South Carolina – Coconut Cake

We head south to South Carolina for some Coconut Cake! This dessert is very common in the southern US, particularly in Charleston, SC where restaurants compete for the tastiest version. It consists of a white or yellow cake with coconut flavor and a white frosting. Typically the cake is covered in coconut. We should admit that deviated from our normal state dessert association here. South Carolina does have a state fruit, the peach. Since we have already made Peach Cobbler in Georgia and Peach Pie in Delaware, we opted for the Coconut Cake for South Carolina.
Often, coconut-based desserts are prominent for Christmas celebrations. This is likely due to the fact that coconuts are perishable. Shipping them from the Caribbean in the late fall and early winter to the southern ports is more practical than in many other months of the year. The first known recipe for Coconut Cake appeared in the 1881 cookbook “What Mrs. Fishers Knows about Old Southern Cooking” – one of the earliest cookbooks penned by an African American author.
Our version of this cake uses coconut milk in the cake batter and coconut chips for decoration.

Coconut Cake

1-13.5 oz can coconut milk
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 egg whites
2 t vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt

1 cup egg whites (about 6-8, depending on size)
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
2 t vanilla
1 1/2 c coconut flakes (or shredded coconut)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter 2 9-inch cake pans, place parchment rounds in pan bottoms and butter the parchment.
Place the coconut milk carefully in a bowl. Whisk to mix in the milk solids with the liquid to make a homogeneous mixture. Add oil, egg whites and vanilla to coconut milk.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth.
Divide batter among the 2 pans as evenly as possible.
Bake at 325 F for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let the cakes rest for 10 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rake. Let cool at least 1 hour before frosting.

For this cake, we decided to use a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This frosting is a bit tricky, but it is very tasty – light and fluffy without being too sweet.
In a pan set over hot (not boiling) water, whisk the egg whites with the sugar until all the sugar is dissolved. This should take about 5 minutes.
Remove the mixture from the heat and beat until stiff peaks form. This will take a while (12-17 minutes, depending on humidity). After stiff peaks form, add in the butter, 1-2 Tablespoons at a time. The mixture may become runny and/or curdled, but don’t worry, it can be saved. If this happens, set the mixture over the hot water for 1-2 minutes and then return to the mixture. Mix for another 5 minutes or so and the frosting should come together. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

Spread about 1 cup of the frosting in between the layers and the remaining on the top and sides. Coat the frosted cake with the coconut chips (or coconut flakes).

Thanks to Meg of Creamed Baking Company for the advice on the buttercream.

Tips on Swiss Meringue Buttercream can be found here.