Instagram Instagram

« SHF #31: The roundup | Main | SHF #31: A reminder »

SHF #31: A belated Mother's Day, in shades of white on white

It is always difficult when one is faced with the dilemma of following ambition or sentiment. Do you go with your aspirations, or do you follow your heart?

When considering my entry for this month’s Sugar High Friday, I ran into that exact puzzle.

On the one hand, I was inspired to try something challenging - something a bit avant garde and terribly, terribly chic. I envisioned a multi-component dessert, gorgeous and elegant, along the lines of the creations of Pierre Hermé or Thomas Keller.

Reining in my enthusiasm, I stopped to focus my thoughts. When thinking of white, what was my first impulse? Without question, the answer was clear - coconut. And whenever I think coconut, thoughts of my dear Mum are never far behind.

For as long as I can remember, my Mum has loved coconut. Even though she’s not known for indulgence, I automatically associate her with those coconut-filled bonbons that are part of any box of assorted chocolates. Coconut macaroons, there's another favourite.

The more I thought, the more I realized my Mother’s coincidental fondness for pale-coloured ingredients. Meringues, pavlovas, custards ... all are sweets high on her list. In fact, whenever she comes across any dessert involving meringue or coconut in my cookbooks, the recipe is usually met with a sigh of appreciation.

With that in mind, I decided that for my entry I would make something for my Mum.

And so my conundrum. My Mother is direct in her likes. She is one that favours a laden table with family and friends over a plated meal any day. She hosts with thoughts of bounty and abundance, of making sure that everyone is fully taken care of. Between her and my Father, I would be hard-pressed to think of an occasion when I have left their house hungry.

A dessert that was twee or over-styled seemed inappropriate for her. Something simple, but pretty, and utterly delicious; that was surely the route to choose. Heart won out over headstrong ideas of culinary feats, and a coconut cake was where I settled.

Buttery, tender and (somewhat suprisingly) not too sweet, this cake is traditional home baking at its best. Far from the cellular sponginess of a boxed cake, the texture is toothsome with shredded coconut. The filling, not called for in the original recipe, is from Martha Stewart. It is a thick but not a cloying curd, studded with even more coconut strands and adding a welcome custard blanket over the layers. I chose a Swiss meringue buttercream for its marshmallow richness that is dense, but still light to the tongue.

This entry truly became a family affair. Many thanks to my nephews, one who particularly loves coconut, for gobbling up the result of my work. And my gratitude goes to my brother for taking two of the photographs featured.

Old-fashioned coconut layer cake
Ina Garten's variation on the famous coconut cupcakes from her Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I've added a coconut cream filling and chosen a Swiss meringue buttercream for the frosting.

Coconut cream filling
1/2 batch Swiss meringue buttercream
150 grams flaked coconut

• I split the cake into four layers. This cake is rather delicate and crumbly with all the shredded coconut; take particular care when cutting and assembling the layers.
• For the cake, I substituted 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk and 1/2 cup sour cream for the regular milk called for. I also substituted 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour, for 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, for added whiteness of the final crumb.
• I cut down the almond extract, as I felt it overshadowed the more delicate vanilla and coconut.
• For the cream filling, I substituted 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk for the regular milk called for.

Reader Comments (19)

Tara that cake looks so picture perfect if I didn't know you I would think you stole it right from the pages of Martha. But Martha could only hope to make a cake so perfect! It's gorgeous, and oh what I wouldn't give for just a wee taste of it..

May 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMichèle

This looks grand! beautiful...

May 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAles

This looks absolutely fantastic!!

May 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMaya

Wow. That's a gorgeous cake!

So sorry I missed this SHF round! I had so many ideas, and then time just slipped away! Can't wait to see the round up though!

May 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterL

Your cake is just lovely. Your mum must be so proud that she raised such a wonderful baker!

May 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCookie baker Lynn

how could one not love coconut?

May 22, 2007 | Unregistered Commentercrevette

It looks so delicious! And that second picture is divine.

May 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Sounds delicious. Very white.

May 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Mmm, thats gorgeous :) well done!

May 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPinkeagle


May 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMidwestMaven

This gorgeous cake brings back lovely memories of the coconut cake with lemon filling that graced the pages of my mom's old 1955 Betty Crocker cookbook. Fabulous!

May 24, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterkellypea

those photos looked fantabulous and the cake must have tasted great as well! cant wait for the round up

May 25, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbabe_kl

I am the only one in the house to love coconut...that means I would have to eat the whole thing by myself....oh, ok, twist my arm.

May 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

your cake is gorgeous! so pristine all covered in white. would be gone in a nanosecond around here...thanks for hosting this shf!

May 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterthe pastry princess

Thank you so much everyone!

September 11, 2007 | Unregistered Commentertara

Hi Tara

How much is 150 grams of flaked coconut, 1 cup, 2 cups etc.

How much almond extra did you use.

For the filling, you said you sub 1 cup of coconut milk for the milk.Is that 1 cup of coconut milk in place of the 3 cups of milk called for in the recipe or did you use 1 cup of coconut milk plus 2 cups of whole milk. Also could I baked this cake in four cake pans instead of baking in two then splitting them in half.

March 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Hello Jackie! To answer your questions:

150 grams of flaked coconut is about 2 cups; you just need enough to cover the cake to your liking.

I use a 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.

I meant 1 cup coconut milk plus 2 cups regular, making the 3 cups of required liquid.

You probably could bake the cakes in four thin layers, but I have not tried it. Please report back if you do.

March 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertara

Hi Tara

For the Swiss Buttercream, it ask for 2 TBLS of Flavoring, what kind of flavoring did you use in the buttercream frosting. Have you ever considered using coconut extract in the cake or frosting at all?

May 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Jackie, I used pure vanilla extract for the 1/2 recipe of buttercream. On alternate occasions I have used a 1/2 recipe of Ina Garten's Cream Cheese Frosting, also with vanilla.

June 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertara

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>