Mama Lou’s Coconut Cake

See the RecipeChristopher Hirsheimer

Memphis cook and caterer Anne Scott Coleman told us she "learned it all" from her grandmother LouElla Hill—including how to make this festive cake. Mama Lou liked to use fresh coconut shaved into nice big flakes.

Mama Lou’s Coconut Cake
Make this cake the way Mama Lou did—with fresh coconut shaved into nice big flakes.
Yield: serves 8-10

For the Cake

  • 12 lb. butter, softened
  • 1 12 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 14 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. coconut extract
  • 12 cup fresh coconut shavings (or frozen flakes, thawed)

For the Frosting

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 12 cup light corn syrup
  • 14 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 14 tsp. salt
  • 1 12 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 tsp. coconut extract
  • 1 12 cups fresh coconut shavings (or frozen flakes, thawed)

Instructions

  1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 300°. Grease and flour two round, 9" cake pans. Cream butter and 1 cup of the sugar together in a large bowl until smooth, about 10 minutes. Beat in egg yolks. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into another bowl. Work one-third of flour mixture into butter mixture, then stir in ⅓ cup of the milk. Repeat process twice. Stir in vanilla, coconut extract, and coconut shavings. Whip egg whites and remaining ½ cup sugar in a medium bowl until stiff peaks appear. Lighten the batter by mixing in one-third of egg whites, then gently fold in remainder. Divide batter between pans and shake to distribute batter evenly. Bake just until a knife comes out clean, 45–50 minutes (taking care not to overbake). Allow to cool in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto greased wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.
  2. For the frosting: Beat sugar, egg whites, corn syrup, 3 tbsp. water, cream of tartar, and salt in the top of a double boiler until well blended. Place over boiling water and whip until stiff peaks form, 7–8 minutes. Remove from heat; add vanilla and coconut extract. Place 1 cake layer on a serving dish and spread a layer of frosting over top. Repeat with remaining layer. Frost sides. Sprinkle coconut shavings over top and gently press more onto sides.