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Coconut Cake or Cupcakes

Rachael’s sister Maria – the baker in the family! – has shared this recipe with us. Maria says, “Okay, this is a tough one. It takes time, patience, a little skill, a little luck and a glass of champagne for the nerves – but it’s worth the effort!


For the cake:

  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup coconut milk (use real coconut milk, not a piña colada base mix)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, squeezed from a lemon (do not use bottled lemon juice)

For the filling:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick salted butter, melted
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 3 large egg yolks (reserve the whites for frosting, if making)
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 large egg whites (reserve the yolks for filling, if making)
  • Flaked coconut, for dusting on top and sides of cake, or on the tops of cupcakes


Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and place the oven racks at the center of the oven.

Note: You can make a cake or cupcakes using this recipe. If you’re making cupcakes, omit the filling. In addition, you will notice that the entire time you are mixing the batter that you will be adding air. At the end, you will tap it out.

Sift the flour twice through into a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar in a slow stream on medium speed and mix until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until their volume almost doubles. With the mixer on medium speed, slowly stream the eggs into the butter mixture until well combined.

Next, add the coconut milk and the flour a third of each at a time, beginning with the flour, as follows: take 1 cup of the sifted flour and sift it again into the batter bowl. Mix on medium speed, until combined. Add 1/3 cup coconut milk and mix until combined. Repeat until all of the flour and coconut milk have been added.

Add the lemon juice and mix until combined. (You add the lemon juice last because lemon juice will cook eggs.)

Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans or three 6-cup cupcake tins. Once you have poured the batter into the bakeware, tap them on the counter a few times. Air bubbles will rise to the surface of the batter and break. 

For cake, bake for 30-35 minutes; for cupcakes, bake for 20-25 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

If you’re making a cake, make the filling: Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium (2 quart) saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, cream and egg yolks. Cook over medium heat, 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, like pudding. Be careful not to let the mixture come to a boil or let it stick to the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the flaked coconut. Transfer the filling to a bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Next, make the frosting: in a medium saucepan, give the sugar and corn syrup a quick stir with a spoon (mix them together, but they will not combine). Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Do not stir again – only stir once in the beginning. Once the mixture is boiling, take the lid off the pan and continue to boil for 10-12 minutes (this timing is approximate). If you have a candy thermometer, it should be at least 242°F but not more than 244°F; if you don’t have a candy thermometer, the mixture is done when it reaches the “soft ball stage,” the point at which it will form a soft ball if dropped into cold water. The safest way to check for the soft ball stage is to take a glass of ice water and pour a drop of the boiling syrup in, then reach into the water and grab the drop of syrup and squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. It should stay together, but squish as easily as Play-Doh.

While the syrup is cooking, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites in a medium bowl, just until stiff peaks begin to form.

When the desired temperature or soft ball stage is reached, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the coconut milk and vanilla, once around the pan with the spoon – it does not have to be combined completely.

Next – this next part makes it or breaks it! – drizzle the syrup very slowly in a constant and very thin stream into the whites, while constantly keeping the mixer going to keep the whites moving. Do not pull the mixer away for even 1 second! The syrup mixture is very very hot and it must be added to the eggs very slowly in a very thin stream. You must have the mixer already on and in the egg whites beating at medium speed before you add the syrup.

As you add the syrup, you will form a glossy, white, gooey substance that looks and feels like you took a jar of marshmallow fluff and stirred it vigorously with a spoon. When all the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to high speed and beat for 10-12 minutes, or until stiff, fluffy, glossy peaks form. Store in the frosting in the refrigerator until ready to frost the cake or cupcakes.

If you are making a cake, follow these filling and frosting instructions: Once the cakes have cooled long enough in the pan so that you can handle them, about 10 minutes, turn them out onto your palm, then flip them right side up and place them on a rack to cool. Take a pastry brush and brush away loose crumbs from the sides of the cakes. When the cakes are completely cooled, divide the filling in half and spread the top of the bottom layer with filling, then place the middle layer on top and spread the top of the middle layer with filling, then place the third cake on top. Use frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. Note: if you are talented with cakes, you can slice each cake in half, creating six layers; in this case you would need to divide the filling into five equal portions and spread in the same manner as above. If you would like multiple layers but you do not yet have an experienced hand splitting layer cakes, bake six layers – use half the batter in each cake pan and bake half the time (you’ll have to bake the cakes in two rounds if you only have three cake pans).

Rachael Ray