Prudence Hilburn: ‘Speckled’ frosting gives cake a unique look

Prudence Hilburn More Content Now

When asked to bring a dessert to a social event, I like for it to be a little different.

If you prepare Granny’s Speckled Coconut Cake from my cookbook, “A Treasury of Southern Baking,” published by HarperCollins, your cake probably will be the topic of conversation, because it is quite unique.

My mother was a great baker and could make one of the best old-fashioned coconut cakes I have ever tasted. She also made granny’s cake, which the children referred to as a “gray” cake because it wasn’t as snow white as the traditional coconut cake.

This cake can only be made with a fresh coconut. Before cracking the coconut, open one of the “eyes” and drain the liquid into a glass, because it will be used later for the frosting.

Fresh coconuts are sometimes difficult to crack, but this can be made easier by placing the coconut in the oven at 250 degrees for about 15 minutes. A few knocks with a hammer and the coconut will crack open and you can remove the edible part.

Do not peel the thin brown covering from the fresh coconut chunks. This is important, because the brown part makes the coconut “speckled” and gives the cake its wonderful flavor.

My mother fed the unpeeled coconut chunks through an old-fashioned food grinder that attached to the table with a large clamp. It gave the coconut a different texture than when a food processor is used. You can, however, use the food processor, if you don’t own a grinder.

It is the frosting that makes this cake so special, so if you don’t want to make “from scratch” layers, you can use a cake mix.

I always thought this was an original family recipe because I had never heard of anyone else making a cake like it. Much to my surprise, when I was looking through an old copy of Cooks Illustrated, I noticed an article about fresh coconut and, believe it or not, there was Granny’s cake. Also, inside the back cover was a color photograph of the cake and it looked just like my mother had made it.

The article was written by cookbook author Nancie McDermott. She said my grandmother’s cake is a “dead ringer” for one her grandmother used to make.

Perhaps if you try this unusual coconut cake, it might become a favorite.

Granny’s Speckled Coconut Cake

Cake ingredients:

1 cup shortening

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

3 cups self-rising flour

1 cup milk

Speckled Coconut Frosting ingredients:

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Coconut liquid plus enough milk to equal 1 1/2 cups

4 tablespoons butter

3 1/2 to 4 cups “speckled” coconut (see above)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. Cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the vanilla. Mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Beat well.

Divide evenly among the prepared pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center of layers. Cool completely on racks before frosting.

To make frosting: Combine all ingredients in heavy saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring continuously, until thickened. Remove from heat and cool before frosting layers. Spread between layers and on top and sides of cake.

Prudence Hilburn of Piedmont has won more than 30 national cooking awards and written several cookbooks, including, “Simply Southern and More.” Write her at or visit