Coconut Cake: Barefoot Contessa’s Recipe Roadtest

Posted 28 January, 2011 by Trish in In the Kitchen / 42 Comments

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Over two years ago my sister, Brooke, emailed me a recipe for the Barefoot Contessa’s Coconut Cake.  It was for one of those recipe email exchanges that no one ever really follows through on–you know: email to 10 of your friends and have them send a recipe to the person who sent you the email and in return you’ll get 100 recipes from your friends’ friends?  This may have been the only recipe I received.  Printed it is two pages and the ingredient list scared the bejeezus out of me (turns out I’m intimidated by lengthy ingredient lists).

So, since we’re doing the Whip Up Something New Challenge and my mom’s birthday was last weekend, I decided to skip the boxed cake and make Ina’s Coconut Cake.  How’d it turn out??  (ps, even though recipe was sent to me via email, I also found on Barefoot Contessa’s website–directions below are straight from her recipe [my asides noted as such]).

Barefoot Contessa’s Coconut Cake


3/4 pounds [3 sticks] unsalted butter, at room temp plus more for greasing pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra large eggs at room temp
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese [16 oz], room temp
1/2 pound [2 sticks] unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour. [more on this later]

[I’ve learned the way to tackle recipes with many ingredients is to gather everything together ahead of time so you’re not constantly starting and stopping.  Apparently I’m not the only one as there’s a fancy French term for this: mise en place].

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled, don’t be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold the 4 ounces of coconut in with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly in to the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

[I don’t grease and flour pans–instead I use Cake Release by Wilton.  It’s a little goopy, but after so many disasters of cakes sticking to pans during my cake decorating class, I’ve never used anything else since and usually have good results.]

[Batter was much thicker than a boxed cake, but I gotta admit those rounds came out beautifully! The strips around the pans below are Bake Even Strips (also Wilton).  Don’t know if they really do anything or not but supposedly they’re supposed to keep your cake from getting the doomed top.  I did have some crispiness around the edges that I cut off with a serrated knife, but that’s probably more due to overcooking the cake just a few minutes too long–oooooor the fact that I used 8 inch pans instead of 9.]

[trimming and frosting a cake is much easier when it is cold, so once your cake has cooled, wrap it and stick it in the fridge until you are ready to frost]

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until just smooth .

To assemble, place one layer on a flat serving plat, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides.

To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut on the sides. Serve at room temperature.  [I grabbed a handful of coconut and patted around the sides of the cake and then sprinkled remaining on top]

Everyone raved about the cake, and when I took the leftovers to work, the cake disappeared immediately. I found it it be a little dry and much denser than a boxed cake.  Some of this is because it wasn’t quite room temperature, but I wasn’t sure how long the cream cheese could sit outside of the fridge?  I really liked the almond flavoring, but it certainly wasn’t overpowering.

So what do you think?  Worth the time and effort or easier just to buy from the box?  I really enjoyed taking the time to make this cake, but I had the time to do so–something that’s uncommon for me.  I’m undecided as Duncan Hines does make a pretty dang yummy cake!

If you try the recipe, let me know how it turns out for you!

Nom Nom Nom,

I tried this recipe as part of the Whip Up Something New ChallengeJoanna is hosting this month so be sure to pop over to her blog to catch the other participants’ recipes and include one of your own. Next month I’ll be hosting Whip Up Something New here–watch for the post on February 1st.  So far everyone’s having a blast whipping up their new recipes, so I hope you’ll join us from month to month!

Every weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  “Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.”  Hope you’ll join the fun!

42 Responses to “Coconut Cake: Barefoot Contessa’s Recipe Roadtest”

  1. YUM CITY! That looks and sounds so delicious! Also sounds like lots of work :) When I’ve made homemade cakes, I haven’t found them to be any better than a box. But I really haven’t tried that many different recipes. One question…if one doesn’t have an electric mixer, then how would one go about making this cake :) Anyways, it looks pretty, and I like your pictures…very professional. Maybe you should make a cookbook ;)

  2. Wow, Trish, this looks GOOD. I’m going to have to show this to my wife (who loves Barefoot Contessa). Maybe I can get her to make it.

  3. Pictures along the way?! Props. I always think about it, but never execute. Also – more info on your kitchen scale. I like how it is small & not so bulky. I need one.

    And your cake looks beautiful. SO pretty on the cake stand.

    So. I made this exact cake in December, for a Christmas party, and was super excited to see that you made it too, so I could compare my results with yours. And – I thought the exact same thing – very, very dense and dry. I thought I did something wrong (large eggs instead of extra large? add more butter?), but it sounds like it is just not a moist fluffy cake, which I prefer. But yes, the flavor (and frosting) was good.

  4. I am intimidated by long ingredient lists too! I’m glad it turn out well. I love cakes from scratch, but I’m lazy and often end up doing the boxed. My husband is a coconut lover (not me so much), so I’ll have to make this for him sometime. He’ll love it!

  5. *JoAnn – The coconut itself was pretty heavenly. Don’t understand those who say they don’t like coconut!

    *Viv – LOL–not sure it would have made the passage from here to the UK, but maybe one day. ;)

    *Laura – I didn’t think this was better than a box either, but the process was nice (only because I had the time for once). You could make this with your hand-mixer. Might just require a bit extra elbow grease.

    *Pax – ;) Hope you can get your wife to make it for you!! Really the most time consuming part was the clean-up–I had coconut all over my kitchen. Otherwise, not too much work.

    *Elise – The kitchen scale is a cheap model from Walmart! Like $8? It was actually the first time I used it. I’m secretly glad to hear your cake turned out the same way. I wondered if maybe I just overbaked it, but Grandma Marks was in town and she noted that cakes from scratch do tend to be a little denser?

    *Kristi – You don’t love coconut?? See comment to JoAnn above. ;) And secretly I think the boxed cakes taste just as good or better!

    *Carol – Well, it did take 2 years to get the courage to make this puppy!! But I absolutely agree that the boxed cakes (especially Duncan Hines) taste just as good!

  6. The cake is really pretty. To make a cake more moist, substitute milk with pudding. If it is a boxed cake, sub the oil with applesauce. Trust me, it works. And w/ the applesauce, you get less fat, and don’t even notice a taste difference.

  7. Ok, I’m a little scared of how much butter is in this cake (you sure it’s not Paula Dean’s recipe??), but it looks seriously delicious. I love coconut, and I love the idea of the cream cheese frosting!

  8. They found three of Emily Dickinson’s recipes when she died, squirelled away in various letters, and coconut cake was one of them – I’ve always wanted to make one, but Amanda hates coconut. This one looks num-nummy :D

  9. *Debi – Yes, we all had tiny slivers of this cake! That butter!

    *Care – LOL! I love coconut, too. ;)

    *Michelle – oh, but then do you have to make the pudding? ;) Or do you buy pudding especially for the cake? I’ve never tried applesauce but have heard good things!

    *Samantha – I hate to admit it looks a little tiny bit better than it was–wish it were moister.

    *Erin – 5 STICKS of butter! And interestingly enough, this cake didn’t taste that rich–not 5 sticks of butter worth! ;)

    *Diane – We like coconut cake around here, too–such a fun different choice.

    *Sheila – Once I got all the ingredients together making this cake was a breeze. It was the clean-up that was a pain! ;)

    *Mary – I’ve watched Ina Garten on the food network many time but have never made one of her recipes until this. Will be looking for more!

  10. *Jason – You should make the cake anyway! This one didn’t really taste very coconutty–if it weren’t for the frosting, the coconut flavor wouldn’t have been very dominant.

  11. My husband’s favorite cake is coconut cake! I think I will try this recipe for his birthday in April.

    LOVED your step by step photos — beautiful as well as informative.

  12. That looks really good!! In the past, I’ve tried to make Victoria Sponge cakes which I think is what you have here, roughly, but mine came out very thin and not worthy of making into a cake (you’d have needed at last 3 or 4 cakes). So after a few tries, I gave up.

    The things to stop a top developing is a good idea. Maybe I should try again… Maybe I’m better at it now. It would be really nice to make such a cake.

    Who knows, you may have inspired me!

  13. Oh.My.God. This looks absolutely awesome. Really. I love the Barefoot Contessa and have never been disappointed by any of her recipes. This looks sooooooooo good.

    BTW: I use that cake release too — great stuff.

  14. Mise en place – I remember having to look that one up too a few months ago. Who knew there were fancy French words for everything? :)

    • AuudreyM

      Mis en plas simply means – have everything weighed and ready before you begin to make your cake in the same way as you would have your stir fry ingredients ready, or whatever else you are making. This is how I was taught by my very English Grandmother, which stood me in good stead, when I decided to make my living as a caterer. So happy to see so many replies saying that they will have a go.Usually if I find that a cake is too dry – I have either had the oven a degree or two too high or it could have done with a with a few minutes less in the oven.Sorry if I have gone on too long.
      Hope this helps and Happy Baking.
      AudreyM x
      p.s. I still bake for Craft Fairs etc. and I am now aged 80.

  15. I love all your photos. It does help to gather all ingredients first-something I’m learning-and will take to heart now that I know there is a fancy French word for it! The cake looks devine!

  16. Your cake looks amazing! We don’t eat coconut cake, so I’ll have to see what other cake recipes that the Barefoot Contessa website has.

  17. Even though coconut ckae is not my thing this does look tasty. I personaly love duncan hines, or Pillsbury. I am a box cake queen. Never made one from scratch, someday :)

  18. That cake… wow, amazing! I’d love a slice, pretty please :D We’re only two here, minus the cats… I’d have to invite the entire neighborhood if I ever bake something like this :)

  19. Wow! I love coconut and the Barefoot Contessa! You can just tell it’s one of her recipes when you look at the number of sticks of butter. My arteries are clogging as we speak. That’s not going to stop me from trying the cake, though. Thanks for posting.

  20. All I can say is YUM!

    Oh, and I couldn’t help but think of “When Harry Met Sally” and wonder if you might be serving this with the chocolate sauce, but on the side??? :)

  21. I think this is DEFINITElY worth the time and effort!! BEAUTIFUL Trish..You know, I absolutely love taking on projects like this…and yes, I’d totally consider this a project ;p I find it to be very meditative.

  22. *Molly – If you try the recipe let me know how it turns out! It was a little dense for my taste, but apparently that’s because I’m so used to boxed cake. ;)

    *Leeswammes – I’m not familiar with Victoria Sponge Cakes but will have to look them up! The bake even strips seem to work well, but sometimes I still overfill my tins and have my cakes spill over! Big mess to clean up. ;)

    *Diann – I take it your grandmother made a mean coconut cake? I’ve been trying to gather up my grandmothers recipes while I can, but there’s so many good ones!

    *Beth F – The cake release has changed my life. I wasn’t sure at first when I saw the goopy consistency but I used to have so many cakes break apart in my tins using the old grease and flour method.

    *Kate – Those French are just so clever, huh? ;) I love when there’s a phrase to perfectly describe an action!

    *Caite – Ha! If I could send you all a slice I would! I love to bake but I don’t like keeping the goodies in my house. ;)

    *Peaceful Reader – Everything seems fancier when there’s French involved, right? I’m a big believer in prepping as much before cooking and cleaning while cooking to save a headache later—doesn’t always work out but I try!

    *Vasilly – Oh I bet the Barefoot Contessa has many many recipes to tempt you! I used to love watching her cooking show when I was in grad school!

    *Jenny Girl – When I took my cake decorating classes I experimented with several brands of boxed cakes and the Duncan Hines always turned out the best. Though I do love Pillsbury’s funfetti! ;)

    *Chinoiseries – I love to bake but don’t very often because my husband doesn’t eat sweets and I’d be giant! ;) I try to bring the leftovers up to work—they’ll gobble up anything! Would love to share some with all of you, though…

    *Marie – I couldn’t believe how much butter and cream cheese I had to buy for this cake! I didn’t use as much frosting as the recipe yielded (should have made note of that), but still a lot of butter!

    *Becky – LOL—love me some When Harry Met Sally. I bet this would be good with chocolate sauce on the side! ;)

    *Chris – I think if one has the time, doing a project like this can be really meditative. I loved spending the time to make this cake, but it was such a lazy day which is sometimes rare. I wish there was a way to slow down so there could be more days like that one!

    *Chrisbookarama – I hope it turns out well for you! This was my first attempt at a homemade cake, but I’ll be on the lookout for others to test!

  23. there is no comparison between a box mix and a self made cake. A box cake is so light and fluffy that you have to wonder if it is really made with anything. Save them for cupcakes for the kids who really only care about the frosting and make real cake for the adults.

    Definitely worth the effort.

  24. *Priyaiyer – Thank you! It tasted lovely. ;)

    *Heather – You know, I think people are just used to boxed cake these days. Even when I took a cake decorating classes the instructor told us the cakes she SELLS are boxed cakes!

    *Tanya – I haven’t tried Ina’s Beattie Chocolate Cake recipe but I’ll be sure to look it up! Thanks for visiting.

  25. I remember this episode. I think Ina looks like my aunt, and acts like her too. My aunt never made this cake because she always uses a box mix. I have tried several “scratch” cakes myself and they don’t usually taste as good as a box mix. I think the one that tasted the best I used cake flour instead and it was better. The flour has less gluten and a pastry chef once told me that is the better flour to use for cakes for that reason. I saw this episode on my DISH Network employee HD TV service. I especially like seeing Ina in HD because I can see all of the beautiful camera work in detail when they zoom in on the ingredients. I like dense cakes and cooking them less time makes a moister cake. I saw Martha Stewart flake coconut from the whole nut using a peeler and then toast it so I think I’ll try this recipe with that method. It looked so gourmet!

  26. I made Contessa’s (as she is lovingly refered as in our home)coconut cake, 4 years ago, and what a hit! I followed everything she said…made both the cake and the cupcake! My son’s favorite! Today is his high school baccalaureate and when I asked what kind of cake he’d like, without a single hesitation, he texted “Contessa’s coconut Cake”:)We enjoy it every year on his birthday!

  27. Kandice

    I LOVE this cake and it is my husband’s favorite. What I do for added moisture is to use half cup milk and half cup of Coconut milk. Coconut milk makes it very moist! This is the cake I bake for holidays, special occasions and the one my husband asks for repeatedly.