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Southern Coconut Layer Cake With Divinity Icing

by , featured in Classic Home Desserts
Published by Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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This recipe has been adapted slightly from the snowy white coconut cake that’s long been served at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Sprinkling the baked cake layers with coconut milk keeps them moist and adds another coconut dimension.

Image of Richard Sax's Coconut Layer Cake
Photo by Alan Richardson


Serves: about 8 (makes one 9-inch 4-layer cake)

For the cake

  • 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (softened)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup milk

For the divinity icing

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • ⅓ cup cold water
  • 3 large egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ tablespoons hot water
  • ¼ cup coconut milk or 2 1/2 tablespoons canned coconut cream, thinned with 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water
  • 3 cups shredded or flaked flesh of coconut

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Southern Coconut Layer Cake With Divinity Icing is a guest recipe by Richard Sax so we are not able to answer questions regarding this recipe

For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans; set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of wax paper; set aside.
  2. With an electric mixer at medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until very light and smooth. Add all of the egg whites and the vanilla and almond extracts; beat until well combined and smooth. Add ½ cup of the milk and mix well. Lower the speed to slow and add the sifted ingredients; mix just until blended, no longer. Fold in the remaining ½ cup milk. Divide the batter between the prepared pans; smooth the top.
  3. Bake until the cake layers are golden brown, the edges shrink slightly away from the sides of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the centers emerges clean, 40 to 45 minutes.
  4. Cool the cake layers in their pans on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Run the tip of a knife around the sides of the cakes to loosen them; invert the cakes, turn right side up and cool to room temperature.

For the divinity icing:

  1. Combine the sugar, corn syrup and cold water in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil, uncovered, until the syrup reaches a temperature of 240 degrees F, usually 3 or 4 minutes. (This is the soft-ball stage. If you don’t own a candy thermometer, drop a small spoonful of the hot syrup into a cup of ice water; the mixture will form a soft mass when pressed between your fingers.)
  2. While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until foamy. When the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, slowly pour it into the beaten whites in a very slow, thin stream, beating all the time. (Try to pour the syrup into the center of the egg whites, so it doesn’t spatter all over the sides of the bowl.) When all of the syrup has been added, add the vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy and shiny and cools to room temperature, usually 7 to 8 minutes. Beat in the lemon juice and hot water.
  3. With a long serrated knife, split each cooled cake layer horizontally into 2 layers. Sprinkle the cut side of each layer with 1 tablespoon of the coconut milk or thinned coconut cream.
  4. Choose a layer with a flat surface and set it aside for the top. Place 1 of the layers, cut side up, on a serving plate. Spread it with a generous layer of icing; sprinkle on some coconut. Repeat with the remaining layers, spreading each with icing and coconut. Gently press the reserved layer, browned side up, on top.
  5. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing. Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut, and gently press more coconut into the icing on the sides.

Additional Information

NOTE: Using a fresh coconut here makes a big difference— it’s worth the trouble.

To prepare fresh coconut:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. With a clean nail, pierce the 3 eyes of the coconut; reserve the liquid, if you like, for cooking.
  2. Place the coconut on a baking sheet. Bake until brittle, about 20 minutes.
  3. Wrap the coconut in a towel and smack it with a hammer around its circumference. The shell will fall off in several pieces. Remove the thin layer of brown rind from the coconut flesh with a vegetable peeler.
  4. Finely grate the coconut with the grater blade of a food processor or with a hand grater. Measure 3 cups grated coconut for this cake; set the rest aside for another use.

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