Warning: This Charleston Coconut Cake is a showstopper! This decadent dessert features layers of coconut cake filled with coconut cream…oh, and there’s a coconut cream cheese frosting, too!
Warning: This cake is not for the faint of heart. It’s not a difficult cake to make, but it does take time to assemble. After all, there are 6 layers of coconut cake here. And there are 5 layers of coconut cream filling. And the entire thing is covered in coconut cream cheese frosting. If you aren’t a fan of coconut, then stop reading. Bounce on over to something like this Chocolate Chocolate Cake and get ready to go chocolate crazy. But if you do like coconut, then this Charleston Coconut Cake is calling your name! It’s a showstopper type of dessert!
This Charleston Coconut Cake in inspired by the Ultimate Coconut Cake at Peninsula Grill in Charleston, SC. As long-time readers might remember, I grew up in downtown Charleston. We lived 2 blocks from the Battery, and I rode my bike all around the cobblestone streets of Charleston. We had a Basset hound named Beauregard. I played football under the oak trees in White Point Gardens where they used to hang pirates. (That sounds a bit macabre now, but it’s true.)
If you’ve ever visited Charleston, then you certainly know the city is immersed in history. 3 signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence are buried in Charleston churchyards. (2 of them are buried in the church where we went every Sunday morning.) Oh, and speaking of graveyards, I totally remember riding my bike extra fast whenever I had to pass a graveyard on the way home at night from a friend’s house or Cotillion. (Yes, I took Cotillion like any good Southern boy.)
I could literally fill pages with unique memories of Charleston, but I’ll just share one more…for now. The house directly across the street had a wine cellar. But this wasn’t just any wine cellar. As soon as you entered the house, you were met by a grand wooden staircase on the right side of the house while a hallway ran along the stairs on the left side. Like many homes, there was a coat closet in this hallway. But if you pushed the coats to one side, you’d find a doorway built into the bottom half of the closet.
This wine cellar was a small room that was only accessible through the back of that coat closet. It had wood beams and dirt walls, and our neighbors had racks of wine stored there. But it wasn’t always a wine cellar. Apparently it was built as a place for Confederate troops to hide during the Civil War. How cool is that!? Our neighbors house had a secret room where soldiers once hid 175 years ago. I didn’t realize it at the time, but growing up in Charleston was a unique experience. I would give anything to go back to those days!
My sister and I did go back to Charleston a couple of years ago, and it’s surprising how much we remember of the city. Sure, shops have changed and the tourist area has grown a bit larger, but the streets where we played as kids haven’t changed a bit. But what has changed in Charleston is the food scene . There are dozens of trendy new restaurants there, and we absolutely hit as many as we could on our trip! We also stopped by the Peninsula Grill one evening for a cocktail and a slice of their Ultimate Coconut Cake. Amazing!
Over the years, Robert Carter, the original creator of Peninsula Grill’s signature dessert, has shared his recipe in a number of interviews. This Charleston Coconut Cake is based on his creation, although I have made a couple of additions like toasting the coconut as well as using my own white cake recipe. But all credit here goes to Robert Carter!
As I mentioned at the top of this post, this Charleston Coconut Cake is a showstopper. It’s one of those once-a-year type of cakes that you make for a really special occasion. Or for a Wednesday night. It’s insanely tall, and it’s also insanely delicious! Enjoy, my friends!
Charleston Coconut Cake
For the Coconut Cream Filling
- 2¼ cups heavy cream
- 1⅓ cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
For the Cake
- 4½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ Tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1½ tsp coconut extract
For the Coconut Frosting
- 2½ cups shredded coconut
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 12 oz. cream cheese room temperature
- 2 Tbsp cream of coconut not coconut cream
- ½ Tbsp vanilla extract
- 5-6 cups powdered sugar
For the Coconut Cream Filling
- Using a large saucepan, add cream, sugar and butter. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. (Note: The mixture will expand in volume quickly as it reaches boiling temperature, so use a larger saucepan than you might initially think!)
- Using a small bowl, add cornstarch, vanilla and 2 Tbsp of water; whisk together until smooth. Once cream mixture reaches boil, add cornstarch mixture. Bring mixture to a boil and continue cooking over medium-high heat for 1 more minute, stirring constantly. Remove mixture from heat.
- Using a food processor, add shredded coconut; pulse until coconut is finely chopped.
- Using a large bowl, stir together cream mixture and coconut.
- Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or until fully chilled.
For the Cake
- Grease and flour (3) 8” round cake pans; set aside. Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Using a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until well combined; set aside.
- Using a countertop mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (~4-5 minutes on medium speed). Add the eggs; mix on low speed until well combined.
- Add half of the flour mixture to the bowl; mix on low speed until well combined.
- Add the heavy cream, sour cream, vanilla extract and coconut extract; mix on low speed until well combined.
- Add the remaining flour mixture; mix on low speed until well combined. (Tip: Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are fully mixed.)
- Divide the batter evenly between the 3 cake pans. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Let cakes cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack until completely cool.
For the Coconut Frosting
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread coconut onto sheet pan and bake for 6-8 minutes, or until light golden brown. (Note: Watch coconut closely as it will burn quickly once it begins to turn brown!) Set toasted coconut aside.
- Using a countertop mixer, add butter and cream cheese; mix on medium speed until well combined (~2-3 minutes). Add cream of coconut, vanilla extract and powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until frosting reaches desired consistency. (Note: I used 5½ cups powdered sugar.)
- Once cakes have cooled, use a long knife to slice each cake into 2 equal layers.
- Place one layer of cake on a large plate. Add 1 cup of Coconut Cream Filling (not Frosting); spread filling to edges using an offset spatula. Repeat process with remaining 5 layers of cake and remaining filling. (Note: Do not put any filling on the top of the cake.)
- Using an offset spatula, frost edges and top of cake with the Coconut Frosting. Press toasted coconut into edges of cake.
- Refrigerate cake for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Slice cake while cold, but serve either cold or at room temperature.