Classic coconut cake with a luscious fresh lemon curd filling
This well-loved recipe for classic homemade coconut cake comes straight from my mother’s recipe box and has been a member of my family for decades. But I’ve added a twist – my own delightfully fresh lemon curd filling. This turns an already delicious cake into food for angels and cherubs. And all of the components are simple to make.
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How to make old-fashioned coconut cake
Homemade coconut cake is basically a white cake dressed up for a party. It’s lighter, more moist and has a much more delicate crumb (texture). This explains why the traditional version is covered with the cooked frosting known as “7-Minute Frosting.” (Aka “boiled icing,” but that doesn’t sound near as appetizing.)
While I’ve seen recipes using buttercream and cream cheese icings, these can weigh this delicate cake down and make it a bit too sweet. Besides, the traditional southern icing is fun to make and goes together lickety split. Like… in 7 minutes! But more on that in a moment.
The ingredients are few and simple
Classic coconut cake is simple to make and needs only a few basic ingredients. But how these ingredients are put together is key to the cake’s delicate crumb.
Good old white cane sugar for this one.
2. Cake flour
I know what you’re thinking – that requiring cake flour is already making this cake a needy prima donna. But bear with me, this is NOT the case. And you might be thinking “Nah, I’ll just use regular flour, Shea will never know.” You’re right, I won’t. But your tastebuds will when the weight of that dry cake comes crashing down on your tongue.
Ok, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but cake flour really is the star of the show in this recipe. Cake flour is a low-protein flour that’s milled to a finer consistency than all-purpose flour. The low protein count contributes to less gluten formed when mixed, and less gluten = a finer, softer crumb. And a finer softer crumb means a more tender bite.
There. Now you know.
Still not convinced? How about if I fix it so you don’t have to go out and buy some? I myself don’t keep cake flour in my pantry, because it feels like pressure to have to make cakes all the time. And I don’t like to be pressured in the kitchen. So I make my own cake flour. And now you can too.
Homemade cake flour
For every cup of all-purpose flour, remove two tablespoons and substitute with two tablespoons cornstarch. Whisk together to blend
Whaaa? Yep, cornstarch. Cornstarch contains less gluten than flour and is a wonderful ingredient to tenderize the cake.
The easiest way to do this is to place the full amount of all-purpose flour called for in the recipe into a bowl. Remove two Tbs. for each cup and replace with the same amount of cornstarch. So in this case, the recipe calls for 2 ¼ C cake flour. I place 2 ¼ C all-purpose flour into a bowl, remove 4 ½ Tbs. flour and replace it with 4 ½ Tbs. cornstarch. Whisk to blend. (No need to measure the ½ Tbs., just eyeball it.)
Boom – cake flour. And it only took a few extra seconds to achieve it. And you didn’t have to go to the store to get some. Or worse, substitute all-purpose flour and traumatize your tastebuds.
Use whole milk for this recipe. The added fat in the milk contributes to the tender texture of the cake. Now is not the time to go low-fat.
G&B Budget Tip: I myself drink fat-free milk and dislike throwing soured, leftover whole milk away after a cake-baking session. But I always have whipping cream and half-and-half on hand, so I boost the fat content in my low-fat milk by substituting 30% – 50% with one or the other dairy products.
Use the real deal, not artificial. Ever. For anything. Ever.
For the cake, let the whole eggs come to room temperature before you use them.
For the cooked frosting, separate them cold, but let the whites warm up to room temperature. And while you’re at it, make sure your bowl, beaters and even your hands are spotless and grease-free when messing with egg whites. Even the tiniest bit of grease can prohibit them from beating to full volume. Yes, even oils from your hands. I wash everything right before using them, and dry with a clean dish towel.
G&B Baking Tip: I learned this tip from a French cookbook in my 20’s: the very best egg separator in the whole world is, get this, your own two hands. No need for a “one-use” gadget, no extra dishes to wash (just your hands, which you have to wash anyway), and your fingers are more forgiving than hard-edged tools. No need to be squeamish, either; the results are worth it because this method ensures complete separation of yolks and whites.
For a video demonstration of how to separate eggs with your hands, check out Epicurious.com. I myself just crack the eggs directly into my hand.
Note: While we’re on the subject of eggs, let me clarify one thing: white coconut cakes are generally made with the whites only, and this cake calls for whole eggs. I can only attribute this to the age of the recipe. And thank goodness, too, because the added fat from the yolks contributes to the moist tenderness of the crumb. Delish.
Yep, good ol’ Crisco. This is one of the few cakes that I’ll allow Crisco in with the other playmates.
7. Baking powder
Check the date to make sure it’s fresh.
It’s been scratched out of my mother’s recipe, but trust me, homemade cake tastes SO much better with it, especially since there’s no butter in this recipe.
The foolproof method for preparing cake pans
Greasing and flouring cake pans is the standard method for treating cake pans. Coat the insides with shortening (I use Crisco), shake flour in them to cover. Yet super moist cakes sometimes still stick a little bit. However, if you take just another two minutes for one extra step, you’ll guarantee a cake that practically falls out of the pan by itself. It’s called “lining the pan,” and this is how to do it:
- Grease the bottom and sides of each pan.
- Tear a piece of parchment paper (found in the baking aisle of the grocery store) large enough for two circles the size of your cake pans.
- Trace around the bottom of the pans with a pencil, then cut the circles out.
- Place each circle of parchment in the bottom of the greased cake pans (pencil marks facing down).
- Grease the circles.
- Flour the insides.
When the cakes have cooled for 10 minutes, run a knife or baking spatula around the sides and turn the pans over. The layers will fall out like magic. Carefully peel the parchment away from the cake. Success!
G&B Baking Tip: the parchment circles often roll over onto themselves, which can be annoying when wrestling them into their pans. Use this Martha Stewart trick to wad them up first. When smoothed back out, they’ll be nice and flat. Proceed with panning them.
Mixing the ingredients for coconut cake
Just look at that recipe card. As old and well-loved as it is, you’ll see there are no actual steps to mixing the ingredients. There’s not even an oven temperature suggested. I double-checked with my mother, and sure enough, she said to just dump everything in a bowl, mix and bake. No time on whichever speed or temperature, just… mix and bake.
After testing, I found I obtained the lightest, most delicate texture with the tried-and-true creaming method. It’s not hard, and it only takes a few more minutes, but the results are so worth it. Some cakes do well with the “dump and go” method, but this one is so much better with a little love and care.
How to fill cake pans quickly, easily and accurately
The easiest way to get identical cake layers is to weigh them with a kitchen scale, arguably one of the most useful devices in my arsenal of baking tools. My favorite, and the one I’ve used for 20 years, is the OXO Good Grips 5-lb Food Scale with Pull-Out Display. It eliminates the guesswork when filling pans, ensuring both layers are the same depth and take the same amount of time to bake.
Just place each pan on the scale, add some of the batter, then adjust the final fill according to weight. Quick, easy and foolproof.
How to get perfectly straight layers on a layer cake
I used to bake and decorate cakes as a “paying hobby” many years ago. It was the only way I could make a little income as a military wife living overseas, and my skills were in demand. (I even made a cake for a fancy to-do attended by General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf.)
One of the wonderful tricks I learned early on was how to make my cake layers rise perfectly straight without the dreaded “hump” on top which then had to be cut off, which was difficult to do and wasteful.
The center hump is formed when cake batter cooks too quickly around the edges and stops rising while the cooler center keeps rising as it bakes. I discovered that by placing strips of dampened fabric around the pans I could keep the sides of the pans cooler so the batter would rise evenly all the way across. By keeping the sides cooler, the whole layer rises at the same speed.
The tool for this is a set of “Evenbake Strips” which are made of aluminized cotton that wrap around the cake pan just before putting them into the oven. They are GENIUS and very affordable, and they can be used with square and rectangle pans, too.
Nowadays the ends attach to each other with Velcro. Mine are so old I’m still using the “T” pins that came with them. I think I need some new ones. (I’ve even used a clothes pin to hold them to the pans.)
G&B Budget Tip: If these strips aren’t in your budget, you can cut up an old terry cloth towel for the same purpose. Cut each strip one inch longer than the circumference of the pans and twice as wide as the depth. E.g. 10 inches long, 3 inches wide for a 9-inch pan that’s 1 ½ “ deep. Dampen the strips, fold in half lengthwise, wrap around the pans and pin the ends. Works the same as the purchased strips.)
How to keep the lemon curd filling from oozing out
Let’s face it, lemon curd is soft. Deliciously, creamily, zestily soft. So putting it right between two cake layers is bound to force some of the filling out. But not if you use this nifty trick.
Using a pastry bag and a #1A Ateco round tip, pipe a circle of frosting around the outer edge of the bottom layer. Then fill with lemon curd (or filling of choice). This creates a dam which will hold the lemon curd filling in.
G&B Budget Tip: If you don’t have a pastry bag and tube, cut the corner off of a ziploc bag, fill with icing, and use that instead.
This is a handy trick for holding any soft filling in, i.e. jam, pudding or cream fillings. And you can do it with buttercream frosting, too.
How to make 7-minute frosting lickety split
The frosting on classic coconut cake is one of the main attractions, especially if you shy away from heavy, sweet buttercreams. This satiny smooth topping is at once quick to make and much lighter and less sweet than buttercream. It’s also fun to spread on the cake with its silky smooth glide.
And easy? It’s a SNAP to make. In fact, it seemed too easy, so sure enough, I called my mother again just to confirm that it was as easy as the recipe states. Her answer?
Yes, it’s that easy.
Put all the ingredients into a double boiler over (but not touching) simmering water, and beat on high speed for exactly 7 minutes. No more, no less. It’s truly a dump-and-go recipe.
Spread it on the cake, sprinkle on the coconut, and voila, a gorgeous, moist, tender homemade coconut cake with lemon curd filling.
Bonus tip: how to get more coconut on the cake than on you and the counter
If you’ve ever wondered how to get coconut (or nuts) on the sides of cakes and not have a messy cake plate to deal with, wonder no more. It’s not the most scientific method, but it works.
First, place four strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake. Scooch them in until they touch – four is sufficient. Then ice the cake. While the icing is still wet, scoop some coconut into the palm of your hand and place your palm against the side of the cake gently but firmly. This will deposit most of the coconut on the cake.
Keep doing this until the sides of the cake are covered. Sprinkle the remaining coconut on the top.
Yes, a little icing may stick to your hands. Lick it off. It’s your prerogative as the supreme baker you are after making this masterpiece.
Conclusion for homemade coconut cake with fresh lemon curd filling
So now you have the recipe for an ultra moist and tender coconut cake with the zing of fresh lemon curd as the inside surprise filling. I hope you’ll give it a try. It’s an important cake, but don’t save it for an important occasion. Any day of the week is important where classic coconut cake is involved. Enjoy!
More luscious old-fashioned cake recipes:
and in case you missed it earlier…
Moist & Tender Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd Filling
- Hand mixer, double boiler
- 1½ cup pure cane sugar
- 4 eggs See Notes
- 3/4 cup vegetable shortening I use Crisco
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2¼ cup cake flour See Notes
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
Cooked 7-minute frosting
- 1 cup pure cane sugar
- 3 egg whites
- 3 Tbsp. water
- 1/2 cup white Karo syrup
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- pinch salt
- Lemon Curd Filling See Notes
- Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans. Place a parchment circle in the bottom of each, if desired.
- Sift the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. I put mine through a large mesh strainer, no need for a fancy sifter.
- On medium-high speed, beat the sugar with the shortening until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Unlike butter recipes, the shortening won’t get light during this step, but 2 minutes is sufficient to incorporate air into the mixture (which is the whole point of creaming). Scrape the bottom and sides of bowl.
- On low speed, add the whole eggs, one at a time, until just blended in.
- Add the vanilla.
- On medium-low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture, then ½ of the milk. Add another ⅓ of the flour, then the remaining half of the milk. Finish with the remaining ⅓ of the flour mixture. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Beat the batter for 2 minutes on medium speed and put into cake pans. Weigh pans for accuracy, if desired.
- Wrap pans with dampened strips of fabric (or "Evenbake Strips") if desired, and bake for 28-33 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean.
- Set on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely.
Cooked 7-Minute Frosting
- Place all ingredients into the top of a double boiler. Yes, that's right – dump it all in.
- Place over (but not touching) simmering water and beat on high speed for exactly 7 minutes.
- Remove from heat and immediately assemble the cake.
Assemble and decorate
- Place one layer upside down on cake plate. You should be looking at the bottom of the layer.
- With pastry bag and Ateco tube #1A (or a ziploc bag with a corner cut out), pipe a "dam" of frosting around the outer edge of the bottom layer.
- Fill center with lemon curd or filling of choice.
- Place second layer on top, right side up, and frost the sides of the cake.
- Frost the top.
- Apply coconut to sides and top of cake.
- White cakes typically call for only egg whites, but this cake uses whole eggs. This adds to the moisture content, ensuring a moist, tender crumb.
- I strongly recommend the use of cake flour. You can find it in the baking section of your grocery store. If you don’t want to buy it, you may make an excellent substitute using the instructions in the post above.
- You may use any purchased lemon curd for the filling; however, my Magic Lemon Curd has a brighter flavor than store bought and makes enough to have plenty left over.
- Filling variations:
- Fill with 1 1/2 Cup frosting (there will be enough) and lay sliced bananas on top
- Mix chopped, drained, patted dry maraschino cherries in 1 1/2 Cups of the frosting. Use with or without sliced bananas on top.
- This cake can be covered and stored at room temperature for 3-5 days.
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