Mother’s Day Coconut Cake Tutorial

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This is a moist coconut cake recipe, baked in 5-inch layers, with lime curd filling. It's frosted with tangy coconut cream cheese frosting, and with simply adorable decorations. We show you how to make the baked Kataifi nest (shredded phyllo dough) and the sculpted fondant mama bird, watching over it all. We also show you how to make the fondant ribbon roses, and how to assemble the entire cake. This is quite an extensive recipe tutorial all packed in one! This cake must remain refrigerated because of the cream cheese frosting.

KELLY SAYS: "The cake is delish and I have to congratulate Sarah on this truly yummy cake. It is very moist without being heavy.
The frosting is a great counterpoint... The tang of the cream cheese frosting cuts the sweetness, as does the tartness of the lime curd filling.
This cake would be awesome as some sort of Almond Joy cake...with chocolate frosting and coconut and almonds!"

KELLY SAYS: "I had a bunch of cupcakes, frosting and lime curd left over from the Mother's Day Coconut Cake, so I decided to make some companion cupcakes. They are filled with lime curd, using the cone method, so they are super-yummy too!"

This delicious and show-stopping dessert is made from a couple of recipes and steps:

STEP I: MAKE THE LIME CURD - can be made two days in advance
STEP II: MAKE SARAH'S CLASSIC COCONUT CAKE - can be made a month in advance and frozen
STEP V: MAKE THE BIRD NESTS FROM KATAIFI - make a day or two before needed
STEP VI. ASSEMBLE THE CAKE – the day or a day before serving
Since the lime curd needs to be cold, before we can fill the cake, make it first. You will not need all of it for the cake.
LIME CURD  / Recipe alone

KELLY SAYS: I love this lime curd. It is really zesty!

4 to 5 medium-size limes or 1/2 cup lime juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Remove the zest of 4 or 5 limes with a zester or vegetable peeler, being careful to avoid the white pith.

2. Squeeze the limes to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside.

3. Optionally, put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced and the sugar is processed until fine.

SARAH SAYS: Processing sugar in your food processor will scratch it, but not ruin your food processor! I just want to warn you in advance. Optionally, you can chop the lime zest into finer particles with a sharp knife and use super-fine sugar, instead. The super-fine sugar is not necessary, however. 

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lime zest.

5. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix for 20 seconds on low after each one. Scrape the bottom and side of the bowl before moving to the next step.

6. Next, add the lime juice and salt. Mix on low until combined.

7. Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
NOTE: Do not be alarmed if your mixture looks curdled when you pour it in the pan. It will smooth out when you cook it.

8. The lime curd will thicken at about 175 degrees F, as measured with an Instant Read Thermometer, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside.

9. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate until set.

Refrigerate until ready to use or freeze for 2 months.

For this tutorial: Makes two 5 x 2-inch cakes and about 18 cupcakes. You can use any size pan up to two, 9 x 2-inch pans.

This recipe is as incredible as it is beautiful. To make this recipe, you’ll need to buy one 15-ounce can of sweetened cream of coconut (not coconut milk), typically found in liquor section of most grocery stores.

2 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup canned sweetened Cream of Coconut - DO NOT SUBSTITUTE - such as Coco Lopez brand; It can be ordered online.
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar; for egg whites

NOTE: Make sure to stir the Cream of Coconut thoroughly, before measuring in a liquid measuring cup, otherwise the recipe will not turn out.

1. Position the oven shelf to the middle and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
(If using dark baking pans or ovenproof, Pyrex glass pans, be sure to reduce the oven heat by 25 degrees F).

2. Grease two 5 x 2-inch- cake pans. preferably light colored, heavy NOT nonstick pans.

Line with parchment paper and grease, again.

3. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
KELLY SAYS: After measuring, I like to sift together the dry ingredients.

4. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, on low until softened. (If the butter is cold, it will warm quickly from the beaters - taking about 60 seconds).

5. Add the sugar, first. Then, add in the cream of coconut. Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes until light yellow and fluffy.

Stop the mixer and scrape the side and bottom of the bowl with a large rubber spatula.

6. With the mixer on low, add the egg yolks one at a time and beat for 20 seconds after each addition. After the egg yolks have been added, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and beat the mixture for 30 seconds.
SARAH SAYS: If the eggs are cold, the batter will curdle slightly. It's ok. It will come together as the batter warms from the beaters.

7. Beat in the vanilla and coconut extracts.

Stop the mixer and scrape the side and bottom of the bowl with a large rubber spatula.

8. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in 3 equal portions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 equal portions, beginning and ending with the flour.
SARAH SAYS: If the milk is cold, the batter will curdle slightly. It's ok. It will come together when you add the flour.

SARAH SAYS: Add the flour and liquid ingredients in increments quickly; do not wait in between additions too long as you don't want to overmix the batter.

After completing the last addition of flour, stop the mixer, and scrape the side and bottom of the bowl with a large rubber spatula.
Then, let the mixer run for 30 seconds on LOW. The batter will be very thick. STOP the mixer. Do NOT overmix.

9. In a clean mixing bowl, free from any fat or grease, beat the egg whites: Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment, and beat the egg whites with cream of tartar on low until foamy.

10. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high until the soft peak stage is reached when the peaks of the whites droop slightly, when the beater is turned off and lifted.

11. Then, increase the mixer speed to HIGH until FIRM peaks just form. DO NOT OVERBEAT. The egg white foam Beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. If egg whites are beaten to dry and dull, they are overbeaten -- Watch carefully, because egg whites can go from stiff to dry and overbeaten in as little as 30 seconds.

SARAH SAYS: Sugar and salt stabilizes the egg whites and helps them not deflate as readily when folded into the cake batter in the next step. In essence, the overall recipe will fail less. When beating egg whites for a cake recipe, it is important to increase the mixing speeds slowly to get the maximum volume from the whites. The whites do not need to be at room temperature to beat to their fullest. They take longer to beat when cold, but they will reach their eventual goal.

12. Fold the egg whites into the batter: Stir the batter gently right before folding in the beaten egg whites so it is completely mixed. Stir a big spoonful of egg whites into the mixture and gently stir with your whisk to lighten the batter.

13. With a rubber scraper, scoop about 1/3 of the remaining egg whites on top of the batter and fold until the ingredients are combined. Repeat two more times. Stop when the batter looks evenly streaked with beaten egg whites and batter.

14. Carefully scoop and divide the batter between the prepared baking pans and lightly smooth the tops.

15. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top feels firm and gives slightly when touched and will shrink slightly from the side of the pan. The cake will be slightly browned. If you insert a toothpick in the middle and remove, there should be a few moist crumbs attached, but not batter.

Remove cakes to cool on wire racks for 10 to 15 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula or sharp knife, taking care not to scratch the cake pan. Invert onto cake rack and place upright to cool completely. Be careful, the cakes are delicate when warm.

The cake layers store nicely. They can be stored at room temperature for about 3 or more days. The cake layers freeze well for about a month or more. Keep well wrapped.

Makes 1 1/4 quarts or enough to generously fill and frost 2, 9-inch layers
4 ounces high-ratio vegetable shortening or 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
12 ounces ( 1 1/2, 8 -ounce packages) cream cheese, softened
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

5 to 7 cups (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) powdered sugar, sifted and then, divided; measure and then sift

2 tablespoons meringue powder
2 tablespoons heavy cream, or more, if needed
2 tablespoons Cream of Coconut - DO NOT SUBSTITUTE - such as Coco Lopez brand; It can be ordered online.
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract

NOTE: For best results, sift the powdered sugar after measuring.

KELLY SAYS: I prefer to use all butter to make this frosting
1. With the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, soften the butter with the mixer on medium.
SARAH SAYS: If using shortening and butter, soften the shortening first, and then, the butter.

Then, add the cream cheese and beat on low speed until incorporated.
Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

2. With the mixer on low, slowly add half of the powdered sugar at the side of the bowl.

3. Add the meringue powder, cream, Coconut of Cream and coconut and vanilla extracts with the mixer on low.

4. Slowly add the other half of the powdered sugar until the frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. You may not need all of it.
Adjust with more powdered sugar or heavy cream, if necessary.

Beat on low for 2 minutes more. The mixture should look light and fluffy. Do NOT overbeat, otherwise the buttercream will become too soft for icing and piping.

5. Place frosting in refrigerator, while you make the kataifi nests.

Store icing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week. Icing must be kept refrigerated, but can remain at the cool side of room temperature for 2 hours maximum. Can freeze for up to one month.

Make the bird, flowers and leaves at least two days in advance. The bird will be fairly hard in about two days. I like to let them air-dry for a couple of days, to make sure all the moisture is out, then I store them in an airtight container to use for this project.

KELLY SAYS: The bird will be fairly hard in about two days. At that point, you will be able to place her in the nest without fear of sagging.

1 1/2 cups Marshmallow Fondant or MMF, more if needed; 3/4 cups tinted light blue (bird), 1 teaspoon each: black (eyes), light brown (beak, eyes) and white (eyes); 1/4 cup tinted yellow (roses); 2 tablespoons green (leaves); remainder leave white for extra

Question: How to dry the fondant figurines.
KELLY A: I usually just make a big batch of flowers at a time and set them on a plate to dry.
I leave them out overnight and, if they are small flowers, they should be dry by the morning.
I like to let them air-dry for a couple of days, to make sure all the moisture is out, then I store them in an airtight container to use on later projects.
When I make the leaves, I dry them on the edge of a plate, so they have a bit of shape.
The figures can be made a long time before they are actually needed, really.
The mama bird is actually sitting in a bowl, on my counter right now.
I still have one of the banner birds, from the Wishing Trees Cupcakes, on my kitchen windowsill. It still looks the same. Of course, I wouldn't suggest eating it now. I think it's just cute, and it cheers me up, when I do the dishes. I'll throw it out when it gets dusty.

Question: Should someone cover the mmf they aren't using?
KELLY A: YES! It must be covered when you are not working it. I keep in in a ziplock.
You can see it in the picture, when I am making the bird.
Any left-over colored MMF can be saved and used lasts, in a ziptop bag for a couple fo months. You just have to knead it, till workable, the next time you want to use it.

Silpat mat, to work on
Cornstarch, to prevent sticking
Small fondant rolling pin
Toothpick-for texturing
Large sewing needle-for texturing
Clean Exacto-type knife
Small paring knife
Small bowl, with tissues, for supporting bird while it dries

Make the fondant Mama Bird / recipe alone

3/4 cups MMF tinted light blue (bird)

1. Dust your work surface with a little cornstarch, to prevent sticking.
If the fondant begins to stick to your hands, at any time, just rub a little cornstarch between your fingers.

2. Take about 1/4 cup of the blue fondant, and then, elongate it into a thick sausage shape, by rolling it in your hands.

3. With the blue shape, begin to form the bird's head, by gently pinching, around one end of the sausage shape.

Pinch all the way around, until you have created the "neck" of the bird.

4. Support the head with one hand, and begin to gently pinch about 2/3 of the way down the sausage shape and begin to form the tail of the bird.

KELLY SAYS: Do not worry if there is a large ball of fondant at the end of the tail, we will cut it away later.

Begin to flatten the tail of the bird by flattening the end of the sausage with your fingers.

5. Place the tail on the cornstarch dusted silpat mat and continue to flatten, while supporting the head with your other hand.

Pick up the bird and gently pinch the area between the body and the tail of the bird to create a more elegant and narrowed line, supporting head with the other hand.

6. Roll the tail with the fondant roller, to remove finger marks and even up the shape. Do not forget to continue to support the head.

7. Cut off the excess fondant, at the back of the tail, with a sharp paring knife.

Cut both sides of the tail to refine the shape.

8. Using an exacto knife, cut the tail feathers into the end of the tail.

9. Use a toothpick to delineate the feather shapes.

10. Use a large sewing needle to delineate the center rib of each feather.

11. Support the front and tail of the bird with wads of fondant, while you make the wings.

KELLY SAYS: It is much easier to attach the wings to the body after it has set up a little bit.
I let the body dry for two hours, before attempting to attach the wings.

Make the bird's wings:
1. Roll out a small portion of fondant to about 1/8th inch thick on a cornstarch dusted silpat mat.

2. Cut out an elongated tear-drop shape of the wing, using the exacto knife.

3. Cut out the other wing, by cutting around the first wing. Remember to flip the first wing, so the second wing is its mirror image.

4. Cut several feather tips with the exacto knife.

5. Use the side of the toothpick to delineate the feathers.

6. Use the needle to delineate the center ribs of the wings.

7. Press the needle into the fondant, to create a feather texture on each feather.

KELLY SAYS: It is much easier to attach the wings to the body after they have set up a little bit. I let them dry for two hours, before attempting to attach the wings.

Make the bird's beak:
1. Take a very small portion of the light brown fondant and form it into a triangular beak shape. Flatten the end opposite the point of the triangle. This is where we will attach the beak to the head.

2. Using a very small paint brush, apply a little water to the flat end of the beak and press it onto the head.

Make the bird's eyes:
1. Use the rounded end of the paintbrush to create a small impression on each side of the head, where the eyes will be placed.

2. Apply a small amount of water to each of the impressions.

3. Make two VERY SMALL balls of light brown fondant. Try to make them the same size.
Place the one of the balls in each of the hollows you created on the sides of the head.

4. Using the end of the paint brush, gently push the center of each ball, creating a hollow.

Paint the center of each hollow with a small amount of water.

5. Make two equal sized VERY SMALL balls of black fondant and place them in the hollows you created.

Gently press the balls, to flatten.

6. Roll two MINISCULE balls of white fondant. These will create a glint in the bird's eyes and add to its expression.

Paint a small dot of water on the upper and outer part of the eye, and place the white balls in place.

Gently press, to flatten.

7. Use the tip of the needle to make radiating impressions, all the way around the light brown area of fondant.

Finishing touches:
1. Use the needle to delineate the top and bottom portions of the beak.

2. Use the tip of the needle to delineate the nostrils.

3. Paint the side of the bird with water and attach the wing.

Repeat with the other wing.

4. Let the bird dry in a bowl lined with tissue. Position the tissue to support the head and tail of the bird, so they won't sag.

KELLY CA SAYS: The bird will be fairly hard in about two days. At that point, you will be able to place her in the nest without fear of sagging.

If you need to refrigerate your cake, take the bird out of the nest, before you do so. Place her back in, when you are ready to serve the cake.

Make the Fondant Ribbon Roses and Leaves / recipe alone

Fondant ribbon roses are easy to make and look so pretty on cakes and cupcakes. I used homemade Marshmallow Fondant or MMF to make these, but any fondant will do.

1/4 cup tinted yellow (roses); 2 tablespoons green (leaves);
Make the roses:

Make the roses:
You will need at least 6 roses for this cake, but, you can make as many as you like, and set aside the extras to use later. They are nice to use on other projects, such as cupcakes.

1. Lightly dust a silpat mat with cornstarch and roll out a 1/2-inch thick ribbon of pale yellow MMF.

2. Pick up ribbon and begin to coil the fondant around itself. The center of the ribbon rise should be higher than the outer petals.

3. Pinch the excess fondant off the bottom of your rose and place it on a cornstarch dusted silpat mat to dry.

Make the leaves:
Make one or two leaves for each yellow flower, if desired!

1. Lightly dust the silpat mat with cornstarch, to prevent sticking.
Roll out some green tinted MMF, about 1/2-inch thick, to make the rose leaves. Cut them with a leaf cutter, or free-form with an exacto knife.

2. Use a silicone leaf veining mat or a sharp knife to create the vein texture on the leaves.
Lightly dust the veining mat with cornstarch and then, lightly press the MMF leaf onto the mat to create an impression. Remove.

3. Place the finished leaves on the curved edge of a small plate, to create a more lively shape. Let them dry.

Store dried MMF pieces in an airtight container placed in a cool, dry place.


Kataifi is a finely shredded phyllo dough that is used to make Middle Eastern and Mediterranean pastries.
You can find it in the freezer section of a well-stocked supermarket, or you can buy it online. I purchased mine at
The day before you plan on making the nest, place frozen kataifi in the refrigerator, to thaw. Repackage unused phyllo dough and refreeze.

1 cup kataifi, thawed
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

1. Position the oven shelf to the middle. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Find the end of the kataifi skein and cut off a section of dough, using kitchen shears, approximately 1 cup.

3. Place in a bowl; separate into a loose pile with fingers.

4. Sprinkle the melted butter over the kataifi, and then add the sugar and cinnamon.

5. Toss to evenly distribute the ingredients.

6. Gather a handful of kataifi mixture into your hand and loosely gather it into a round shape.

7. Continue to gather, creating a depression, in the center of the mound, with your thumb.

8. Place the nest into a small oven-proof bowl, pressing gently, to form a nest shape.

9. Bake the nest until golden and crisp around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the bowl and set on a wire cake rack to cool thoroughly.

Store baked Kataifi nest in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.


2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Trim and stack the layers:
1. Trim (two) cake layers: with a long serrated knife, trim the top of two layers so they lie flat.

2. Torte the same two layers: cut each horizontally in half with a long serrated knife to form a total of 4 thin layers.

3. Put 1 cake layer, cut side down, on a cake plate.
NOTE: I like to put strips of waxed paper around the cake, to keep the cake plate clean, while I ice the cake.

4. Fit a large plain open tip in a pastry bag. Fill with cold cream cheese icing and pipe a dam around the edge of the first layer. This creates a filliing dam so the filling will not seep out.

5. Place a scant 1/4 cup of the cold lime curd in the center of the layer and spread out to the dam.

6. Place the second layer directly on the first, cut side down, and then repeat the dam and lime curd steps.

7. Top with a third cake layer, cut side down. The side facing up is the trimmed cake layer top.
KELLY SAYS: I found that three layers was the maximum for this cake. The proportions just didn't seem right with 4 layers, so we ate it.

Crumb Coat and Frost the Cake:
1. Frost the sides and top of the cake with a thin crumb coat of cold cream cheese icing.

After the crumb coat, place the cake in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, so the icing can firm up.

2. Remove cake from refrigerator and add your final coat of icing. Refrigerate, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, so the icing can firm up.
NOTE: Keep in mind that the sides of the cake will be covered with coconut, so don't worry too much about making it smooth.

3. After your icing is well-chilled, remove the waxed paper strips.

Apply the Coconut to the Side of the Cake:
1. Press the coconut on sides of cake, being careful to avoid the top of the cake.

2. Place the cake back in refrigerator for about 20 minutes, to allow the icing to firm up.

Smooth the Top of the Cake:
After 20 minutes, gently touch the top of the cake, if your finger does not stick to the frosting, the icing is firm enough to do the famous "Paper Towel Trick".
The "Paper Towel Trick" is a technique you can use on any frosting that crusts enough to allow it. It makes a beautifully smooth surface.

1. Upon removing the cake from the refrigerator, gently brush away the excess coconut from the cake plate. Clean any debris off the plate with a slightly damp paper towel.
Take a NON-TEXTURED sheet of paper towel and place it on the top of your cake.

2. Gently rub the surface of the frosting, in a circular fashion, using a fondant smoother or quickly with an open palm, till the top of the cake is completely smooth.
If using your palm, take care not to rub the icing for too long, because it is the warmest part of you body and will quickly melt the frosting.
Check it out...smooth as can be!

Place the cake back in refrigerator for about 20 minutes to firm-up the ising.

Place the Nest, Flowers and Leaves, and Finally the Mama Bird in Her Nest Atop the Cake
1. Place several candy eggs in the kataifi nest. I used egg-shaped gum, but there are many egg-shaped candies you can use. If you cannot find any, you can shape them from fondant, and paint spots of them with food color, if desired.

2. Gently center the nest on top of cake.

3. Place fondant roses and leaves around the base of the cake. I did three clusters of two roses each. Just press the flowers and leaves gently into the frosting, so they stay put.

4. Put some of the chilled cream cheese frosting in a piping bag with an open star tip and pipe a shell border around the edge of the cake, to finish it off.

KELLY SAYS: If any of the kataifi nest strands break off onto your cake, just chill the cake and then blow them, or pick them, off. They are very easy to remove that way.

The cake must remain refrigerated. Carefully remove the Mama Bird from the nest when you do. Store her in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Question: When the cake is refrigerated, can the baked Kataifi nest also be refrigerated? You only mentioned to remove the birdie!
KELLY A: The nest CAN be refrigerated. It stays just fine. The flowers still look OK too...yes, there is still a piece in the fridge.

You're all done!

You may also make a fondant mama bird, to sit on the eggs, if you like.

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