Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Peninsula Grill's Ultimate Coconut Cake

This cake is the signature cake belonging to chef Robert Carter of The Peninsula Grill in Charleston, SC. It is based on his grandmother's recipe and it has become the cake-of-choice for Charleston brides. After tasting it, I can see why. It is heaven.

I believe you either love coconut or you hate it. There's no in between.
My younger sister, Belinda, hates it. She can detect a teeny-tiny drop of coconut in a huge vat of anything. While growing up, I got everything she tasted that had even a hint of coconut in it. Life is good. :-)

I love, love, love coconut.
There, I've said it. I'm Tammy and I'm a coconut-a-holic. (is there such a thing?)
If a dish has coconut in it, I guarantee I will love it.

I love to bake, I love coconut, I was in the mood to try a new recipe, so I did a google search for the perfect coconut cake recipe. After reading through several blogs and seeing this recipe come up over and over again by other coconut lovers, the decision was made.

Since the cake looked very intimidating, I thought about ordering this cake from the Peninsula Grille and having it shipped to me. I justified that the $100 price tag would be well worth it 'just once' for a very special occasion. However, to have it shipped to my location, FedEx wanted $100. Time to go to plan B... make it myself!

Chef Robert Carter was generous enough to share his recipe and to show us how to make it when he appeared on Martha Stewart show. Good news for me because I learn better if I can see how it's done first! To view the video of chef Robert Carter making the cake, click here then on view video (I couldn't download the video so if Martha has changed the link, try searching on Martha Stewart's website for the Ultimate coconut cake.)

There are a lot of steps to the create this masterpiece but none of them are hard to do and it is well worth it! I took this cake to our Wednesday night Bible study and you would have thought I discovered how to walk on water. Everyone was absolutely amazed with the presentation and the taste.

Typically, I don't post recipes that others have posted on their sites but since Martha keeps updating her URLs, I'll give you the recipe at the very end of this post. That way if the link doesn't work, you still have the recipe. (Nothing frustrates me more than a broken link! ...or a bad recipe!)

Important things to note:

  • You must use Plugra butter. (it has more butterfat... a key ingredient)
  • You must cut this cake while it is cold (else the lovely filling squishes out...trust me on this)
  • Let it come to room temperature before serving. (2-3 hours)
  • You are not allowed to leave a negative comment if you made any changes to the recipe. Baking is a science and all the ingredients and measurements are essential.

The cake has five steps:
1. The filling: You make it the night before assembling the cake.. and it is awesome. (to whip it the next day, I had to divide the filling into 2 parts. My 5 qt couldn’t handle the full load) click here for recipe

2. The cake: Two 10” cakes. (At first, I was disappointed when I took them out of the pan. They reminded me of corn bread… large crumb and very yellow. I may try less baking powder next time… what do you think? When you watch the video, Rob said a tsp and a half of BP, but the recipe on Martha’s website has 1 1/2 TBS… (P.S. The final cake tasted great so maybe no change is needed) click here for recipe.

3. Simple syrup (can be made ahead of time and stored up to 1 month refrigerated in an airtight container) Click here for recipe.

4. The frosting… (warning: This is very addictive) click here for recipe

5. The assembly: click here for directions

Here's a picture of my final cake. I got a bit wild when applying the coconut to the sides and ended up covering the whole cake with coconut.

Side by side comparison:

If the URL's above are not working, use the recipes below.

Coconut Filling
This delicious coconut cake filling is courtesy of Robert Carter from the Peninsula Grill, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Makes enough for 1 cake .
5 cups heavy cream
3 cups sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 T water
9 cups shredded sweetened coconut


  1. Place coconut in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coconut is finely chopped. (this will make it easier to slice the cake. Don't skip this part)
  2. In a small bowl, mix together cornstarch, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon water and set to the side. (the ratio of liquid to cornstarch doesn't seem right... I added 2 more TBS of water)
    Place cream, sugar, and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved
    Add the cornstarch mixture to the cream mixture and bring to a boil. Simmer until thickened, about 1 minute.
    Remove cream mixture from heat and stir in processed coconut until well combined.
  3. Transfer to a large baking dish or bowl; let cool.
    Cover filling with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
  4. When you are ready to assemble the cake, place half the mixture in the bowl of an 5 qt electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat for 4 to 5 minutes. (should be smooth and creamy) Do the same process for the rest of the mixture.

The Cake

Makes two 10-inch round cakes. (you'll be cutting each layer into 3rds later)

Nonstick cooking spray with flour (I like Baker's Joy)
1 pound unsalted PLUGRA butter (can purchase at Fresh Market or other high end store)
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

  1. Spray two 10-inch round cake pans with cooking spray with flour; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together cream, vanilla, and coconut extract.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 to 6 minutes.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy, occasionally scraping down sides of the bowl using a spatula.
  6. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture, alternating with cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour; beat until just combined.
  7. Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.
  8. Let cool completely on a wire rack before removing cakes from pans.

Simple Syrup

Makes enough for the entire cake (two 10 inch layers)


3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar


  1. Place water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat and let cool.
  4. Store up to one month refrigerated in an airtight container.

The Frosting

makes enough for the entire cake


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted PLUGRA butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 cups confectioners' sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped


  1. Place butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until creamy.
  2. With mixer on low speed, slowly add vanilla extract, seeds from vanilla bean, and confectioners' sugar.
  3. Continue beating until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes.

The final assembly:

Makes one 6-layer cake

Ingredients needed:
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut flakes, toasted
2 Coconut Cake
Simple Syrup
Coconut Filling
Coconut Cake Frosting


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Spread coconut flakes in an even layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, 5 to 7 minutes; set aside to cool.
    Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level; discard trimmings.
  3. Cut each cake into 3 even layers. (also known as torting)
  4. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan.
    Place one layer on the cake plate. Brush with about one-fifth of the simple syrup.
  5. Spread 2 cups (4oz) of filling on the cake.
  6. Place a second layer on top.
  7. Repeat process with the next four layers and top with last remaining layer.
  8. Spread top and sides of cake with frosting, keeping in mind you may not need to use all of it.
  9. Press toasted coconut into sides of cake; remove parchment paper strips.
  10. Chill cake at least 5 hours and up to 5 days. (the syrup is more evenly distributed after 1 day)
  11. Slice immediately; bring to room temperature before serving
  12. Sit back and listen to all the praises.

Bobby Flay from from the TV show THROWDOWN! challenge Robert Carter on this recipe ...and Bobby won… The next time I make a coconut cake, I’ll try his recipe and blog about it… http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/throwdowns-toasted-coconut-cake-with-coconut-filling-and-coconut-buttercream-recipe/index.html


  1. Tammy,
    I will make you a deal. You make this cake next time you are in Texas and I will help you!

  2. Becky,
    We'd have a great time making this cake ...and eating it. :-D
    I loved making this cake and I can't wait to make it again.

  3. Tammy, Your cake looks really good. How did you boil the frosting without it burning on the bottom? That's what happened the first time i did it as a test. Maybe I have a hot stove and should put it to medium instead of medium high. i just kept whisking it for 4 or 5 minutes until it couldn't get any thicker. I checked it today and i "think" it's going to be ok. still runs "slightly". any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


  4. Tammy, your cake looks really good. How did you boil the frosting without it burning on the bottom. maybe I have a hot stove and should put it to medium instead of medium high. i just kept whisking it for 4 or 5 minutes until it couldn't get any thicker. I checked it today and i "think" it's going to be ok. still runs "slightly" any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


  5. Thanks Sam. I agree. Medium would be better for your stove. I used a non-stick pan and stirred the mixture frequently with a heat resistant spatula. (making sure I scraped the bottom and sides)
    You will whip this mixture for 5 minutes after it rests in the refrigerator over night so I'm sure yours will be wonderful. (The coconut will absorb some of the liquid) Send me a note back and let me know how it turns out. I just used this filling and icing last week on cupcakes. They were awesome.

  6. Hey Tammy,

    The cake turned out amazing! It was the best cake i've ever made, visually. The taste was incredible, too. When i started to beat the filling, it actually seemed way to dry. Figure that out. I remember how you said the coconut would absorb the moisture. Anyway, i had to really beat it, but it eventually warmed up and became a light filling and also changed to the white color that's in the pictures. I decreased the sugar in the filling to 1.3 cups from 3. Might go even less next time. Might put less filling in the layers also although everybody though it was perfect, so i probably won't change it.

    Thanks for the help!

  7. Ha... I have family member who can detect the most minute amount of coconut too. The cake looks absolutely divine! Delish!