Coconut Layer Cake, Gluten Free

It is the youngest child’s 30-something birthday and although it feels like a century since she was born, I remember it vividly down to the scary maternity clothes.

At the end I was limited to one shockingly ugly off-white mumu that barely fit over the baby-belly. The child was 20 days late and in that time had grown even larger.  The mumu was the only thing that fit and the day before she was born I managed to drip chocolate ice-cream down the front, ruining the last thing I could wear – aside from a bed sheet.

Thirty four years ago this day, on a very hot summer day in Buffalo, the child finally arrived. I spent the previous night (sans mumu) counting minutes between contractions and ceiling tiles in a county hospital maternity ward.  The place was about to shut down due to budget woes and there were only two patients in the entire maternity ward.  One of us was actually giving birth and it was not me.  I spent the night hooked up to a fetal monitor that no one monitored.  Cap’n Awesome finally went home for a few hours of sleep since nothing was happening that would indicate the child was coming out to see the world.

By noon the next day there were actually some personnel around to wheel me off to have a c-section, but not before the child was in some distress.  Apparently our student insurance only paid for the cheap seats – but hey, at least the child in distress was going to get a pass to Children’s Hospital.  She was 9 pounds something and 47 inches long (kidding, but just slightly).  They transferred just her and not me, unfortunately.  Cap’n Awesome went with the baby.

Two days later I released myself and went to Children’s where I apparently looked like a woman about to give birth (all over again).  When I stumbled in the entrance kind of doubled over (old days c-sections hurt a lot), medical personnel came running to help thinking they were about to deliver a baby.  Fooled them.

She was in the NICU for about 10 long days successfully fighting off pneumonia. Finally a very healthy, very tall baby came home with us.  My advice is to never give birth in a hospital that is a ghost town, if you can help it.  Not only is there a limited supply of medical people and medical stuff, but they don’t restock Jell-O, pudding or ice cream either.  Now that is just criminal.

The girl was a peach from the start.  She slept through the night unlike her older sister who never slept at all.  She had a sunny personality that compensated for some other grouches in the family (not naming names).  However, she was as stubborn as they come.  As any parent will tell you, that is a blessing and a way to get gray hair before the age of 35.  And all these years later, she has kids of her own who are just like her in so many ways.  Seems the gray on her head might be right around the corner…

Although I know she does not like coconut, we do.  You can read about that here.  And since we are eating this in her honor I don’t think she will mind.  Next time we see her I promise to make a cake for her, worthy of a 6-foot-something chocoholic.  Happy birthday to my very tall, all grown-up baby girl.

This is a slight adaptation of a cake recipe by Mark Bittman published in More Magazine.  I’ve changed it slightly and also made it gluten-free.  It is also quite close to Ruhlman’s sponge cake ratio which is 1:1:1:1.  It is almost one part flour to one part sugar to one part eggs to one part butter – the butter is slightly on the lighter side.  Easy to remember.  Easy to do.

I made a 6 inch cake with four layers (each cake sliced in half).  The directions call for 9 inch layers which will make a larger two-layer cake.  I always make half again as much buttercream frosting because why not? You never can have too much buttercream when it comes to cake.  Better to have a little leftover than not enough.

Coconut Layer Cake, Gluten Free
Recipe type: dessert
  • 6 oz. of unsalted butter, softened
  • 9 oz. of sugar
  • 8.5 oz or 4 large eggs plus one egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon almond flavoring
  • 8.5 oz of GF flour (1/2 oz. coconut flour, 4 oz. superfine brown rice flour, 3 oz. arrowroot starch, 1 oz. superfine white rice flour)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • ½ cup shredded coconut (unsweetened or sweetened - your choice)
  • 6 oz whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons Greek Yogurt or sour cream or creme fraiche
Buttercream Frosting
  • 24 oz. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 12 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon almond flavoring
  • 3-4 tablespoons whole coconut milk
  • 2 cups of shredded or flaked coconut (unsweetened is best here)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 9 inch round cake pans. Line bottom with parchment and butter those. Flour or starch the pans.
  2. In a food processor (or a stand mixer) blend butter and sugar until incorporated. Add eggs through the chute one at a time along with the flavorings. Weigh and mix flours together in a small bowl. Add baking powder, soda, and salt and mix well. Add to food processor with ½ cup coconut. Add the milk through the chute along with the yogurt or sour cream or creme fraiche. Mix just until incorporated. Scrape down sides with a spatula.
  3. Scrape batter evenly into both pans and tap on the counter to remove air bubbles. Bake for about 15 minutes and rotate pans. Turn temperature to 325 and bake about 10-15 minutes more or just until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and turn onto a rack to cool completely before frosting.
Buttercream Frosting
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl using a hand mixer, blend sugar and butter just until mixed. Add flavorings and whip on high for a minute or so. Add a tiny bit of coconut milk to the mixture, one tablespoon at a time until it is the right consistency for spreading. Whip for a few minutes to lighten.
  2. Frost the bottom layer and add ½ cup coconut to the layer. Top with the next layer and frost the whole cake generously. Use the remaining coconut to top the cake and place on the sides. Let it sit until the buttercream is set.
6 inch layers took about about 35-40 minutes. Be sure to remove them as soon as the toothpick is clean because they can get dry. Better a little underdone than over done. Oh, and the 6 inch layer cake is a little tall - the 9 inch layer would be more manageable and would feed a larger crowd.



  1. Oh, I love this story. And I love the cake almost as much… right down to the brown M&Ms which hearken back to that chocolate dribbling down your ivory muu muu.

  2. Oh. My. God.

    That is a gorgeous thing. And the story … love it.

  3. What a gorgeous heavenly looking cake 🙂 I too am a huggeeee coconut fan, as is my mum, so this would certainly go down brilliantly in this little house! Lovely 🙂

  4. Bellwether Vance says:

    Oh my that’s a fine lookin’ cake, ALMOST good enough to celebrate the birth of a daughter. (Not sure there’s any cake that can adequately portray the ups and downs, joys and pains of that!…and would we want to EAT it if it were possible????) I keep making note of these gluten free recipes since I have an inkling, a twitch, that my daughter who had adult-onset eczema might benefit from a gluten-free diet. If my hunch is confirmed, I’m not worried. I know exactly where to go!