8.25.2018

In Search of Birthdays Past

I begin with two apologies to Proust. First, I am sorry for corrupting your book title. Second, this isn’t about madeleines; it’s about cake.

Don't you love this tea towel? Made for me by my talented friend, Lisa!
It was the summer of 1981. I had graduated with my master’s degree in music performance from the Eastman School of Music. To celebrate, I had taken a wonderful road trip around California with my friends Martha and Cliff.

After the tour, we all went back to the East Coast, and to our separate pursuits.

At the end of that summer, I went to a mini reunion with Martha and Cliff to celebrate my late-August birthday. Martha made Sole Véronique for dinner and a beautiful Coconut Cream Cake for dessert - it was my first. It was a cake to remember.

This year, on Martha’s birthday, I sent her a birthday message on Facebook. We chatted back and forth a bit, and I brought up my memory of the cake. She told me it was Cliff’s recipe. I’d had no idea!

The more I thought about this cake, the more I wanted one for my birthday. That spurred me to write Cliff and ask if he would share the recipe.

Although he was happy to do so, he couldn’t find it. He remembered enough to tell me what to do, and sent the directions.

The original recipe has two things you won’t find in my house. 1.) a cake mix, and 2.) Cool Whip. Aside from the fact that making a cake and whipping cream are easy to do, the real issue is that most cake mixes are filled with preservatives, and Cool Whip… well, I don’t even want to think about how that’s made!

Today, I give you my version of Cliff’s cake, using a white cake from scratch (yellow cake works well, too!) and real whipped cream. Thank you Cliff and Martha - for wonderful memories, both past and present.

This cake is not for the faint of heart... it is extremely rich, dense, chewy, and ... fantastic! But, after all, it isn't every day you turn 60...

~ David

Cliff’s Coconut Cream Cake


White Cake (from King Arthur)
2 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend
1 2/3 cups sugar; superfine sugar is best
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs whites (1/2 cup)
1 whole large egg
1 cup full-fat vanilla yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract


Filling and Topping
2 cups sour cream
2 cups superfine (baker’s) sugar
16 ounces shredded unsweetened coconut
1 1/4 cups cream


Start by making the cake. Preheat the ovento 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

Mix all of the dry ingredients on slow speed to blend. Add the softened butter and mix until evenly crumbly, like fine damp sand.

Add the egg whites one at a time, then the whole egg, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition.

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt with the vanilla and almond extracts. Add this mixture, 1/3 at a time, to the batter. Beat 1 to 2 minutes after each addition, until fluffy. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. A toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean when done. Remove from the oven, cool 10 minutes, then remove from the pan. Let cool fully.

While the cake layers cool, make the filling. Whisk together the sour cream and superfine sugar in a large bowl, then stir in the coconut. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks. Set aside.

Slice each layer in half horizontally. Spread some of the coconut mixture between each layer; there should be about 2 cups leftover.

Fold the whipped cream into to remaining coconut mixture, and use this to frost the cake. Top with extra shredded coconut, if desired. It is best to make this a day in advance to allow flavors to meld and the coconut to soften. Keep refrigerated.

Serves 12.

Tip: when slicing a cake horizontally, I have found it difficult to remove the top player without breaking it. After slicing, I take the removable bottom from an 11-inch tart pan and slide it between the layers, making removal of the top later intact a breeze!

48 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the cake mix and the Cool Whip out of the recipe! This looks heavenly.

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    1. I’m glad you don’t believe in them, either, Ingrid! Why add any chemicals to our bodies?? And I had no idea this was your favorite! xx

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  2. Happy Birthday my friend. This cake is also my partner Ken's favorite way to celebrate his own August Birthday, so I will take a good look at your beautiful recipe. XOGREG

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    1. August people are the best. Just ask you and Markipedia! :)

      It is a very rich, dense cake, Greg! If that is what Ken likes, this might do the trick!

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  3. hmmm looks delicious. I didn't have any cake for my 70th so maybe I need to make this for 70 1/2....

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    1. It would be perfect for 70 1/2! Or 70 5/8!!

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  4. Happy, happy, happy birthday and a great year to come ! . . . like the sour cream and the coconut . . . and your memories . . . oh, the yoghurt too :) !

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    1. Thanks, Eha - the yoghurt was a nice surprise and it gave the cake such good texture! And the sour cream kept everything from getting too sweet! Still, a hefty cake!

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  5. Happy Birthday David,

    We used to make a version of this cake in my restaurant, we used genoise, added apricot preserves to the filling and we toasted the coconut for decorating. Brings back sweet memories. Grazie. Linda

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    1. Thank you, Linda - and thanks, also for the great ideas for my next making of this cake! Love the apricot filling! And I would love to hear more about yuor restaurant!

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  6. When you mentioned cake mix and cool whip I held my breath for a second. And then things became real again.

    Now that I see there's sour cream in this beauty, I'm making it this week, for sure. In honour of your fabulous birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY!), and the fact I was sold by your "rich, dense and chewy" description.

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    1. I hope you and Dean enjoy it, John! It is a wonderful cake... and, I promise, you will never see a box mix or Cool Whip in my recipes... promise! Thanks for the birthday wishes!

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  7. Happy, happy birthday David!! (I thought it was your 59th!)

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    1. Nope... here I sit at 60, Doreen! I thought about a reprise of the pink lemonade cake you made when we first started the blog. Maybe that needs to happen soon anyway! ❤️

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  8. Very happy birthday ! Love your "from scratch" baking ! Glad you love M.Proust too !

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    1. Proust is a favorite and I have been reading him in French and English for years...

      I am very fortunate to have the time to bake from scratch!

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  9. A very happy Birthday David, wishing you good health, happiness and a kitchen without cake mix and cool whip. Your cake looks wonderful.

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  10. Happy Birthday and what a beautiful cake to celebrate with. I have never had the pleasure of trying cool whip. I have never seen it in the UK, I have a feeling I am not missing much!

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    1. Being the snob I am, I would never put pleasure and Cool Whip in the same sentence... 😊 yet I know many who swear by the stuff. I hope it never makes it across the pond, Emma!

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  11. Sole Veronique- must have been grapes in that dish? Looks like the kind of cake I could eat by myself in one sitting. King Arthur flour is great for cakes- can't find it in Australia, but will soon have access to it when we return to San Diego!

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    1. Is your return to San Diego a visit or a move? Yes, they Véronique was with grapes and cream. Quite tasty! And the cake? One piece at a time is good for me!

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  12. What a lovely birthday memory and Happy Birthday. A great cake recipe and rich and chewy work for me. Regarding Cool Whip, I once visited the manufacturing plant in Avon, New York. Let me just say, I haven’t had any since.

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    1. Thanks, Ron - I can’t even imagine what the Cool Whip plant was like. In a fun note, I have always told everyone it is a non-dairy substance but apparently they added a trace of dairy in the past year or so. Bully for them! Still prefer my real whipped cream!

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  13. A belated but certainly heartfelt Happy Birthday. Your cake sounds perfect for the occasion. BTW, you have me thinking about Sole Véronique, it was a dish I ordered often at a wonderful little restaurant in Miami years ago.

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    1. Don’t you love retro dishes like Véronique? I think maybe it’s time to have that again! Thanks for your birthday wishes, Karen!

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  14. Yay for August birthdays! Just had mine too. :-) I wish you a very, very happy one!
    I love that you (& Cliff) were able to recreate this masterpiece. I am a huge coconut fan, as are my kids. Hope you had a lovely celebration.

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    1. And a happy birthday to you, too, Valentina!

      I am sure you can find a way to make this GF for your family - the cream/sour cream/coconut mixture is amazing!

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  15. This sounds absolutely divine. It looks so clean and delicate, I would just love a slice!

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    1. Thanks, Caroline! While maybe not “delicate,” it certainly was tender!

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  16. Happy Birthday! After lemon, coconut might be my favorite flavor for desserts. Yes, I prefer both of those to chocolate! Although I'll never turn down chocolate. :-) This looks really good -- thanks.

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    1. I am completely with you, John. lemon first! Almond is my second, but coconut is right up there. And, yes, for someone who much have cocoa every day, you would think chocolate would be my preference. But it’s not. Not that I would turn it down, either...

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  17. I can see why this was a cake to remember, D.
    You're killing me!
    I have to bake this TONIGHT! xoxo

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    1. So sweet, Colette! I hope you made it and loved it!

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  18. Happy Birthday David!!! Coconut Cake is my absolute most favorite. I've made the Martha Stewart recipe but this looks like a keeper!

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    1. Thanks, Camille! I will have to check out Martha’s recipe!

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  19. Sorry I missed your birthday (unless it's the VERY end of August), but happy belated to you, David!

    I LOVE this post especially because of your points on cake mix and Cool Whip! UGH. Why do people not understand how these "foods" are killing them?

    Anyway, the other thing is that I ADORE coconut. I have long wanted to make a coconut rum cake that I used to make as a teen (using cake mix of all things, but we didn't know what we knew then AND I bet they weren't nearly as toxic back then). Maybe I'll plan on it for my birthday this year! :) Hope you enjoyed your day!

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    1. That is a really interesting thought, Christina! What WERE cake mixes like when we were young? I would love to know.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes! And you definitely should make this for yours!

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  20. Beautiful cake! Even if birthdays are a touchy subject for me this year. I'm coming up on a "milestone" that I'd frankly rather forget...

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    1. Aw, come one Frank! Our loves keep getting better with every milestone! We will all help you celebrate!

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  21. That cake is absolutely, positively PERFECT!

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  22. Happy birthday David! This cake does look fitting for a special birthday. Very happy you remade it without the cake mix and Cool Whip!

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    1. I knew my rant against mixes and Cool Whip would not fall on deaf ears! Thanks, Inger!

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  23. This looks like serious cake perfection to me, David! I sincerely hope you had the best birthday!!

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    1. A wonderful compliment coming from a baker like you, Marcelle! Thanks!

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