top of page

Hau'oli lā Hānau, Makuahine!

Photo credit: John T. Linn

i don't speak Hawaiian, so I really really hope I didn't screw that up. What I'm trying to say is Happy Birthday, Momma!

For those of you who don't know, my mom has lived in Hawaii for about 13 years. Its been hard having her so far away, but the distance really makes me appreciate the time I do get with her. Ideally my son and I would go visit her more often... because HAWAII. But my job and finances don't exactly allow for much travel. At all. So unfortunately the burden is on her to visit me if we're going to see each other. That can get tough financially for her, but this year it worked out that she could visit a few times... and she was here for her birthday!

I can't remember the last time I was able to bake my mom a birthday cake. I'm pretty sure the last time I even saw her on her birthday was about 10 years ago when I was visiting her on the island. I remember we went to this amazing little bakery on Oahu's north shore - Ted's Bakery - and I got her a Coconut cake so we could celebrate properly. Ted's website describes their coconut cake as "white chiffon cake filled with a layer of whipped topping and a layer of haupia (coconut pudding). The cake is iced with whipped topping and covered with shredded coconut."

If you've never had haupia, you are soooo missing out! Its this rich, creamy pudding with just the right amount of coconut flavor. I believe its traditionally used in pies, but it seems to also be used a lot in cakes and even donuts.

It just occurred to me that I really really need to try a haupia filled donut next time I'm there. But I digress.

The haupia combined with the cake and whipped topping and everything else made that cake easily one of the top 2 best cakes I've ever had in my life. Plus it was the perfect cake for mom because coconut desserts are her very favorite. So when we figured out that she would be here on her birthday this year, I knew I wanted to make her some sort of coconut cake.

I briefly contemplated the idea of making a haupia cake for her, but I really feel like that's something that belongs to the Hawaiian people. It tastes of the islands, and its something that should be enjoyed over there - not something that should be made in my haole kitchen.

So instead I made a non-haupia-but-still-found-on-pinterest coconut cake... and it was KILLER!

Here it is, in all its glory:

For the cake:

  • 5 large egg whites

  • ½ cup (118 ml, 4 fl oz) whole milk

  • 1 tablespoon coconut flavoring

  • 3 cups (340 grams) cake flour

  • 2⅓ (470 grams) cups sugar

  • 4½ teaspoons baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1 cup (237 ml, 8 fl oz) unsweetened coconut milk

For the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:

  • 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature

  • ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 4 cups (455 grams) powdered sugar, sifted

  • 1-3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk or regular milk

  • 1 teaspoon coconut flavoring

  • 1 cup (85 grams) unsweetened coconut

For the Whipped Cream Cheese Filling:

  • 1 cup of the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting (above)

  • 1 cup (237 ml, 8 fl oz) heavy whipping cream

This recipe uses basic stuff. The only ingredients I didn't already have in my kitchen were the coconut milk, coconut flavoring and unsweetened coconut.

Speaking of coconut milk...

I used the canned stuff from the Asian food section and it made me freaking cuss. I haven't used canned coconut milk in ages and I completely forgot that it solidifies. So when I opened it up, there was this solid layer of goop. In my infinite wisdom, I said "I'll just jab it with a spoon and stir it till it liquefies or something."

Stop laughing at my big thumbs!!!

Well I found out the hard way that underneath that solid layer is a big huge pool of coconut oil, or some sort of semi-clear liquid that had separated from said solid layer. So that got all over the stupid kitchen when the spoon broke through and splashed into it, sending chunks of solid coconut goop and oily crap everywhere.

Enter bourbon.

Luckily I'd purchased two cans of coconut milk. This time, I ran the can under hot tap water for a couple of minutes. I periodically shook it till i could feel that the solid layer had begun to break up, then kept it under the water a while longer to get it good and warmed up. Then I dried off the can and shook that mother blanker until it felt like the chunks were all gone.

I'm sure I looked like I was straight out of a shake weight commercial which, if you haven't seen it, you need to YouTube immediately.

Ridiculous as it looked, it worked beautifully. I had coconut MILK that time. And that was really the only hiccup I encountered, which is fairly rare for me.

Photo credit: John T. Linn

Although it went well for me this time, I feel like I should warn y'all about toasting coconut... another lesson I've learned the hard way in the past. Once you pop it in the oven, just stay there. DO NOT walk away from the oven. Keep the oven light on so you can see it. And stay vigilant. Coconut goes from raw to burned in about half a freakin second, so the minute you see it start to brown take it out of the oven immediately. I've burned countless batches of that stuff over the years. Learn from my mistakes, people.

Overall, this recipe was easy to put together and baked up beautifully. The coconut buttercream was heavenly, but it was even more delicious when added to the whipped cream to make the filling. I could have easily made myself sick on that stuff. One thing I did change up a bit was adding a sprinkling of toasted coconut on top of each layer of the whipped topping. Similar to my feelings about good quality vanilla, I feel like it's really hard to have too much toasted coconut in your life.

The cake was easy to put together. For the outside, I had planned on finally trying a rose cake - the kind where you pipe roses all along the sides and on top of the cake. But I had this amazing batch of toasted coconut smelling up the kitchen, and I didn't want it to go to waste. So instead I

opted to frost the whole cake and coat the sides with the toasted coconut, like the original blogger did. But to fancy it up a bit I piped some roses on the top and filled in the blank spaces with more toasted coconut. I was really happy with the finished product, even though my OCD tendencies caused me to cringe a bit at the roses not being perfectly symmetrical. But that's neither here nor there.

Once decorated, I chilled the cake. I prefer my cakes chilled. Plus, with all of the cream cheese and whipped cream in it, I felt like it'd be a good idea not to take any chances with it sitting at room temperature.

As far as taste goes... HEAVENLY. The cake was moist and had a delicate coconut flavor. The layer of whipped cream mixed with the coconut buttercream was to die for, and the cream cheese buttercream frosting was just rich enough to offset the sweetness of the rest of the cake. Everyone loved it, especially mom. And that was the most important part.

Aloha au ia 'oe, Makuahine

I love you, Mom!

bottom of page