I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I used to have a small “on the side” cake business, so it goes without saying that my friends and family have certain flavor favorites they like to request for special occasions. My oldest daughter always requests yellow cake with my decadent chocolate fudge icing for her birthday. My youngest usually goes for my strawberry cake, or my red velvet. This year, however, she put in a request for coconut. Evidently, she and her co-workers were discussing coconut cake and she got to thinking that I haven’t made it in quite a while.
Much like my Lemon Cupcakes that I featured a couple weeks ago, this is a “semi-homemade” recipe that starts with a cake mix, making it super easy for even the novice baker to tackle. It also uses a cream cheese icing like the lemon cupcakes, however instead of lemon juice, you’ll use a coconut flavoring and a little bit of coconut milk. You should use the canned version that is found in the Asian food aisle of the grocery store, and not the refrigerated drinking kind that is found by the non-dairy milks. The reason is, you want that coconut flavor for the cake, and the drinking milk doesn’t have that flavor. The cake comes out moist, with a nice crumble and the house smells fabulous while it is baking.
I top mine with a combination of toasted and regular sweetened coconut shreds. I toast about ¾ of the bag, and after it cools, I mix it with the rest of the un-toasted. Occasionally I top my cakes with all un-toasted coconut, if I want the cake to be all white, but the toasted coconut adds a nice flavor and a little bit of crunch, so that’s typically my go-to. I don’t usually use all of the coconut – you can use as much or as little as you like. I store my unused toasted coconut in an airtight bag in the freezer and add it to recipes as needed.
The recipe makes either 2 ½ dozen cupcakes, or two 8” round layers, or a 9×13 cake. Often I make this at Easter as a two layer 8” round cake and put a chow mein noodle nest on top with jelly beans or malted milk eggs in it (if you’ve never made the nests, they are super easy and involve melting butterscotch chips and stirring in chow mein noodles, forming into nests, and letting them cool and harden before adding the eggs and placing on the cake). I also made this once in December for a friend’s birthday, as coconut cake was her favorite. Since it was winter, I added edible glitter to the coconut and fondant snowflakes to the outside of the cake.
Sydney opted for cupcakes because it makes for easy sharing with friends, however we still ended up with plenty of leftovers. I threw six of them in the freezer so I wouldn’t eat all of them and will pull those out if I need a quick dessert, as they freeze and thaw nicely. TIP: If you are sharing homemade cupcakes with friends, most grocery store bakery counters will sell you empty cupcake trays, which makes storing and transport super easy. You can also purchase cardboard goody boxes from craft stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby, just be aware that the icing will sometimes leave grease marks on the box, and they do not keep the cupcakes fresh unless you wrap them in plastic wrap or put the box into an airtight bag. For individual to-go cupcakes, place them in small clear plastic punch cups, then slide those into a clear goodie bag and tie with a ribbon. You can even attach a plastic fork for easy eating!
Theresa’s Semi-Homemade Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
1 Duncan Hines Classic White Cake Mix
1 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup canned coconut milk, like Thai Kitchen
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon coconut flavoring or extract, like Watkins
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 batch of Coconut Cream Cheese Icing (recipe below)
1 14-oz. bag of sweetened coconut shreds
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cake mix, flour and sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the sour cream, eggs, coconut milk and water until well mixed. Slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients, mixing on low until fully incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the coconut and vanilla extracts, then beat on high for 2 minutes.
Pour the batter into prepared cake pans, or cupcake tins (cake pans should be greased and floured; cupcake tins should be lined with cupcake papers) and bake in a 350 degree oven until done (center should spring back when lightly touched). Cupcakes take approximately 15-18 minutes; 2 layer cakes take about 20-25 minutes , and a 9×13 cake takes approximately 30-35 minutes.
While the cakes are baking, toast 3/4 of a bag of coconut over low heat in a dry pan (no oil or cooking spray). Pay attention – coconut will go from white to burned quickly. Gently stir the coconut, moving it around the pan until it is a nice golden brown color. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Once cool, mix the remainder of the un-toasted coconut in with the toasted. Alternatively, you can use all toasted, or all un-toasted coconut – whatever you prefer. You can even add food coloring to plain untoasted coconut if you want it to be a particular color (like green or pink or whatever).
Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then move to cooling racks. Once completely cooled, ice with Coconut Cream Cheese icing and top with coconut shreds. For cupcakes, simply turn them, one at a time, upside down and gently press them into the bowl of coconut. For a layer cake, you’ll need to sprinkle on top, then use your hands to press it into the sides of the cake. Do this over a cookie sheet or parchment paper for easy clean-up.
Coconut Cream Cheese Icing
1 8-oz. package cream cheese (full fat, not reduced fat) at room temperature
1 stick of butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon coconut flavoring or extract
1 2-lb. bag of powdered sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons coconut milk
Beat the cream cheese and butter on high speed in a large mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the coconut flavor, and beat to mix in. Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time mixing on low to medium low until completely mixed in before adding the next cup. After all of the sugar has been mixed in (it may be crumbly and dry at this point), add 1 tablespoon of coconut milk, beat until fully mixed in, then add additional coconut milk if needed, just one tablespoon at a time, until icing reaches the desired consistency. You should be able to easily spread the icing on a cake or pipe it onto a cupcake. Do not make the icing too thin by adding too much liquid, or it will droop and run off the cake (but you don’t want it too thick or it won’t spread). Beat the icing on high for an additional 2 minutes to ensure it is well mixed and of a desirable consistency. Spread or pipe onto cooled cake, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (bring it to room temperature before using it).