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Baker’s Coconut Cake

Baker's Coconut Cake Recipe, as seen on Taste of Southern.

Follow step-by-step, photo illustrated instructions to make this Baker’s Coconut Cake.  The layers are made from scratch based on a recipe adapted from a 1924 booklet all about Baker’s Coconut.  The icing is also made from scratch and features Confectioner’s Sugar with just a little bit of heavy cream. You’ll love this old fashioned Coconut Cake recipe, probably very much like your Mother and Grandmother made. Printable recipe included.

Baker's Coconut Cake, slider.

Baker’s Coconut Cake Recipe:

When I go to a family reunion, or maybe church homecoming, THIS is the type of Coconut Cake I want to see on the dessert table.  One look, and you can tell it was made by a dear, older Mother or Grandmother, that’s been baking for years.  Sure, she wants it to look good, but she’s more concerned about how it tastes.

There might have been a day, years ago, when she could make her cake look like something in a bakery window.  Now, the years have taken a toll on her body.  Her hands shake a bit these days, as she adjusts layers and spreads the icing.  Her legs just don’t have the strength to stand at her table, and work and fuss with it like she once did. She has to take frequent breaks lately, just to rest awhile, so she can work on it a little bit more.

As a young child, she learned how to make this cake standing beside her own mother.  She’s never used a recipe, but now, her mind continues to wonder if she’s somehow forgotten a key ingredient.

All through the years, she’s heard people talk about how great her cakes are.  She just smiles, often looking downward as if embarrassed, but her heart is made happy as she tenderly says, “Thank You.”

Out the corner of their eye, everybody seems to watch when they realize her cake is being brought in. Some even strain their neck a bit, to see exactly where it gets placed among the others on the long table. You know hers will be the first empty cake plate on that table, and you have already schemed up a plan to get a slice.  Heaven forbid if someone should take the last piece before you get yours.

My mother made a great Coconut Cake, one that was similar to this one. Her icing was more of a clear type and you could clearly see the layers beneath that frosting and the layer of coconut spread on top. In the earlier years, she always used a fresh coconut, grating it by hand. She would always hand me the small leftover pieces that she didn’t grate, and that was like pure candy in my book.

I originally did this recipe for the Our State Magazine website, and their “Movie Issue” that featured North Carolina born actress Ava Gardner. According to some sources I found online, Ava’s two favorite foods were Fried Chicken and Coconut Cake. Ava Gardner was once married to Frank Sinatra. She was born in Smithfield, North Carolina, a small town that my own family spent several years in before I was born.

The recipe comes from a booklet dated 1924, with “Baker’s Coconut Recipes,” printed on the cover.

Distributed by the Franklin Baker Company, it’s highly possible the recipe was popular during Ava’s youth, and who knows, maybe her mother made coconut cakes using this very recipe. It’s fun to at least imagine that.

The booklet called for “Baker’s Coconut, Southern Style.”  A sweetened and canned coconut product, it’s no longer available, at least from what I could find, so we’re going to adapt the recipe just a little with regards to the actual coconut we’re using. I really think you’ll enjoy the cake and I hope you’ll be willing to give it a try.  Ready for a slice?  Alright then, Let’s Get Cooking!

Baker's Coconut Cake booklet, dated 1924.

Here’s the cover of the little booklet I got this recipe from.

I picked this up at a weekly auction I attend, just a couple of days after realizing I would be making a Coconut Cake. I bid on a small box of old papers, and was happily surprised when I found this towards the bottom of the box. What are the odds that would happen? I had no idea it was in the box when I bid on it.  Cost me $2.00, but I’m a big spender that way.

Baker's Coconut Cake booklet, inside view.

This is the recipe for the “Sungold Coconut Cake” as we’ll make it below. It appears to be just one thick layer in this picture, but I’m baking it in two 9-inch cake pans with plans to split each layer in half. I adapted the recipe for the icing because I needed more than what the recipe called for.  That was probably because I made several layers instead of one, but it turned out delicious, so all is good.

Baker's Coconut Cake, you'll need these ingredients to make it.

Baker’s Coconut Cake Recipe:  You’ll need these ingredients to make the cake and the icing.

Baker's Coconut Cake, measure out level cups of flour.

We’ll begin with the flour. Measure out three level cups of flour. Spoon flour into your measuring cup until it’s full and overflowing.  Take the back of a butter knife and pull it across the top of the cup, leveling out the top so you have exactly one cup of flour.

Baker's Coconut Cake, place the flour in a sifter.

Place the measured level cups of flour in a sifter that you’ve placed inside of a large mixing bowl.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the baking powder.

Add the Baking Powder.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add just a dash or two of salt.

Add just a dash or two of Salt.

Baker's Coconut Cake, sift the flour into the bowl. That's once.

Sift the flour into the bowl.  That’s one time.

Baker's Coconut Cake, spoon the flour back into the sifter.

Place the sifter in another bowl, then spoon the sifted flour back into the sifter.  Be sure to use a spoon so you aren’t compacting the flour down again.

Baker's Coconut Cake, sift the flour for the second time.

Sift the flour into the new bowl.  That makes two times, one more to go.

Baker's Coconut Cake, spoon the flour back into the sifter again.

Place the sifter back in the first bowl. Spoon the sifted flour back into the sifter.

Baker's Coconut Cake, sift the flour for the third time.

Sift the flour into the bowl. That now makes three times that we’ve sifted the flour.  Job well done.

Baker's Coconut Cake, place butter in another mixing bowl.

Grab another large mixing bowl.  Cut the Butter into cubes and place them in the mixing bowl. The Butter should be at room temperature and fairly soft.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the sugar.

Add the Sugar.

Baker's Coconut Cake, cream the butter and sugar together.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. It’s a bit thick at this point and gave my little hand mixer a good work out.

Baker's Coconut Cake, farm eggs are colorful.

Now, let’s prepare the eggs.  These are some free range chicken eggs that I get from a friend.  He has a variety of chickens that lay some very colorful eggs. I always get a combination of light green, light blue, brown, white… just a variety.

Baker's Coconut Cake, separate the yolks and the whites.

You’ll need to separate the yolks from the whites. I always break each egg over a bowl, then if the yolk hasn’t been broken, I can separate the yolk from the white in yet another bowl. The shells on these eggs are tough and the yolks broke pretty easy. Out of four eggs, only one yolk remained intact for me. Use a couple of bowls so you don’t have yolk getting into the whites.

Baker's Coconut Cake, beat the yolks.

I used the mixer and beat the egg yolks just a bit to get them smooth.  The yolks of these eggs had a very rich yellow color. They were also thick and creamy, unlike most store bought eggs.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the yolks to the sugar and butter mixture.

Add the beaten yolks to the sugar and butter mixture.

Baker's Coconut Cake, mix the yolks into the sugar and butter.

Beat the eggs into the sugar and butter mixture just until combined.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the flour, alternating with milk as you go.

Add a little of the flour into the batter and mix it in just until combined.  Don’t over beat the mixture, just get it combined together good. We’re going to alternate between adding flour and milk until we get it all mixed together.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add a little of the milk and mix that in.

Add a little of the milk and mix that into the batter. As you can see, I’ve got batter all over the bowl. The old hand mixer decided to switch back on when I went to set it down beside the bowl. I had it in the OFF position when I sat it down, but I guess there’s a bit of a shortage in the switch from it’s age. Thankfully, there was only a little batter on the beaters, because what was there, went EVERYWHERE. You’ll just have to trust me on that one, I didn’t take pictures.

Baker's Coconut Cake, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Repeat adding a little flour, then a little milk, until you get it all mixed in. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you’re mixing everything together. You just need to get all the ingredients combined together smoothly without over mixing everything. You can tell by the way it looks that everything is incorporated together.

Baker's Coconut Cake, beat the egg whites into a stiff froth.

Place the egg whites in a small deep mixing bowl.  Make sure you clean the beaters on your mixer before you place them in the egg whites.  Start off on low speed, then work your way up.  Beat the egg whites into a stiff froth. This may take a minute or two, but once they start holding a firm peak, stop mixing.

Baker's Coconut Cake, prepare your pans.

Next, prepare your pans.  You’ll need two 9-inch size pans. You can do this the old fashioned way by spreading butter or shortening all around the inside of the pan, then placing a little flour inside. Rotate the pan around until the bottom and all around the inside edge is coated with flour. Dump out any excess flour.

Baker's Coconut Cake, spray the pans with baking spray if desired.

Or, you could just do what I did – spray the pans with Baking Spray. I used this spray in my Bundt Pan when I made the Old Fashioned Pound Cake a few weeks ago and was really impressed with how easily it came out of the pan. So, I decided I’d try it again with these layers. I sprayed both pans really well all across the bottom and around the inside edge. You need to be sure you’re using Baking Spray and not just a regular cooking spray. The Baking Spray contains flour whereas regular cooking spray does not.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the vanilla extract.

Add the Vanilla Extract to the batter.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the whipped egg whites.

Place the whipped egg whites in the bowl on top of the vanilla extract.

Baker's Coconut Cake, fold the egg whites into the batter.

Gently FOLD the egg whites into the batter. To do this, take a spatula and scoop down to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the batter from the bottom and fold it in over the top of the egg whites.  Continue to do this until you’ve got the whites incorporated into the batter. Try not to flip the batter any more than necessary so you aren’t breaking down the egg whites too much.  This didn’t go as easy as one would think. The batter was fairly thick and it was a little difficult to get the egg whites mixed in, but I just kept turning and folding until it was all together.

Baker's Coconut Cake, divide the batter between the two pans.

Divide the batter between the two pans. I used a measuring cup to do this as I wanted to be sure I got the layers as even as possible. I managed to get three cups of batter into each pan. At this point, I’m thinking that I’ll split each layer in half and end up with four thin layers when I get ready to add the icing. That is, IF the layers bake up thick enough.  Let’s see how that goes.

Baker's Coconut Cake, bake at 350 degrees until done.

Bake the layers at 350ºF for about 20 minutes, or until they are done.

Baker's Coconut Cake, test for doneness.

You can test this by inserting a wooden toothpick into the layer when it’s browned on top. If the toothpick pulls out clean, the layer is done.  If the toothpick pulls out with a few crumbs clinging to it, it’s not totally done and needs to bake a few minutes longer. You’ll want to do this before you remove the layers from the oven. I had already tested these prior to taking them out.

Baker's Coconut Cake, the edges were a bit brown.

When you remove the layers from the oven, place them on wire racks and let them cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pans. I noticed the edges were a bit on the brown side, probably from all the butter that was in the Baking Spray. The layers had a good rise, which created a fairly large dome in the center of each one.

Baker's Coconut Cake, let cool completely.

After 10 minutes on the wire rack, you can remove the layers from the pans. Do this by placing a plate on top of the pan. Keep one hand on top of the plate, then flip the whole thing over.  Set the plate and pan down on your counter and you should be able to easily lift the pan from around the layer. It also helps to run a sharp knife around the inside edge between the layer and the pan before flipping it over. With the cake out of the pan, place the wire rack back on top of the layer, then flip it over again. The bottom of the layer should be on the rack while the layers cool completely. Do not try to place icing on the layers while they’re still warm.

Baker's Coconut Cake, prepare the coconut.

If you’re using a fresh coconut, now is a good time to get that ready.  While the layers are cooling, go ahead and crack the coconut. These are a few pictures of how that is done. I have full instructions for How To Open A Coconut here on Taste of Southern.

It was my full intentions to use fresh coconut, but even the best of plans can go wrong. When I cracked the fresh coconut I had on hand, it was bad inside and I had to toss it. The same thing happened when I was doing the how-to post on my website last year. Even though the coconut looked good and had lots of liquid, it had gone bad inside.  So, good thing I had that FROZEN coconut in the freezer. Whew!

Baker's Coconut Cake, remove the dome from the layers.

I decided not to split the layers. I did decide to remove the domes though. This is easily accomplished with a long serrated type bread knife.

Baker's Coconut Cake, trim layers as desired.

Trim the cake layers as desired. I cut away the browned sides.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add confectioners sugar to a mixing bowl.

Coconut Cream Icing: After we get the layers ready, it’s time to make the Coconut Cream Icing from the recipe booklet.

The recipe calls for 1 can of “Baker’s Coconut, Southern Style.” Since this wasn’t available, and since my fresh coconut plan didn’t work out, I’m using FROZEN Coconut. I highly recommend the frozen stuff over the dry sweetened coconut you’ll find on the grocery shelf. The frozen coconut is much more like fresh coconut. My older brother put me on to this after his many years in the grocery business. He’s right, I like it much better.

You’ll need another mixing bowl to make the icing.  Start by placing the Confectioner’s Sugar in the bowl.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the heavy cream.

Add the Heavy Cream.

Baker's Coconut Cake, too thick.

After adding the four Tablespoons of Heavy Cream the recipe called for, it was easy to see the icing was way too thick.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the vanilla extract.

I went ahead and added the Vanilla Extract, then I started adding more of the Heavy Cream, a Tablespoon at a time, until I got it to the desired consistency.

Baker's Coconut Cake, desired consistency.

I wanted it thin enough to be able to spread it on the layers.  I’ve already adjusted the printable recipe and ingredients list to reflect this, so you should be pretty close to getting it to this point by following the recipe.  You can always add a little more cream, or a little more Confectioners Sugar as needed to get to the right consistency.

Baker's Coconut Cake, place a dollop of icing on your plate.

To Assemble The Cake:  Place a small dollop of the icing on your cake plate or board.

Baker's Coconut Cake, place the first layer on the plate and cover with icing.

Place the first layer, bottom down, on the plate.  Center it up on the plate or board. Then, spread a layer of the icing all across the top of the layer. You can do this with a spoon or a long spatula.

Baker's Coconut Cake, sprinkle on the coconut.

Sprinkle on a good layer of Coconut.

Baker's Coconut Cake, add the second layer.

Place the second layer on top of the icing.  Press down gently on the layer and center it up with the bottom layer.

Baker's Coconut Cake, place icing on the second layer and on the sides.

A longer spatula will help you when spreading the icing on the top of the cake and around the sides.  I quickly discovered I was going to need some more icing.  I made an additional half batch and continued to spread it on the sides of the cake. Had I been making just the one thick layer as pictured in the booklet, I would have probably had plenty of icing.

Baker's Coconut Cake, a fully iced cake.

But, I had two layers and had to make more. Again, I’ve already adjusted this in the Ingredient list and in the printable, so you should have enough by following those directions. Just spread a good layer of icing across the top and all around the sides of the cake.

Baker's Coconut Cake, covered with coconut.

Sprinkle another good layer of coconut on the top of the cake. Next, spread a layer of coconut around the outside of the cake. Don’t fret with trying to get it covered completely, it just adds to the uniqueness of this being a made-from-scratch Coconut Cake.

Baker's Coconut Cake, enjoy.

Baker’s Coconut Cake… Enjoy!

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