Cakes & Frostings · Recipes

The Well-Traveled Surprise Coconut Cream Birthday Cake

Coconut Cream Birthday Cake

It may seem that I have given up blogging for lent. I swear I’ll be better about posting more often once my three-year-old is in preschool next year. I’m not wishing him to grow up any sooner, by any means, but it has been hard juggling my full-time stay-at-home mom position while also working from home part-time on design projects as well as working part-time in the office at our feedlot. I work VERY part-time on graphic design projects (primarily because I don’t advertise my design business—to be honest, I’ve got enough on my plate). However, I stay pretty busy on pro-bono design work. You’d be amazed by how many fundraisers a small town has and how much they appreciate free labor. Who doesn’t appreciate free labor though, right?!

I usually have my mom babysit when I work in the office but even grandmas have prior engagements or even enjoy a well-deserved vacation sometimes. A toddler can only self-entertain so long before he gets a little frustrated with his preoccupied momma. In return, I feel like a mediocre mom when I am torn between “mom duties” and “work duties.” On those kind of days, I realize how grateful I am to have my mom, who is very flexible with her schedule, as the primary babysitter for my kids so that I don’t feel so torn. I don’t know how other moms out there work full-time from home with babies’ and toddlers’ schedules in the mix of their work schedules. If not inflicted by society, mom-guilt is generally self-inflicted.

Confession: I’ll admit I even enjoy what seems like a mini vacation when I work with no children present—full concentration—it’s a beautiful thing! Don’t get me wrong, I love being a stay-at-home mom, but everyone needs a break and some time for self-improvement. There  is never enough time in the day. I have a hard enough time getting these little homemade ideas/recipes documented in the first place without letting things fall to the wayside. Again, I give you my apologies in advance for this slow-go at becoming a blogger.

For the past couple of years, I’ve made my mom this coconut cream cake for her birthday. It happens to be her favorite. We go on a ski trip every year around the time of her birthday, so sometimes we have a separate birthday cake celebration at home versus on our ski trip. But this year I thought I’d attempt a surprise birthday cake that would endure a nine-hour trip in a cake carrying case, which would be riding in the back under our truck bed cover (amongst all the luggage, skis, poles and snowboard). And would you believe that it actually survived that long trip?

Here’s the secret to this well-traveled cake . . . I froze it the same day I made it. I already knew that it froze well because we generally have leftovers each year with our small get-togethers. My mom loves to pull it out on occasion and re-celebrate her birthday throughout the following weeks. The freezing process for traveling was necessary because I needed it to stay cold (the outside temperature helped, but wasn’t a guarantee to it keeping fresh), and none of our coolers fit a cake carrying case, of course. When I frosted it, I added a good amount of frosting to the center of the carrying case platter to act as the “glue” to prevent the cake from sliding all over the place. Trust me, I held my breath after each wild turn we took and hoped the cake wasn’t destroyed. Despite our crazy driving, the cake remained beautiful and delicious! Best of all, my mom was surprised! Or I guess you could say she was confused initially. We were stocking the fridge for a week of skiing when my mom opened the refrigerator door and exclaimed, “Well, what the hell is a cake doing in our refrigerator?!” Apparently, she thought that the previous guests had forgotten it. Her honest reaction is rarely censored, but that is what makes my mom my mom.

I think just about every mom enjoys a good surprise—especially a surprise birthday cake, so I was pretty ecstatic that my plan was successful. She spent a great deal of time making and decorating all of my birthday cakes growing up, so I feel that I owe her a good surprise now and then.

I hope you enjoy this well-traveled surprise coconut cream birthday cake!

Coconut Cream CakeMom blowing out candles



For cake batter:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup ground pecans, toasted (Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (see recipe note #2)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted (Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes)

For frosting:

  • ½ cup butter, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ pounds powdered sugar (equivalent to 6 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup pecan pieces, toasted (Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut + ½ cup for sprinkling on top of cake, toasted (350 degrees F for 10 minutes)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease and flour (or use non-stick cooking spray with flour-BIG time saver), three 8-inch round cake pans or two 9-inch round cake pans. Line cake pans with parchment paper (outline the circle of the pan and cut to fit the interior of pan).

To make the cake batter: 

Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Slowly add the oil and incorporate. Add the yolks, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, pecans and coconut. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the egg and butter mixture—slowly!

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter using a spatula.

Pour batter into prepared pans. If you’re using three 8-inch pans, bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until cake is set (using a toothpick, test the center of the cake to ensure the batter is no longer gooey). If you’re using two 9-inch pans, bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until cake is set.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Let cakes cool for at least one hour before frosting.

To make the frosting: 

Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add half of the powdered sugar and then add the vanilla and milk. Add the remaining powdered sugar and mix well. Fold in the pecan pieces and one cup of toasted coconut.

To frost the cake:

Using either a cake stand, cake board, cake carrying case, etc., place about 2 tablespoons of frosting in the center of the cake platter and spread slightly from center. This will act as the glue to prevent the cake from sliding around on the platter. Invert and center the first cake layer from the pan onto the platter/cake stand. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top of that layer. Depending on whether or not you’re using two layers or three layers of cake, continue this process until you’ve spread a thin layer of frosting on top of the last layer. Frost the sides of the cake with remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining ½ cup of toasted coconut.


Note #1: Slowly incorporating ingredients into a cake batter is key to a moist cake with perfect texture. Without this patience of slow additions to the batter, the alternative is a dry chewy cake. So take your time. It will be worth it!

Note #2: Buttermilk is one thing I don’t usually have on hand, but it can be easily substituted with the proportion of 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Let stand for a couple minutes. 

Note #3: If you’re serious about frosting cakes, you absolutely need an icing spatula. It makes frosting cakes a breeze, and trust me, I am no expert at frosting cakes. It just happens to make the process so much easier—and in return, people think I am actually good at making cakes look symmetrical . . . most of the time!

Wilton Angled Icing Spatula, 9-inch

Note #4: I love the Wilton Cake Caddy that I bought specifically for this little birthday surprise. It was definitely tested for sturdiness throughout our trip.

Wilton Cake Caddy

Toasted Coconut and PecansFolding in Whipped Egg WhitesFinished Cake Batter in PansBaked Coconut Cream CakeCream cheese frostingFrosting Coconut Cream Cake


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