An Easter tradition my family always had growing up was a coconut cake made (or sometimes bought) by my grandmother. The cake was frosted with billows of fluffy white frosting and covered with shredded coconut. She would tint some of the shredded coconut green and make little nests on top and fill them with brightly colored jelly beans.
This is my rendition of her traditional coconut cake. To make things extra easy, I use a doctored cake mix. Time after time when I serve this cake, everyone asks for the recipe. It tastes like homemade! I traded in the green food coloring for toasted coconut and instead of jelly beans, I used milk chocolate Cadbury mini eggs. Because who doesn’t love those addictive little eggs and their irresistible candy shell? Plus their pastel colors are very pretty on top of the coconut cake in the little brown nests.
The other change I made was to fill it with dulce de leche, the favorite of my husband and children. It’s perfect with the coconut and the next day or so, if there are any leftovers, it sort of soaks into the cake. Think: caramel tres leches cake. Oh mama, this coconut cake is good! It could also be filled with tangy lemon or lime curd, your favorite jam, or even chocolate ganache.
I really love coconut, so I like to make sure it’s in every component of the cake. The frosting is a basic butter-powdered sugar buttercream, and instead of milk, I use coconut milk. For even more coconut flavor, you can also melt a tablespoon or so of coconut oil and beat it in, or use a little pure coconut extract. Not that imitation–you don’t want it to taste like suntan lotion!
Easy Easter Coconut Cake
1 white or yellow cake mix (not prepared)
1 stick butter, cut into 8 pieces
Coconut milk to replace the water, reserve excess for icing (1 can should be enough)
1 cup sweetened or unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup dulce de leche, store-bought or homemade
1 1/2 sticks cool butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
3 1/2 cups to 4 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tbsp. coconut milk
1 Tbsp. melted coconut oil or 1/2 tsp. pure coconut extract (optional)
1-2 cups shredded coconut (I usually use unsweetened, but sweetened is fine too)
1/2 cup toasted coconut
Cadbury mini eggs or jelly beans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 or 9″ round cake pans and dust the inside with a little flour. Line each with a round of wax or parchment paper. Grease the wax paper.
Place shredded coconut in the bowl of a food processor* and process until all the coconut is finely chopped. Remove half and place in a separate bowl for filling.
Add the dry cake mix to the food processor bowl and scatter the butter over the top. Pulse until the mixture looks like cornmeal and no large chunks of butter remain. With the food processor running on low, add the eggs and coconut milk. Process until the batter is very thick, but be careful not to over process. (Maybe 30 seconds to 1 minute tops.)
Evenly divide the batter between the two cake pans. Bake for the time recommended on the cake mix box. The cake will be done when the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the cakes and turn them out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Place on of the cooled cake layers on a cake platter or serving plate and top with the dulce de leche. Spread over the cake layer, leaving about 1/2″ border to allow for a little more spreading when it is topped with the second cake layer. Chill until ready to top with the frosting.
Beat the butter until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar alternately with the coconut milk and continue beating until the frosting is very fluffy reaches the desired spreading consistency. If using the melted coconut oil or extract, add that and beat a little longer. (It’s better to err on the side of too thick with this. Place in the fridge to firm up a little if it becomes runny.)
To finish and decorate:
On the chilled cake, apply a small amount of the coconut frosting on the tops and sides, smoothing well with a flat metal spatula. This is called a crumb coat. Let the cake chill for a little bit so the frosting will firm up.
Next, spread a good amount of the coconut frosting again on the top and around the sides or the cake. It doesn’t have to be too smooth this time. Just make sure to cover it well. Carefully use your hands to press the coconut into the sides and top of the cake. Form small circles on top with the toasted coconut and use your finger to make a hole in the center, like a nest. Place a few Cadbury mini eggs into the nest. Chill cake until ready to serve. But, remove the cake from the fridge about 20 minutes before serving so it is easier to cut into slices.
Yield: One 8-9″ layer cake, 8-12 slices.
*Note: If you don’t have a food processor, just leave the coconut whole. To make the cake with an electric mixer, place the dry cake mix into the mixing bowl along with the coconut. Add the tablespoons of butter and mix until crumbly on low speed with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and coconut milk and beat for 2 minutes. Proceed with the other directions as written.
Here are some how-to photos to help with decorating the coconut cake:
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