Here Is the Missing Coconut Cake

Coconut Cake
Since I mine my personal, handwritten recipe book so often on behalf of this column, I felt very certain that I had offered up an old favorite, One, Two, Three, Four Coconut Cake. As it turns out, I misremembered. Several of you asked for the recipe when I talked about making a Gold Cake two weeks ago to use up the yolks leftover from the whites I put into the coconut cake.
Sandi Rowe Umble in Holden wrote, “My mouth was watering when you talked about the one, two three four coconut cake! Don’t know how I missed this recipe.” Well, now I do. I went confidently into the Taste Buds archive where there was absolutely nothing about coconut cake as Tim Burleigh in Dover-Foxcroft also discovered when he went looking.
Michaeleen Ward remembered that her mother made coconut cakes. “But I never asked for the recipe. Hindsight is always so good,” she observed, so she wanted the recipe, too. And then it turns out that Arline Deshane in Enfield wants to make coconut cake for her granddaughter’s birthday in June, so I figured I better get it into the paper sooner than later.
No one I know dislikes this cake. Years ago I even made it for one of our local celebrities who loved offering it to her house guests and often wanted one for an annual end-of-summer bash. I make it for Easter and decorate it with jelly beans or chocolate malt balls in Easter egg colors. It is tall, and frosted in white icing with coconut pressed into it, it is gorgeous. So little wonder that Toby wanted it for his birthday cake this month which is why the topic came up.
Years ago when I first discovered this recipe in a sea captain’s wife’s manuscript recipe book from around 1880, I even made it from freshly grated coconut. If you have even a modicum of the purist in you, try doing that sometime. The result is unbelievably fabulous, delicious and rich, and despite your skinned and raw knuckles, you will be glad. These days I obtain unsweetened grated coconut to use, and freshen it somewhat by tossing it with a little cream dribbled into it, enough to moisten it slightly and restore the needed oiliness. I never use sweetened coconut because I don’t like the overly sweet cake that results.
Frost this as you wish. Out of habit, I use Seven Minute Boiling Icing, but you may have one you like better. I usually split each layer to create four layers and put icing or filling between each. You could use more frosting, or jam or jelly in between layers. Once I used cream cheese frosting as a filling. Suit yourself.
P.S. The number-filled name of the cake comes from a very old mnemonic device to remind the baker to use one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three eggs, and four cups of flour.
P.P.S. Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites to help them hold their stiffness.
One, Two, Three, Four Coconut Cake
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (or 2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
2 ½ cups grated coconut
3 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two nine-inch diameter cake pans, two inches deep. Sift together the dry ingredients. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Beat in the coconut. Stir into the batter about one-fourth of the beaten whites, then fold in the remaining whites. The batter will be fairly firm. Spread it in the pans evenly. Bake for forty-five minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean, and the cake surface is golden. Allow to cool, then turn out of the pans and let cool before icing.
Makes a nine inch cake.
Looking for….the name of the kind person who sent me the recipe for Rhubarb Bars. I saved it as a document in my computer but there is no name on it. Was that you? Let me know.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.