By Candice Wagener | Photography and Food Styling by Sunny Frantz
As the pastry chef at Hubbard Avenue Diner, Ashley Williams creates magic in the form of pies, cakes and cookies every day. But her most treasured sweet treat to bake is her mother’s favorite coconut cake, a recipe which originated with Williams’ grandmother from Sumter, South Carolina.
“In my family we would usually have it for church dinners, Christmas and Easter. But my mother, being the coconut cake lover she was, wanted it for her birthday, Mother’s Day, April Fool’s day — she loved it!” says Williams. “Although she passed in 2013, I know she’s still enjoying it with us.”
At the age of seven, Williams’ mother and her family moved from Miami to Baltimore; she and her siblings had never seen snow until that first winter in Maryland. As the story goes, while Williams’ grandmother tried to explain snow to her curious seven-year-old, all she could think about was how much the snow looked like coconut.
“[My mother] grabs her brother, Sammy, and sister, Vera, and runs to the door,” says Williams. “With no shoes, socks or winter clothes, they run outside, of course, with my grandmother yelling behind them. They played for a good five minutes until my grandmother yanked them back inside to properly dress them.”
The coconut cake (shown at left) was always a reminder of sweet childhood memories and her mother’s first experience with snow, says Williams. “Whenever we had a family event, you could count on my mother bringing the coconut cake.”
Mommies Coconut Cake
Yield: Two 9-inch round pans
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 Tbsp. shortening
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup + 2 Tbsp. whole milk
- 2 tsp. coconut extract
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Cream cheese frosting (recipe below)
- 8-10 oz. coconut flakes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. All fats, liquids and eggs should be kept at room temperature.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl, set aside.
In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, cream shortening, butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time. Beat until mixed well. Add vanilla and coconut extract. Mix for one minute.
Add half of the milk and half of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Mix on low until incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix for one minute. Add the remaining flour mixture and milk. Mix for another minute. Scrape down bowl again. Your batter should be smooth and lump free.
Spray your pans with a cooking spray and line the bottom of your pans with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment or cooking spray, grease your pans with shortening and dust it with flour. Shake out the excess flour.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30–35 min. Stick a toothpick in the center of the cake; if it comes out clean, it’s done.
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
- 1 lb. cream cheese
- 8 oz. unsalted butter
- 6 cups powdered sugar
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla
- 1⁄8 tsp. salt
Cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix on a low speed for 3 minutes.
Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix until smooth. Chill in an airtight container. Recipe can be doubled for those that want more frosting.
To assemble the cake:
First, level off each 8-inch cake round by thinly slicing off the dome on top of each cake to achieve a flat surface.
Next, torte each 8-inch round by slicing each cake evenly in half. (You’ll have four layers).
Spread 1⁄2 cup of cream cheese frosting on the first layer. Stack the next layer and repeat for subsequent layers.
Once the cake is stacked, crumb coat it by applying a very thin layer of frosting around the sides and top to seal in the crumbs.
Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Once it’s chilled, spread the remaining frosting over the entire cake. (The final icing doesn’t have to be perfect, because it will be covered in coconut flakes.)
Then, pat the coconut flakes around the sides and top of the cake evenly.
Read more from our “Taste of the Holidays” 2021 feature here.