coconut cake

coconut cake stand 2.jpg

Not only was Emily Dickinson’s favorite dessert Coconut Cake, but she actually had a recipe of her own for the sweet treat. However, her recipe had zero directions, just a list of ingredients. 

We tried our hand at it. It was good, but I’m sure Emily had a trick or two up her sleeve that she never documented on that recipe card. The cake ended up rather flat and simple. Some what of an uneventful cake. 

So when we looked to pull off a coconut cake in Dickinson’s honor we decided to go all out. As our research grew, so did the cake we were envisioning. And then… we found this recipe. Fluffy, moist, delicious, and somewhat laborious. Be sure you’ve got most of the afternoon open for baking. We’re not big believers in ripping off recipes ingredient-for-ingredient. We find there’s usually something you can adjust/add/tweak to make it your own. Not so for this cake. 

It’s perfection. Make it exactly as scribed. Don’t change a thing. And then stuff your face for hours and days to come!

The recipe is taken from The Brown Betty Cookbook, as found on Leite’s Culinaria.


For the cake:

Vegetable shortening for the pans

Nonstick cooking spray with flour

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

5 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup evaporated milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract


For the coconut filling:

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter

2 1/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut

1/4 cup sour cream


For the cream cheese frosting:

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups sweetened flaked coconut for garnish


Make the cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). 

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar on low speed and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating until blended and scraping the bowl as necessary.

5. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the cream, evaporated milk, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the flour mixture and beat until blended. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until smooth, about 1 minute.

6. Divide the batter equally among the lined and prepared pans.

7. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning them out onto wire racks to cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.

Make the coconut filling

8. In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch, water, and vanilla until the cornstarch has dissolved. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir the cream, evaporated milk, sugar, and butter until melted and smooth.

9. Add the cornstarch mixture to the cream mixture and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut. Cool to room temperature.

10. Stir the sour cream into the cooled coconut mixture. You should have about 2 cups. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Make the cream cheese frosting

11. In the bowl while use a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the butter and beat until fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary, about 3 minutes.

12. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until blended, scraping the bowl as necessary. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until fluffy. You should have about 3 cups. Set aside until ready to use.

Assemble the cake

13. Place 1 cake layer, bottom-side up, on a cake plate. Use an offset spatula to spread half of the filling on top. Add the second cake layer, top-side down, and spread the top with the remaining filling. Top with the third layer, bottom-side up. Use a large offset spatula to spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Use the palm of your hand to gently press the coconut onto the sides and top of the cake.

Sliced and plated images are shown on chinaware provided by and for sale through Refabed Chic.