My Mamma’s Old Fashioned Southern Coconut Cake

Posted by on Monday, December 19th, 2011


Growing up I took a lot for granted. I believed my parents existed for the sole purpose of fulfilling the needs and wants my little brother and me. I never really gave much thought to the notion that my parents might actually love each other or that they might also place a higher priority on their marriage relationship than on their relationship with me. You see, the passing of first my Dad, then my Mamma were both untimely. There are many aspects of their lives that interest me and I wish I could inquire in person with the uncountable questions I now have. If they were both alive today, I would have them give me an account of how they met, why they fell in love with each other, and what kept them together through so many tough times. Now when I reflect back on my childhood, I realize my Mamma’s Coconut Cake was a labor of her love for Dad.

Every Christmas Mamma would purchase a couple of REAL coconuts. She would bring those coconuts home, get out Daddy’s hammer and a nail, and then make holes in the coconut “eyes” so she could drain and save the coconut milk. Then she would carefully chisel away the coconut shell. Has anyone else ever tried to do this? It is a painstaking task to say the least. Next she would need to trim off the softer part of the coconut shell from the meat. Then Mamma would get out her grater and grate each piece of coconut by hand. Then she had to make the cake, boil and beat the frosting, pour coconut milk over each cake layer, assemble the cake, and let it set in the fridge at least a couple of days before Christmas. Whew, just thinking about her cake making process makes me tired!

One year Mamma didn’t have enough room in the fridge to store the cake. We were in the midst of a cold snap here in the south, so she set the cake in the garage on top of the dryer, and rested one of those Tupperware cake taker tops over the cake. There the sacred cake rested, while the moistness magic happened until Christmas day. I will never forget seeing my Mom on the verge of tears Christmas Eve morning. My cat, which had taken up residence in the garage during the cold snap, found the coconut cake and had a Christmas feast, destroying it.

Momma could have cussed and cried, sulked and screamed, or threw up her hands and had a pity party. But she was determined for Dad to have his favorite Christmas treat. So she got her purse, hopped in the car, and headed out to the grocery for 2 more coconuts. She went through the whole coconut cake baking process AGAIN! I didn’t understand why she went to all that fuss many years ago, but now I realize it was because she loved my Dad so much and aimed to please him with her coconut cake. Thanks Mamma for the lesson on love and determination.

Making coconut cake for me is a little easier because I can buy canned coconut milk and fresh frozen coconut. I also cheat a little and use a white cake mix! And this year I am carrying on Mamma’s tradition of love with my own version of her sacred coconut cake.

  • 2 White Cake Mixes + 6 egg whites, 4 Tablespoons oil, and  2 2/3 cups water
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 6oz packages Birds Eye Fresh Frozen Coconut
  • Home Made Coconut Icing:
  • 1 1/2 cups Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cream of Tarter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In an extra large  bowl add the cake mixes, eggs, oil and water.  Mix batter with electric mixer for length of time directed on package.  Grease and flour 3 9″ round cake pans.  Fill each cake pan 2/3 full with cake batter.  Make cupcakes with any remaining batter, or just discard it.  Bake cakes according to package directions.  Remove cakes from oven when done.  Use a straw to poke holes in warm cake layers.  Pour some of the coconut milk (about 1/3 cup) over each layer.  Let cake cool completly.

While cake cools, make the icing.  Add the sugar, water, salt, and cream of tarter to a medium size sauce pan. Clip a candy thermometer on the side of the pan, and turn the heat to medium.  Stir constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture is almost clear.  Cook without stirring until temperature reaches a soft ball stage of 240 degrees. Turn off heat and set mixture aside while beating egg whites.

In a large bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  Slowly add the syrup mixture to the egg mixture while continuing to beat the egg mixture.  Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until stiff peaks form and frosting is thick enough to spread.

Turn first cake layer onto a pretty cake plate.  Spread frosting over top, then sprinkle some of the fresh frozen coconut over first layer.  Repeat this process with remaining layers, completely covering the sides and top of cake with frosting and coconut.  Refrigerate 1-2 days before serving for best results.  Keep refrigerated.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Filed in Christmas,Desserts,Holidays,Pies and Cakes,Uncategorized | 11 responses so far

11 Responses to “My Mamma’s Old Fashioned Southern Coconut Cake”

  1. carolinaheartstringson 27 Dec 2010 at 3:12 pm 1

    Coconut cake is a southern staple girl! It looks amazing.

  2. Sueon 16 Nov 2011 at 10:36 am 2

    Tara..I have just discovered your website (which I LOVE!) but when I stumbled on this coconut cake recipe, I shed a few tears and related so well with your story. My Mom just passed last year at age 74 from Alzheimer’s. She was famous for her baking, but especially her fresh coconut cake with the sea foam frosting, exactly like your mother’s! i remember all too well cracking the nuts and getting the meat and milk out! HA! It WAS a labor of love. For Christmas, she would decorate the top with an artificial poinsettia blossom and it was ready for the cover of Southern Living. I used to make it for her after I had to put her in the nursing home..the tradition now lives on through me. And….now you. We will keep their special memory alive through the sharing of family treasures. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

  3. Taraon 17 Nov 2011 at 6:16 am 3

    Hey Sue,

    Sorry to hear of your Mother’s passing. I think the first year after a loss is one of the hardest, and partiularly hard around the holidays. I bet your mom’s cake was just beautiful, especially with the poinsettia blossom. Thanks for stopping by and visit us again anytime. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Karenon 07 Apr 2012 at 10:51 am 4

    Thank you for posting this recipe it is just what I was looking for. My Mom passed about 5 years ago but I cook home made treats for my dessert loving Dad (82) every Sunday and was looking for a coconut cake recipe like my Mom used to make for Dad tomorrow. We always had fresh coconut cake on Easter with a next of jelly beans on top.

    Your Mom’s process sounds very familiar to me – as a matter of fact I didn’t know that there was any other way to make a coconut cake other than with real coconuts. Getting out the hammer and heading to the grocery store.


  5. reginaon 25 Aug 2012 at 5:38 pm 5

    i love this recipe it is just like my grandmothers cake thank you so much for sharing it

  6. Pat Oddoon 20 Nov 2012 at 1:11 pm 6

    I also remember my Momma’s Coconut Cake…and like yours, how she labored to make it for her family, anytime, not just at Christmas, (but it was more special then)…My Mom passed away last year from Liver Cancer before the Alzheimer’s could take her. Thank you for posting this recipe…I loved watching Momma cooking the sugar, water, tarter, and salt, then when she added the egg whites it was magical…God Bless Mother’s that are still here, and those that now reside with Christ. We
    will see them one day when we too, get our snowy wings.

  7. Michelle crowderon 30 Dec 2012 at 3:16 pm 7

    I was just about to attempt to make this cake for my family. My question is, when you make the cake mixes according to the packages do you then add the eggs, oil and water that you indicate?

  8. Taraon 30 Dec 2012 at 9:43 pm 8

    A better choice of words for the post should have been “beat cake mix according to package directions”. I apologize for any confusion. If using two cake mixes, add the ingredients I’ve listed here and beat with a mixer for the amount of time stated on the box. No need to add more eggs and oil and water. Thanks

  9. Michelle crowderon 31 Dec 2012 at 5:20 am 9

    Well I went ahead and made 2 boxes according to package directions and added the extra eggs etc. that might account for why they sunk in after baking. I don’t think the taste will be bad but texture might be, we shall se later today…. Thank you for the recipe! I’m sure it will be fine!

  10. MDPon 05 Apr 2013 at 3:46 pm 10

    I remember my Grandmother making the very same cake. Everything she ever made for her children and Grandchildren was made from love She never used cake mix everything from scratch and here today I try to continue my Grandmother’s kitchen mastery the same way she taught me, with much love

  11. Mona Martinon 10 Dec 2013 at 12:24 pm 11

    My mom never used cake mix nor do I. All of our old fashion cakes are make from scratch. That’s what we call old fashion because it’s not from the box. But coconut or pineapple cake are my favorites to eat. I can bake mostly any kind thanks to my mom and grandmothers.