When I was growing up, Rich’s was the premiere department store in the Atlanta, Georgia area. And while I don’t remember visiting the famous downtown location, I do have vivid memories of shopping at the Cumberland Mall store. But it wasn’t the clothes or the shoes or the household items that held my attention. It was the coconut cake. The world’s best, most delicious, want-to-slap-your-mama-it’s-so-good coconut cake.
Unfortunately, I was hardly out of my childhood when Macy’s took over and the coconut cakes went the way of the Dodo. For years, I searched for a coconut cake that at least somewhat tasted like the original. But, no luck. However, like all truly loved things, really good recipes never really go away. Thanks to the internet, that is.
Because of that wonderful bit of technology, I am able to reveal the best coconut recipe known to man. And just in time for the holidays, too!
Rich’s Bakeshop Icing
Hands on: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons powdered milk
1/2 cup water (for dissolving milk powder)
In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, combine the vegetable shortening, vanilla and salt and cream together until incorporated. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar until it forms a very thick consistency. Dissolve the powdered milk in the water and gradually add, just 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, until the icing is a nice, spreadable consistency.
Rich’s Bakeshop Yellow Cake
16 servings (three thin 9-inch layers or two thicker 9-inch layers)
Hands on: 30 minutes
Total time: 50-60 minutes
Rich’s always did a three-layer cake, with two layers of coconut filling, but some home cooks don’t have three pans of the same size, so two would work just fine.
Shortening and flour for pans
2 1/4 cups cake flour (if you can’t find cake flour, use White Lily brand all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon powdered milk
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup liquid milk (2 percent or whole)
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cake pans by lightly greasing with shortening, then dusting with flour. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir the powdered milk into the water and mix until dissolved. Combine the liquid milk with the powdered milk/water mixture and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the shortening and the sugar until fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add about half the flour mixture, beating until just incorporated, and then half the milk mixture, again beating until just incorporated. Repeat this step, adding the remaining flour with the remaining liquid, and beat until just smooth (about 1 minute).
Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowls once or twice during the mixing. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake in preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes. The cooking time will vary depending on how many cake pans you use and how full they are. The cake is done when it springs back when lightly pressed near the center with your finger. Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes in the pan, and then turn out onto cooling racks to cool completely.
Rich’s Bakeshop Coconut Cake
Hands on: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
2 pounds frozen unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 or 3 layers Rich’s Bakeshop Yellow Cake (see recipe)
1 batch Rich’s Bakeshop Icing (see recipe)
In a large bowl, thaw the frozen coconut. Set aside. Take 1 1/2 cups of the coconut and place in a smaller bowl. Combine the water and sugar and pour over this smaller bowl of coconut. This should be very moist but not soupy. Place one layer of the yellow cake on a cake plate and spread with icing. Spoon the moistened coconut over that.
Place the next layer on top and spread with icing, spooning the moistened coconut over it. Continue this process until all your layers are filled; however, don’t put the moist filling on the very top of the last layer, as it will be iced. Next, cover the entire cake with the icing. Make sure to use a thick coating of icing on the cake to eliminate any of the cake showing through.
Take handfuls of the dry, thawed coconut and press the flakes into the icing. You may want to put a tray underneath to catch any coconut that falls as you do this. Continue pressing dry, flaky coconut all over the cake until it is completely covered.
Chill for about one hour to set (it helps the coconut to stay) and then serve.