Christmas Coconut Cake — Down-Home Comfort
During the holidays, cakes have always been part of our Southern Yuletide tradition. Coconut, caramel and red velvet cakes grace sideboards, alongside buttery pound cakes and loaves of spicy gingerbread. The Southern sweet tooth is a force of nature! These festive layer cakes are grand, over-the-top creations, sweet and sensational, with bonus points awarded for stature.
From the coconut cake’s snow-white icing spiked with coconut to the boozy, cherry-studded fruitcake, there’s no lack of theater on display. A layer cake waiting on a sideboard under a glass dome is both celebration and welcome. A layer cake defines Southern hospitality.
Some recipes employ billowy meringue frosting, also known as boiled icing. Others use cream cheese frosting. This recipe, adapted from my dear friend Angie Mosier, uses a simple frosting of butter and confectioners’ sugar. Angie’s inspiration was the Rich’s Bakery Coconut Cake. For nearly 150 years there was a department store called Rich’s located in Atlanta. Many Atlantans still have a sweet spot for goodies from the department store’s long-closed bakery. However, Atlanta doesn’t have a lock on coconut cake. The Peninsula Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, is world-famous for its coconut cake that weighs in at a whopping 12 pounds!
How did coconut cake become a down-home-comfort holiday treat? In the 1800s changes in transportation allowed for the importing of exotic – and luxurious – ingredients like coconut and citrus fruits from the ports. Ships brought them into the cities port cities of Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. This solidified the use of coconut in Southern cooking. Railroads did the rest.
Coconut cake is special and takes a bit of extra effort from grating the fresh coconut. Nowadays, most folks use the frozen bag of shredded coconut. This recipe may be made with sweetened, unsweetened or fresh coconut.
Get the Recipe: Coconut Cake
If you want to use fresh, to crack the coconut, pierce three holes on the coconut shell with an ice pick or a clean screwdriver and drain out the juice. Place the pierced, drained coconut directly on the rack in a preheated 350-degree F oven for about 10 minutes to crack the shell. Remove it from the oven and wrap it in a kitchen towel; place it either on the floor or on a sturdy work surface that can tolerate hammering. Give the shell a couple of whacks with a hammer to break it completely open. Remove the pieces of broken coconut from the towel.The coconut meat, covered with brown skin, will pull away easily from the cracked shell. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the brown skin from the meat. Grate the skinless meat in a food processor or with a box grater.
I hope you give this down-home delightful dessert a try and it becomes part of your holiday tradition.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
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Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.