Calling all coconut-lovers! If you're a looking for a special dessert for this weekend's festivities, this coconut poke cake won't let you down. With a coconut cake base, homemade coconut pudding (featuring homemade coconut cream!), and shredded coconut over a layer of fluffy white frosting, it's coconut sweetness through and through. It's also the perfect make-ahead dessert, as the cake really needs plenty of time for the pudding to permeate, flavor, and tenderize the cake — a good 24 hours is ideal. So make this today, and tomorrow you'll be cutting squares of tender coconut cake.
Use the Reverse-Creaming Method for a Sturdier Cake
I use the reverse-creaming method — the butter is beaten into the dry ingredients until it is thoroughly incorporated, with a sandy texture — to make this vanilla sheet cake. The wet ingredients are then added in stages and beaten just long enough to combine the ingredients and add structure to the batter. The cake has a close, fine-grained texture, similar to pound cake. It's sturdy enough to absorb the coconut pudding, becoming dense and moist but not soggy like some poke cakes can do.
Remember to remove the cake from the refrigerator about an hour before you want to serve it, letting it sit at room temperature for a bit before slathering it with freshly whipped cream and toasted coconut.
Triple Coconut Poke Cake
For the cake:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups canned coconut milk
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the pudding:
2 cups canned coconut milk, divided
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups cream of coconut, store-bought or homemade (recipe below)
3 tablespoons coconut rum, such as Malibu
For the toppings:
2 cups cold heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/2 cups sweetened, flaked coconut, toasted (see Recipe Notes)
Maraschino cherries, for serving (optional)
Make the cake: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together on low speed. Add the butter and continue to beat on low speed until the mixture looks crumbled and sandy.
Place the coconut milk, egg whites, and vanilla in a medium bowl and stir together with a fork. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/2 of the coconut milk mixture to the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating for 1 to 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Return the mixer speed to medium-low, add 1/2 of the remaining coconut milk mixture, and beat until fully blended, about 10 seconds. Add the rest of the coconut milk mixture and beat until thick and smooth, 10 to 15 seconds more. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer.
Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.
Make the pudding: Place 1/4 cup of the coconut milk and cornstarch in a medium bowl and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth; set aside.
Place the remaining 1 3/4 cups coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk the hot coconut milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture 1/4 cup at a time until combined (adding the hot milk to the eggs gradually will prevent the eggs from curdling). When the milk is completely whisked into the yolks, return the entire mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the pudding comes to a gentle boil and starts to thicken. Continue whisking and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, but no longer. Remove from the heat and stir in cream of coconut and the coconut rum.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke deep holes all over the cake. Pour the warm pudding evenly over the surface of the cake, spreading it smoothly with an offset spatula.
Let the cake cool to room temperature, allowing the pudding to start soaking into the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (for the best flavor and texture, refrigerate for at least 24 hours).
Make the whipped cream: Chill a large bowl and the beaters of an electric hand mixer (or clean stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment) for 15 minutes. Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the chilled bowl and beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.
Spread the whipped cream evenly over the cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Cut into squares and serve. Go completely retro and top each serving with a maraschino cherry, if you like.
Homemade Cream of Coconut
Cream of coconut is a thick, silky, intensely flavored and incredibly sweet coconut syrup found in a can. It is commonly used in tropical drinks like piña coladas, but it's also used in baking. Most commercially prepared cream of coconut products contain additives to give the syrup viscosity and keep it from separating. My homemade version replicates the sweet intensity of the canned version, without all the additives. I combine coconut butter with coconut milk and a little virgin coconut oil and sugar to replicate the creamy texture of the popular canned variety.
Place all the ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the coconut oil melts and the sugar dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes.
Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Stirring constantly, boil the coconut mixture for 1 minute more. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer until the cream of coconut is very thick and syrupy but still pourable, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Transfer to a jar, seal, and refrigerate for up to 1 week. If the mixture separates, stir until smooth before using.
- Storage: To store, cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- Toasting coconut: Toast the coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour immediately onto a small plate to cool.
- Pudding alternative: For a richer pudding, substitute 1 cup coconut milk plus 1 cup heavy cream for the 2 cups coconut milk.
Reprinted with permission from Cake, I Love You: Decadent, Delectable, and Do-able Recipes by Jill O'Connor, copyright (c) 2017. Published by Chronicle Books.