Chic coconut curls give this classic layer cake from Martha Stewart a truly sophisticated presentation. Three layers of light and fluffy cake, covered with a lush swirl of seven-minute frosting and a shower of coconut curls.
Coconut cupcakes are cute. But a coconut cake commands attention in a way that cupcakes just can’t muster. It’s sorta like that scene in “Bull Durham” where Kevin Costner calls Susan Sarandon cute and her response is “Cute? Baby ducks are cute, I HATE cute! I want to be exotic and mysterious!”
I think a lot of cupcakes feel that same way. To clarify, we got nothing against cupcakes. Especially not the tender, moist, light, perfectly coconut-y cupcakes that this coconut cake recipe is based upon. But there’s a time and a place for everything.
Steph, the blogger at Momofukufor2 responsible for this cake incarnation, seems to share this sentiment, having conjured this stunning coconut layer cake from what was a cute coconut cupcake recipe. Her cake version elicits oohs and aahs and gasps from anyone who beholds it for the first time, yet she’s quick to offer up a kind word for the cuter cupcake creation.
“This recipe bakes up great as cupcakes as well, but I find cake so much more festive.” So do we, Steph. So do we. Still, if cupcakes are your thing, no judgment here. We’ve got your cupcake variation below the recipe.–Renee Schettler
HOW DO I MAKE LARGE COCONUT FLAKES?
Notice those chic coconut curls on the coconut cake in the photo above? (How could you not?!) The graceful ribbon-like lengths lend a little ooh la la to cakes and cupcakes alike. How’d we get ’em? Easy. We bought ’em. Just look for natural coconut flakes at your local health food store. Or search for those keywords online).
- Three 6-inch round cake pans or four 4 1/2-inch round cake pans
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the pans
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup packed unsweetened shredded coconut
- 3/4 cup canned coconut milk (not low-fat)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for the pans
- 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg whites
- Seven-Minute Frosting
- About 4 ounces shaved, flaked, or shredded unsweetened coconut for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Line three 6-inch round cake pans or four 4 1/2-inch cake pans with parchment circles cut to fit. Butter and flour the paper and the pans.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and shredded coconut.
- In a small bowl, combine the coconut milk and vanilla.
- Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and egg whites and mix well. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, switch to a spatula, and stir just until incorporated. Then add 1/2 of the coconut milk mixture and stir just until incorporated. Repeat, adding 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining coconut milk mixture, and ending with the remaining flour mixture. Don't overmix.
- Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans. Bake until the top of the cake springs back when pressed lightly with a fingertip and a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes if using 6-inch pans, and 30 to 40 minutes if using 4 1/2-inch pans. The cakes will not color appreciably, so don't rely on its hue as an indication of doneness. Place the cakes in their pans on a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Working with one cake at a time, place the wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert the cake onto the rack. Then carefully invert it again so it's right side up. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Using a serrated knife, carefully slice off the mounded top of each cake to create a flat surface. (Reserve the sliced portion for nibbling, making into cake balls, or layering with sweetened whipped cream.)
- Place a trimmed cake on a cake stand or platter. Spread a generous portion of Seven-Minute Frosting over the top. Place the second cake atop the first cake and very thinly coat the top with frosting. Then stack the third (and, if using, fourth) cake on top and very thinly coat the top and sides of the stack of cakes to seal in the crumbs. This is called a crumb coat.
- Generously slather the cake with the rest of the frosting. Quickly sprinkle some of the coconut over the top of the cake before the frosting sets and will no longer let the coconut adhere. Then quickly and gently press the rest of the coconut onto the sides of the cake. Behold!
Coconut Cupcake VariationWhen it comes time to divvy the batter between the springform or cake pans, instead spoon it into muffin tins fit with paper liners, filling each fully. You should have enough batter for about 20 cupcakes. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes completely in the tins on a wire rack. Once the cupcakes are cool, mound frosting on the tops and then quickly sprinkle with flaked or shredded coconut before the frosting sets.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is a great coconut cake! I made it as cupcakes (I was able to make 18 cupcakes using a No. 16 scoop) and they were really good. The cupcakes were done in 30 minutes. The frosting is wonderful and makes just enough for the 18 cupcakes. We loved them.
I’m so pleased to report myself as pleasantly sated with a generous serving of a 4 1/2-inch diameter version of this cake, which baked up as four cake layers and was turned into two separate cakes each comprised of two layers. The cake easily served 4 happy cake eaters with a little leftover, a bit to all of our surprise. The 4 1/2-inch cake is so much more sophisticated than cupcakes, so much less predictable than cupcakes, and, we thought, so much better in terms of the proportion of cake to frosting than cupcakes.
It’s also visually stunning and it was not at all difficult to achieve the look of the photo, even as non-expert cake bakers. (Anyone who knows me or looks through my reviews will see I am not a big cake fan, making my pleasure with this cake even more impressive and surprising, not only to me but also to my cake-eating friends.) The first two cakes were baked for 31 and 35 minutes and the second two for 35 and 39 minutes. Our little cakes did color a little on the sides and minimally on the top.
For the first two layers, which comprised the first two-layer cake, I used the Seven-Minute Frosting linked to in the recipe above. We made the frosting and used it immediately as directed. It was beautiful, it was luminescent, and it was easy to use. I found a beautiful flaked coconut, which was easy to sprinkle on the cake and was easy to get it to adhere to the frosting. EVERYONE loved this festive cake!
It is not only charming but also tasty. However, the big flakes of coconut that look so great are not to everyone’s liking. I had two people say to me that they did not like the mouthfeel of the large flakes of coconut. This didn’t stop them from eating the cake, however. Using shredded coconut for the frosting cake would greatly reduce the dramatic impact of this cake. It’s the combination of the tallness and the smallness of the cake and the large flakes that make this cake work visually. To me, it would not be worth sacrificing that by changing the look. By the way, this would look festive and GREAT on an Easter table.
These cupcakes got an enthusiastic two-thumbs-up review in our house, and that says a lot. As a lifetime coconut cake devotee, I’ve also turned my husband and kids into aficionados, and I definitely seem to have surrounded myself with friends who share our enthusiasm.
Needless to say, I’ve tried many, many recipes for coconut cake in my hunt for the perfect one. Martha Stewart’s recipe will forever be my go-to coconut cupcake recipe. These cupcakes were perfect: sweet, but not cloying, dense and coconutty, yet not heavy or overwhelming, and perfectly frosted. I loved them, my kids loved them, and all of my coconut cake-addicted friends loved them. I went out and promptly bought the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book. I’m so excited to have found the holy grail of coconut cupcake recipes at last.
These were light, moist, and mildly coconut-y. I made the recipe as cupcakes, rotating the pans once during baking. There was a nice balance of texture with the airy, marshmallow-like frosting and crunchy coconut flakes. I used the shaved, unsweetened coconut for both the garnish and the recipe, but I didn’t want large coconut shavings in the cupcakes themselves so I ran the flour and coconut through the food processor. The cupcakes were delicious, eliciting excellent reviews from my coworkers.
This recipe attracted me because it contained both coconut and coconut milk—a double whammy of one of my favorite flavors. I made this recipe as cupcakes and wasn’t disappointed. Usually, I expect 24 cupcakes (my cupcake pan is on the small side, holding about 1/3 batter per cupcake) from a two-layer recipe, but I only got 18 this time.
They didn’t gain much color even though they were perfectly baked, moist, light, and tender, so don’t look for browning as a guide. It was hard to wait for them to cool to frost and taste. In fact, my husband didn’t. The cupcake—I grabbed a bite—was delicious while warm, but it was even better cooled and frosted.
The frosting recipe was also just right. Once the sugar dissolved, it took only about 3 1/2 minutes for the frosting to billow into marshmallowy whirls, so maybe it wasn’t exactly “Seven Minute” icing. I especially liked this frosting because unlike some others I’ve tried, it wasn’t cloying. There was plenty to generously ice the cupcakes which I then dipped in a little more coconut. They didn’t really need that, but hey, why not?
I made cupcakes with this recipe, yielding 30 small cupcakes at 2 inches in diameter. They baked for 20 minutes, and I rotated the pans halfway through. Overall, this recipe is easy to put together, including the Seven Minute Frosting—which more accurately should be named Ten Minute Frosting if we’re being picky.
The cake was moist, sweet, and full of coconut flavor, and the frosting was sticky, like marshmallow fluff. I’m not sure if this is how the frosting was supposed to turn out, but I thought it was delicious, if messy to work with and store. I topped the cakes with toasted coconut for a touch of color.
The flavor of this coconut cake is really lovely. Using unsweetened coconut and coconut, and not extracts, gives the kind of real coconut taste that I like. The only thing better would be using a freshly cracked coconut after you drink the coconut water from inside. The texture of the cake is rich without being heavy. It has substance. The best compliment came from my spouse, who said, “This isn’t air cake!”
The fun part is that you can play with the presentation and make something really dramatic. Small springform pans are not too hard to come by and a set of 4 will handle almost all the batter, with the possible bonus of a pair of cupcakes. The lovely curls of coconut in the picture are probably worth sourcing, although shredded coconut worked fine. I think next time I will use nice large shavings or even use Trader Joe’s toasted coconut flakes for a more sophisticated flavor profile.
I filled four 4 1/2-inch springform pans plus had just enough batter left for 2 small cupcakes. The baking time was 30 to 32 minutes. The cupcakes came out at exactly 20 minutes. I did get browning, more in the dark pans, less in the one bright finished one. The cakes domed and cracked a tiny bit, but that was all trimmed (and will be excellent for making individual trifles). I lined lightly buttered springform pans with parchment cut round for the bottom and a strip lining the sides. All released perfectly after baking.
Because I couldn’t ensure this would be eaten the same day, I opted to not use the seven-minute frosting but instead used a buttercream frosting recipe. I liked that vanilla was the only other flavoring in both the cake and frosting. The buttercream recipe covered the cakes with enough left over to frost the cupcakes and a little more. I think I might want to thin it just a bit more (an extra teaspoon of milk would do it) to make the frosting a bit more spreadable and to make it easier to add the coconut flakes. The finished cake stands almost 6 inches tall. I did sprinkle a tiny amount of coconut on the buttercream between layers. If you knew for certain the cake would be consumed the same day, I’m sure the seven-minute frosting would be lovely. For making ahead, the buttercream seemed a sensible alternative.
You could play with the pan size, but the tall narrow shape is way too fun! If you are transporting this, and your cake carrier is too wide or not tall enough, take a look at lidded restaurant containers—you can use them upside down, using the lid to hold your cake plate.
Originally published April 18, 2011
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
The taste and texture of this cake are amazing. I tend to like cakes that are a little denser, but not dry…like a pound cake. This isn’t quite pound cake, but I think because of the coconut in the batter the cake is a little denser. It’s a cake with some substance. I liked it! With frosting and filling, this ended up being one tall and pretty cake!
The cakes were baked for about 20 minutes. Each cake baked to the top of the pan, and my pans are 6 by 2 inches, so each cake is about 2 inches tall. I also had enough batter to make one cupcake. The marshmallow frosting (aka Seven Minute Frosting) is a great match—it’s not too sweet. The cake itself isn’t overly sweet, either, so they pair really well together.
This is such a GOOD cake. I ate the cupcake and it’s quite YUMMY! I didn’t measure it, but I’m thinking frosted it’s probably about 8 inches tall. I put the coconut on the cake while holding the cake over a bowl so that I can reuse any excess coconut that falls in. It’s definitely an impressive-looking cake on the cake stand. I think this would be a great Easter cake.