At our house, we’re still celebrating the Nativity on New Year’s Day. I know the leave-taking of the Nativity is on December 31. So, liturgically, the feast is over. But the days are all fast-free until the eve of Theophany, so at our house, we’re still celebrating. On New Year’s Day, we celebrate with black eyed peas, ham, lots of cookies, and coconut cake.

My mother never made coconut cake. But I remembered having it at my grandmother’s, when I was a small child. In my memory, the coconut cake was such a wonderful thing that I thought I’d never have another like it again. Then, years later, my children’s great-aunt served a coconut cake that was very much like the cake I remembered. Hers used a boxed mix and Cool Whip. But it was beautiful and delicious, and I started making it for New Year’s Day every year.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that the boxed mix and Cool Whip were loaded with things that weren’t really food, so I decided to figure out how to make it from scratch. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Make the Coconut Filling

Ingredients and Instructions

2 cups sugar
8 oz sour cream
12 oz sweetened shredded coconut

Mix ingredients and chill.

Make the Coconut Cake


6 large eggs, straight from the refrigerator
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup coconut cream (I use CocoReal — be sure to shake it very well before you measure it)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar


  1. Separate the cold eggs. Put the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Cover and allow the eggs to come to room temperature (at least 30 minutes).
  2. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.
  3. Preheat oven to 350.
  4. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and coconut cream.
  6. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until it’s soft. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and beat well after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla extract and beat until everything is well combined.
  7. With the mixer running on low, add half the flour mixture, the buttermilk mixture, then the rest of the flour.
  8. Switch to a clean bowl. With the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until you get soft peaks. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.
  9. With a rubber scraper, gently fold a little bit of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the rest of the whites until combined. Don’t over-mix the batter or it will deflate.
  10. Divide the batter and pour into the prepared pans. Smooth the surface with the back of a spoon. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  11. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a rack for about 10 minutes. When the ten minutes are up, run a thin knife around the edge of the pans, then remove the layers from the pans. The easiest way to do this is to put a greased cake rack on top of one cake layer. With one hand on top of the rack and one underneath the pan, flip the layer over so that it’s upside down on the greased rack. Pick up the rack and remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the layer. Put the rack back on the layer, and flip it over again so it’s right-side up. Repeat with the other layer.
  12. Allow the cake to cool completely.

Make the Coconut Whipped Cream Frosting


2 Tbsp cold water
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 or 2 Tbsp extra fine sugar


You’ll need a bain-marie (a small pan and a glass bowl that will fit in the top of the pan) to make the frosting. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan, but not enough to reach the bottom of the bowl when the bowl is sitting on top of the pan.

  1. Put the pan of water on the burner and bring the water to a simmer.
  2. Put the cold water in the bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water. Let it sit for 5 minutes. It will turn into a gel.
  3. Take the pan off the burner and set the bowl over the pan. The gelled water will melt.
  4. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream until soft peaks form.
  5. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until almost stiff.
  6. Add the melted gelatin all at once, and finish whipping.
  7. Fold in 1 cup of the filling mixture.

Assemble the Cake


  1. Split each layer in half, so that you have four layers. A wire cake-splitter is much easier to use than a knife. If you have to use a knife, use a long serrated bread knife, and insert toothpicks around the edge of the layer as a guide.
  2. Divide the filling into three equal portions. Stack the layers with the filling between layers.
  3. Frost the cake with the whipped cream mixture.
  4. Sprinkle extra coconut over the top of the cake, and gently press more coconut onto the sides of the cake.

Besides being beautiful and delicious, this cake keeps well. In fact, it’s even better the second or third day. Just put it in a Tupperware cake keeper and store it in the refrigerator.

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