due, in part, to its eccentric looks. On the outside, glossy white frosting is covered with shredded coconut making it look shaggy, like it is made for a party. Inside, its polite lady-like layers are separated by lemon curd making it taste sweet and bright. One bite, and you’ll want to jump in and join the fun.
Oh Happy Day
Oh Happy Day
When Jesus washed, he washed my sins away
Etta James: Oh Happy Day
For the cake:
3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 tsps vanilla extract
For the filling:
1 recipe lemon curd or 1 (11.5 oz) jar, storebought
For the Frosting:
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tsps light corn syrup
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
1. PREP WORK: Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with buttered parchment paper. Place sifted flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
2. MIX: In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on MEDIUM HIGH speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Reduce speed to LOW. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk, mixing after each addition, stopping to scrape the batter off the sides of the bowl when needed. Using a spatula, stir in the coconut and vanilla extract.
3. BEAT EGG WHITES AND FOLD INTO BATTER: In a separate bowl, beat egg whites on HIGH speed until they form stiff peaks, 5-10 minutes. Fold the egg whites in three additions into the cake batter. Use a gentle hand. The goal is to avoid taking much air out of the beaten whites.
4. BAKE: Pour equal shares of batter into the three prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Place pans on wire racks and cool 10 minutes. Unmold cakes onto the racks and cool completely. Discard parchment paper.
5. MAKE FROSTING: Fill a deep skillet with 2-3 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, combine egg whites, sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in a metal bowl. When water simmers, place the metal bowl into the water. Use a whisk to mix until the sugar dissolves. Now use a handheld mixer. Beat, still over the heat, on HIGH speed until the mixture is thick and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and beat until incorporated.
6. ASSEMBLE: Place one layer of the cake on a cake stand. Spread enough lemon curd on the top of that layer to cover it well – you can make it as thick as you like but don’t use more than half of the jar. Place the second layer on top of the first and cover it’s top with as much lemon curd as the first. Note: Just spread lemon curd on the tops; not on the sides. Place the third layer on top of the second. Spread frosting over the top of the third layer and then all around the sides. Gently press coconut into the sides of the cake, and sprinkle remaining coconut on top.
Note: Raw eggs carry a risk of salmonella. To decrease any risk, use very fresh eggs. If you are serving very young, very old, or those with immunological issues, use pasteurized egg whites. They won’t yield the same volume as regular egg whites.
Peace and love from my kitchen to yours,