Emily Parnell: A long-held dream of coconut cream cake yields to an exquisite obsession

07/01/2014 3:12 PM

12/04/2014 8:01 AM

My obsession with coconut cream cake began in 2001.

If you’re noticing that this is not my first column about cake, thank you for being a repeat reader, and yes, I confess that my obsession with cake (any type of cake) began well before that. It was probably soon after my love-affair with pie ended, coinciding with the tragic closing of pie-specific restaurants. But the particular dreaminess of coconut cream cake overtook me at a very specific moment in time.

My husband and I were in California, visiting my fancy and upscale but simultaneously casual and relate-able cousins in their impressive expensive but welcoming home in Los Angeles. Their daughter was attending a birthday party for the entertainment industry’s preschool crowd, somewhere in the Hollywood hills.

My cousin’s husband dropped her off at the party, then returned, reporting that most of the attendees were wearing fancy party dresses. He then proceeded to describe the birthday cake in some detail.

“The cake looked amazing. It was coconut — all fluffy and creamy.”

The image stuck in my brain like gum to the bottom of a shoe. It became engrained in my thoughts, a latent longing, a desire lurking below the surface of my consciousness.

For years, I would occasionally wonder about the cake — wishing he’d snapped a photo to share. I pictured its gooey decadence, tasted its light tropical flavor. But I never sought out a coconut cream cake — although I occasionally browsed recipes. I worried that, as can happen when you have your mind set on perfection, the results would fall short of the cake my cousin described.

This spring, we were fortunate to visit a tropical location. Parched, after walking the town’s hot streets, we stopped into a small café for a beverage. By the door was an old-school cake display, all glass with spinning glass shelves. On the shelves were slices of coconut cake — ones that matched my vision of the Hollywood pastry I’d only dreamed of.

Did I buy one? I did not. But it rekindled my obsession enough that when a coconut cake recipe appeared on Facebook, I knew my 13-year stint of only dreaming — never tasting — coconut cake must end. I made the darn cake. And it was exquisite.

If I’ve painted a picture of fluffy, white heaven in your brain, you can make it, too. It’s particularly easy, as there are no dry ingredients to mix, but I will advise you ahead that the cake is dense — almost like pound cake. I used coconut cream from Trader Joe’s, and Mexican vanilla.

Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.

Coconut cream cake


1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)

6 oz. cream cheese, softened

6 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cream of coconut


1/2 cup butter,softened

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup coconut cream

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup coconut for toasting and sprinkling on top of the frosting


1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Prepare a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray.

2. Cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar.

3. Beat in eggs one at a time, vanilla, coconut cream, and then mix in flour.

4. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. The cake will be flat, like a sheet cake. It may fall — that’s okay. Cool on cooling rack

5. Frosting: Beat together butter, cheese, vanilla, coconut cream and add sugar. Mix until well blended. (You may need to adjust the consistency by adding more powdered sugar.)

6. Place coconut on a baking sheet and toast in oven, turning frequently so not to burn. Watch closely. This will take about 3 minutes.

7. When the cake is cool, frost and sprinkle coconut on top. Prepare to swoon.

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