Chocolate Coconut “Candy Bar” Cake

When I was a kid and we went trick-or-treating for Halloween, we’re run around the neighborhood, collecting candy from various houses, filling our bags with candy bars, sour bites, an occasional apple (ugh!, for a kid…), and assorted other goodies. Once home, we’d spill our loot onto the floor and commence with some serious trading.

The ne plus ultra of candies to get were coconut-chocolate bars, namely Mounds and Almond Joy. Those never got traded, at least for me. You could keep your beige-filled nougat bars coated with sweet milk chocolate, black licorice, and anything jellied and green, I was happy to trade away.

It was hard (for me) to part with anything that had peanuts in it, but were as precious to me as coconut bars dipped in dark chocolate. The tropical flavor of the juicy coconut, whose shreds scrunched pleasingly between my teeth, enrobed in bittersweet chocolate (and yes, it came in two pieces, which was like getting two-fer) was my bonus for a job well done. And I deserved it.

So I was thrilled when I was flipping through Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit by Elizabeth Karmel and spotted a cake that brought back those flavors to me. Elizabeth’s book celebrates her two favorite foods: Steak and cake. One of my recipes is included in the book, but I was especially intrigued by this one, with a billowy marshmallow frosting. Who knew that three egg whites could become a gloriously fluffy mound of silky marshmallow goodness? And who knew that you could ice a cake with it? That required some investigating…

This cake is dubbed “candy bar cake” as it’s meant to recreate my favorite chocolate-coconut combo bars. (Planter’s Peanut Bars, with their enticing mix of caramel, peanuts, and salt were a close competitor for that spot.)

The cake gets its intense chocolate flavor from cocoa powder. Like many classic American cakes, natural cocoa powder is called for, the kind you get at the supermarket. It’s not available elsewhere in the world, where almost all cocoa powders are “Dutched,” a process of neutralizing the acid in the cocoa, that darkens it and makes it more compatible with baking powder, rather than the more acidic baking soda. However when I asked food science writer Harold McGee about that, he sort of hemmed and hawed before speculating that when you add eggs to the batter, the pH is neutralized, and all bets are off.

I made a few other modifications to the recipe, and it worked like a dream. A soft, creamy, creamy, marshmallow-frosted dream.

Let’s get this out of the way before we go any further: I’m not a cake decorator. I spent my life baking and cooking in restaurants that were flavor- and ingredient-driven, so while I peel the most beautiful apples and make (what I think) is pretty good ice cream and cookies, my layered cake decorating skills are rudimentary, at best. There’s also a tendance to make ultra-high layer cakes, which require more than two cake pans, and lots of garnishes, embellishments, fancy cake stands, chocolate dripping down the side, and even flowers.

As a baker, I was always ingredient- and flavor-driven,  so I never spent a lot of time decorating. It’s not in my skill set as it is with others, which I’ll leave to them. Instead, this cake is just fine as it is, with a couple of swipes of frosting. (With a few for the decorator to lick!)

Seeing as I had all the ingredients on hand to make this cake, I was ready to go. One newer addition to my baking arsenal, however, is a round silicone cake pan liner.

One of my least-favorite baking tasks is cutting parchment circles to line cake pans. Yes, I’ve seen those packages of pre-cut ones, but I’ve always been too cheap to spring for them. (I am my mother’s son, after all.) So I was excited when I saw a prototype for these silicone cake pan liners a couple of years back. When they finally started production of them, they sent me one. How could they not? I was going crazy, which possibly I exaggerated a little when I saw the prototype at a baking trade show, and may have even forced out a few tears when I saw it, just for extra effect. But it worked.

Since I had to bake the cake in two cake pans, I tried one cake following Elizabeth’s instructions of spraying the cake pan with non-stick spray, and leaving it at that, and another with the silicone mat. Both released well, so you can use whatever.

When all was said and done, when the cake layers were both released, the frosting was whipped to perfection (and yes, three egg whites makes a whole bowlful of frosting), I stacked the cake up on a cake plate, and finished it.

Some coconut cakes use whipped cream for the frosting, which I’m down with, but the marshmallow-like coating took this cake over the top and I’ll admit that I could not stop eating it right after I made it. I eventually did, of course, but I went back the next morning, for more.

Chocolate Coconut "Candy Bar" Cake
Print Recipe
12 servings
Adapted from Steak and Cake: More than 100 Recipes to Makes Any Meal a Smash Hit by Elizabeth KarmelI made some tweaks to the original recipe, which called for natural cocoa powder. I used Dutched-process and it turned out fine. (You can read more on the subject at my Cocoa Powder FAQs.) I also didn't use cake flour, because I didn't have it, but if you want to use that, you can substitute 2 1/4 cups of cake flour for the all-purpose flour, and increase the milk to 1 1/3 cups, which were in the original recipe.Sweetened shredded coconut gives this cake its "candy bar" flavor, but you can use freshly grated or unsweetened shredded or grated coconut. Try to find one that's coarsely shredded or grated, for textural appeal and character.
For the cake
2/3 cup (140g) coconut oil, preferably virgin (which has more coconut flavor)
1 2/3 cups (330g) sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (70g) unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutched-process, sifted if lumpy
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1 1/4 cups (310ml) whole milk
2 teaspoons powdered instant coffee (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the frosting
1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar or a few drops of lemon juice
pinch salt
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (300g) shredded sweetened coconut (see headnote for other options)
To make the cake layers
1. To make the cake layers, grease two 9-inch (23cm) cake pans with non-stick spray or butter. Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper or silicone baking mats, which'll help ensure the layers release easily, although aren't necessary. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the coconut oil and sugar on medium-high speed until well-combined. (You can also mix the batter in a large bowl with a spoon or spatula.) It may look a little ragged but will come together when you add the eggs in the next step.
3. Add the eggs one a time, stopping the mixer after each addition to scrape down the sides, to incorporate the eggs.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. In a measuring cup, mix together the milk, instant coffee (if using), and vanilla.
5. On low speed, stir one-third of the flour mixture into the beaten coconut oil mixture. Add half of the milk, then another third of the dry ingredients (which, technically, is half of what's left in the bowl). Add the rest of the milk then the remaining flour mixture. Stir until smooth.
6. Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans, smooth the top, and bake until the center of the cakes feel just set, 25 to 30 minutes. (A toothpick inserted into the center will come out almost clean.) Let the cakes cool on a wire rack.
To make the frosting
7. In a small (2 quart/2L) saucepan, fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar, water, cream of tartar or lemon juice, and pinch of salt over medium heat. Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment.
8. When the temperature of the syrup reaches about 225ºF (108ºC), begin whipping the egg whites on medium speed. As the syrup climbs toward 242ºF (117ºC), increase the speed to high, and whip the whites until they're stiff enough to hold a peak. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, Elizabeth says the syrup is done "until the syrup spins a thin 8-inch/21cm thread when poured from a spoon.")With the mixer running, slowly beat the syrup into the egg whites, trying to pour the syrup in the space next to the side of the bowl, not on a beater. (Which will cause it to splatter onto the sides of the bowl, and not go into the egg whites.)
9. Once the syrup has been added, beat in the vanilla. Stop the mixer and using a spatula, fold in the coconut.
10. Remove the cake layers from the pans and peel off any parchment paper or silicone cake pan liners. Set one layer of the cake on a cake platter. Spread one-third of the slightly warm coconut frosting on the top of the cake layer. Place the second layer of cake on top of the frosted cake layer, then spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.


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61 comments

  • Lisa
    May 19, 2019 8:30pm

    That looks incredible! I love that combination and I can’t wait to try this! Reply

  • Mary
    May 19, 2019 9:29pm

    A version of this, devil’s food cake with 7 minute frosting, (from an early edition of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook) was in my mother’s cake repertoire in the 1950s-1960s, including that frosting. She sprinkled her coconut bits all over the freshly frosted cake. Big hit for Sunday dinners. Reply

    • Lisa Poe
      May 21, 2019 11:22pm

      My mother’s favorite cake has always been a white cake with 7 minute frosting and coconut, but she doesn’t bake anymore. I haven’t had it in years! Reply

    • Deborah Hodges
      May 23, 2019 3:34am

      I remember that cake also! Reply

    • Lisa
      May 26, 2019 12:28am

      OMG EXACTLY!!!
      My mom made this very same recipe which is what this guy thought is “new” which isn’t! A day later the white fluffy frosting gets “crunchy” a bit but is soft underneath and it’s absolutely delicious!!! Thanks for knowing this too, I thought I was the only one! Reply

  • Khai
    May 19, 2019 10:10pm

    Any idea how this might turn out with almond milk substituted for the whole milk? I’ve got a little dude with a nasty dairy allergy… Reply

    • Khai
      May 19, 2019 11:28pm

      Afterthought – coconut milk or even coconut cream would likely be a better alternative to whole milk – any feedback on either of those options? Reply

      • May 20, 2019 12:23pm
        David Lebovitz

        I wouldn’t use cream of coconut as that’s sweetened. (Update: Cream of coconut isn’t.) Coconut milk is closer to cream than milk, so if you went that route, I’d dilute with coconut water or something else.

        I haven’t tried it with nut (or oat) milk, but it should work. If you give it a go, let us know how it turns out. Reply

        • Ginny S
          May 20, 2019 5:10pm

          There is also a coconut milk beverage (located in refrigerated area with other plant/nut based milks) not in a can that can be used to sub out dairy milk. I’ve done it several times and it works a treat. Reply

        • Khai
          May 27, 2019 7:26pm

          I made the cake with mostly coconut milk, thinned out a little with almond milk on Wednesday evening and served it on Friday evening. It held extremely well, even when left in a warm vehicle and protected only by a thinly insulated cooler bag (the type grocery stores typically sell for a few dollars/euro) for most of the day on Thursday. I had to make a second partial batch of frosting because I (think I) overcooked the sugar and under whipped the egg whites, causing them to collapse and shrink more than they should have. (Reduced to 2/3, the 2nd batch yielded more than the first full batch)

          It was a massive hit! The cake baked up very nicely, and was more dense than a typical chocolate cake – which held up to the firm “candy” icing very well. It has a lovely strong chocolate & coconut flavour but isn’t too sweet, which I admit I was a bit concerned about given the frosting.

          Another out of the park recipe from my original “go-to” dessert guy – thank you! Reply

          • May 28, 2019 1:38pm
            David Lebovitz

            Thanks for letting me know that it worked out with the coconut/almond milk combination…and that it was a hit!

        • Ellen N.
          June 11, 2019 5:43am

          Hi David,

          Thank you very much for your wonderful blog. This recipe looks delicious.

          Here (in the U.S.) coconut cream isn’t sweetened. Cream of coconut is sweetened. Reply

          • June 11, 2019 7:42am
            David Lebovitz

            Sorry. There’s always so many substitution questions that I can’t always keep up with them, although I do my best to reply to them. You’re right; coconut cream isn’t sweetened but cream of coconut is.

    • Lisa
      May 20, 2019 9:22pm

      Hi there – I make a chocolate cake that’s similar to this and use only hot water as the liquid. Gives it a very chocolate-y flavor and I think you’d be safe going that route too. Reply

    • allison
      May 20, 2019 10:03pm

      It works fine – I use coconut milk btw. Reply

    • Sabina Baldwin
      May 25, 2019 7:24pm

      I baked this in a 9×13 pan (without any recipe adjustments) with marvelous results. I iced the top as soon as the cake was cool, and the presentation was spectacular! Thank you for sharing another wonderful recipe, David! Reply

      • May 25, 2019 7:40pm
        David Lebovitz

        Thanks for letting us know it worked out in a 9×13 pan – glad you enjoyed the cake! Reply

  • Christina Marian Morrow
    May 19, 2019 10:33pm

    This looks AMAZING!! I usually need a reason to bake a cake but maybe my
    craving will do this week!! Reply

  • Caroline
    May 19, 2019 10:36pm

    Sounds delicious, and I love Elizabeth Karmel. Her grilling book taught me so much! Thanks for sharing this this recipe. Reply

  • Kimberly
    May 19, 2019 11:58pm

    I am so Baking this up! Thanks for the inspiration! Also I appreciate your confession on lack of decorating skills, makes many of us feel better about our own failed attempts at achieving pretty! Fancy cake decorating is a bit overrated anyway, I mean what’s prettier than a simple frosted two layer cake! Old fashion, maybe but always a treat! Reply

  • Cecile Glendening
    May 20, 2019 2:36am

    Looks fantastic! Another choc cake with marshmallow frosting (without the coconut) is Dear Abby Cake, made by my grandmother for many years. The melted unsweetened chocolate/butter drizzled on top cuts the sweetness of the icing. Reply

  • Heidi
    May 20, 2019 2:44am

    This recipe is very similar to 7 minute icing, and less work. Reply

  • Lyn
    May 20, 2019 6:08am

    I used to make a similar cake for my husband’s birthday that he absolutely loved — it was a Maida Heatter recipe. I haven’t made it in years but it was one of the best cakes I ever tasted. I’ve got to try this one too. Reply

  • Jeroen
    May 20, 2019 7:50am

    I’m anything but a health freak, but wow, sugar! Is it not unpleasantly sweet? Reply

  • Margaret
    May 20, 2019 9:55am

    If you bake with Silpat baking sheets, have you tried their new Silpat silicone muffin and mini cake baking pans? Reply

    • May 20, 2019 3:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      I haven’t. I generally don’t like baking anything that I want to be crisp in silicone as I find it can “steam” the outside of things, rather than brown them. I’m sure they’re good for things that you need to slip out of molds, though. Reply

      • Margaret
        May 20, 2019 5:08pm

        I noticed mine didn’t brown the muffin like I wanted it to, but didn’t know why. Thanks for your reply. Reply

      • Margaret
        May 20, 2019 7:51pm

        Thats a great idea to use them for slip out molds — I can use the mini fluted baking molds for mango mousse and the mini muffin tins for crustless quiches or flavored ice — party!! Reply

        • MrsSW
          May 29, 2019 11:56pm

          Great idea about the ice, Margaret. :) Reply

  • carolc
    May 20, 2019 5:14pm

    Hi David A non cooking comment that I couldn’t resist I will make this because it sounds delicious but also because 32 years ago my then 3year old son stood crying in front of a candy machine. What he wanted more than anything was a “spunow” bar. What is that you might ask ,it’s the mounds bar facing the wrong way. (turn the letters upside down) I have made my own spunow cake, coconut with choc frosting but I will give this a try. Reply

  • Valerie
    May 20, 2019 5:23pm

    Your description of the after-trick-or-treat candy trading ritual made me smile. Reply

  • Meryl
    May 20, 2019 5:28pm

    For those of us who are very fancy cake challenged. Do you think I can make this in a 9×13 pan and just ice the top? Reply

    • May 20, 2019 5:34pm
      David Lebovitz

      I’m not sure about how to convert the volume (or if you need to) to fit other size pans, but Serious Eats recently published a guide to adjusting cake batters to various size pans, and you can likely find out more there. Reply

  • May 20, 2019 5:46pm

    Keiko’s Cakes has the best cake pan conversion tool, ever. Very easy to use and you can convert rectangular to round pans, too. And measure inches or or centimeters. https://www.keikos-cake.com/panconversion.html Reply

  • Francesca
    May 20, 2019 5:59pm

    I haven’t baked in 45 years, but may have to make this one. Coconut cake is my favorite and it’s very hard to find already made especially without the pineapple. Buttercup Bakery in Manhattan had one that I thought was delicious but I don’t live there anymore. I look forward to making this one. Chocolate should make it even more interesting. Reply

  • MR in NJ
    May 20, 2019 6:17pm

    The real dilemma in choosing between Mounds and Almond Joy (in the store) was that I wanted both the dark chocolate and the almond. But the almond came only with the milk chocolate. This was an important lesson in life for a young person! I suppose I could compensate many decades after the fact by baking your cake (I recently bought precisely the same tin of cocoa shown) and sticking whole almonds on top.

    My heart leaped when I saw the photo of the round Silpat, which has not yet reached local stores. From the time when I bought my first Silpat sheets decades ago and knew from the first baking that they would change my baking life (they did), I said the next big thing would be round ones to fit inside cake pans. But they never materialized–or so I thought. I’m going to find them and buy them immediately.

    I appreciated your exchange with a reader who mentioned Silpats for muffins and mini-muffins–I didn’t know they existed, either, but thanks to your comment I think I will skip those.

    This revelation made my day. Only fellow avid bakers would understand that.

    So David: the recipe looks great. But in addition, your including photos of the can of cocoa and the round Silpat sheet (!!!) was a welcome public service also. Thank you. Reply

  • Pam
    May 20, 2019 7:57pm

    Because…sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Reply

  • NanR
    May 20, 2019 9:30pm

    Pass the whip attachment – PLEASE! Reply

  • NYer in France
    May 20, 2019 9:57pm

    This looks beautiful! On a related note, I’ve made a birthday cake since I was a kid that’s was three layer devil’s food with moca buttercream.
    If I wanted to use this recipe would I sub. The same amount in sweet butter? Though my wife and son want the coconut candybar cake. Reply

  • jane
    May 20, 2019 10:05pm

    oh man there is nothing like a slice of homemade cake for breakfast the next morning haha Reply

  • Lenita
    May 20, 2019 10:07pm

    This looks like another winner. I love your recipes, your writing (with being to laugh at yourself) and your photos. Reply

  • pupcake
    May 20, 2019 10:12pm

    Well, I do those vegetable oil based vegan chocolate cakes and thanks to my experiment making aquafaba macarons I know that version of this frosting can be made as well so vegan chocolate coconut candy bar cake – here I come! Reply

  • Didan Meg
    May 20, 2019 11:11pm

    Is there a bakery in New York that makes a cake like this that one can recommend? Reply

  • janet
    May 20, 2019 11:13pm

    Lovely cake. David, can you please help me find a recipe for Sportif bread? Reply

    • May 21, 2019 3:38pm
      David Lebovitz

      I searched for some online, using Google, and found these: Papilles & Pupilles, Petitsplaisirs, and Inbakery. Reply

      • janet
        May 21, 2019 11:27pm

        You are the best. I have all your books and love your blog. Thank you for the search as we don’t get French Google in Laguna Beach. Reply

  • Querino De Freitas
    May 21, 2019 2:41pm

    I found in the pound shop ready made paper linings both round and loaf tins size…place them in the tins fill with cake mixture and voila!!!! its doneQuerino Reply

  • Dave
    May 21, 2019 5:10pm

    My grandmother made this kind of icing (we always called it “boiled icing”) and as soon as I saw that cake pic, it took me back (and the cake looks exactly like something she made). I will definitely have to make this with my daughter to pass on the memory. Thanks! Reply

  • Lisa
    May 21, 2019 5:26pm

    This was my birthday cake this year. It was fabulous. Reply

  • Carolyn Z
    May 22, 2019 2:40am

    David, did you ever try making German chocolate cake? Maybe you could give it a special update. There is a recipe in Chocolatier I’m wanting to bake. It’s from a while back. Heh. Carolyn Z Reply

  • sarah
    May 22, 2019 7:33pm

    David, jeez, it is impossible to view your pics of this cake without immediately craving chocolate with a single minded obsession.

    By the way, what camera do you use again? It is wonderful, and you, sir, a gifted photographer.

    Thanks for your joie de vivre. Very wonderful. Reply

  • Papersitter
    May 22, 2019 8:47pm

    Hi David,
    I recently saw a Bon Appetit video that used reverse creaming for a cake recipe – one of the benefits is that it prevents doming of the cake. Is reverse creaming something that can be done to any cake recipe? I always struggle with domes. Even with two layer cakes simply inverting the top layer makes the cake look a bit off and/or the layer frosting is uneven to level out the layers.
    I can’t wait to try this cake.
    Love the blog and your instagram! Reply

  • May 22, 2019 10:34pm
    David Lebovitz

    Papersitter: I don’t quite know that technique but know that some bakers mix dry ingredients, then add the others in reverse order. If the Bon App cake recipe is similar to this one in ingredients, you could try it with this. If you do, let us know how it turns out.

    Sarah: Thanks. Appreciate your kind words! For this post I used a Sony Alpha. I’m still getting used to it (I also use a Canon DSLR) but playing around with this because it’s a lot lighter, although the colors are hard to balance. You can read more at My Food Photography Gear. Reply

  • Deborah
    May 23, 2019 3:55am

    Is the coconut oil added as a solid or a liquid? Reply

  • NancyR
    May 23, 2019 7:53pm

    Hi David,
    Absolutely love your style of blogging. This cake seems so whimsical due to the marshmallow frosting but I was wondering if there was a good substitute for the shredded coconut? My crew are not fans.
    Nancy Reply

  • May 24, 2019 12:02am
    David Lebovitz

    Deborah: It’s added as a solid. I gave the weight, which should make is easier to measure.

    Nancy R: Thanks! I don’t know any substitutes for coconut but you could leave it out. The cake is pretty good on it own, and perhaps you could decorate the cake once frosted with shaved chocolate, chopped nuts, or something else? Reply

  • Julia
    May 28, 2019 9:54pm

    Re: natural cocoa powder. For people in Germany, I’m almost certain that Naturata Stark entölt cocoa powder, which you can get at organic food stores, is a natural (i.e. undutched) cocoa powder. The package states that it is unprocessed and the ingredients list doesn’t contain anything besides cocoa. If it were dutched they would have to put the chemical they used on the box as well. At least that’s how it is for the other cocoa powders I have (Bensdorp and a store brand). I’ve used Naturata successfully in some of Stella Parks‘ recipes that call for natural cocoa, because she positively insists that the recipes ONLY work with natural cocoa and the results were great. Reply

    • May 29, 2019 2:42pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for letting me know. I’m not familiar with that brand and they do say they don’t add acid-regulating ingredients so it seems to be “natural” cocoa powder. This recipe does work with both types of cocoa powder but appreciate the tip on the German brand! Reply

  • Susan Feltus
    June 3, 2019 3:52pm

    I have always made a similar cake using 7 minute frosting and putting a lot of coconut on the outside. We call it a snowball cake after the old Hostess Cupcake snowball. Reply

  • MartiJ
    June 9, 2019 1:29am

    You do have the best ideas, David!
    Mmmmm, so I put this frosting on some milk chocolate brownies and ran them under a broiler… it was like a s’mores brownie.

    I can only imagine how much more wonderful it would be… with coconut! Reply

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