Celebration Cake – Food and Wine, September 1998

No, that is not a typo, although, my word, people, wasn’t 1998 just yesterday? When did it turn into almost 20 years ago? I’ll be 30 in 2018. I don’t like that, not at all.

Meanwhile I am panicking about 1998 being 16 years ago.

Let’s look at cake now.

Now that we’ve all taken a few panicked moments to feel the clutches of mortality and contemplate the inevitable and ruthless march of time, let’s talk about cake. This celebration cake recipe is a variation on German Chocolate Cake. The cake layers are a fluffy and light take on yellow cake. The filling is a rich coconut custard folded with whipped cream, toasted coconut and pecans, and dark chocolate. The dark chocolate frosting is very similar to a ganache, with a bit of butter mixed in to create a spreadable frosting.

Excluding the royal icing daffodils, which I made whimsically a few weeks ago after a particularly trying day, the cake takes about five hours  from start to finish, although only about three and a half hours of active preparation time. I imagine that if you do not, at some point, misplace the cornstarch and need to remove all the ingredients in your pantry while shouting “WHY CAN I NEVER FIND ANYTHING IN THIS KITCHEN?!” you will shave off about twenty minutes.

I have a basic yellow cake recipe from Martha to which I compare all other cake recipes, so when this one called for only one stick of butter instead of two I was concerned. Also, rather than adding the eggs before the flour and milk mixtures, you add them after. The result is a airy, light cake which balances out the richness of the custard filling and chocolate icing.  This is the cake you would get if butter cake and angel food cake had a baby.

The filling’s coconut custard base is absolutely delicious, and something I will definitely make again for another recipe. You toast the coconut flakes in the oven before mixing them in with the egg yolks, dark brown and white sugars, and milk. Once the custard thickens, you strain out the coconut flakes and let the custard cool. When you’re ready to layer the cake, you’ll whip heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks, then fold it into the custard with the pecans, remaining coconut, and chocolate. If you want to eat some of this with a spoon, feel free, this recipe makes a generous amount of filling.

The chocolate frosting was quite easy, and involved simply stirring chopped chocolate and butter into heated heavy cream. The hardest part was fretting over the texture, waiting for it to get cool enough to be fluffy instead of drippy. Sticking it in the refrigerator will not hurt it, but keep a watchful eye.

The guts of the cake.

The guts of the cake.

Assembling the cake is fairly straightforward. Since the cake is divided into three pans, only the top needs to be removed, and no individual layers cut from the cake you have. The filling is sturdy, and can be heaped between the layers without an issue. I used a large piping bag, this magical cake tip, and this technique  to spread the icing. It will look like you don’t have enough icing, but run your spatula around the side and remove some of the excess. This icing can and should be spread on the thin side.

I decorated the cake with the pre-made royal icing daffodils, and made a tiny batch of green buttercream for the vines and leaves. I used Wilton Tip #3 for the vines and Tip #352 for the leaves.

I liked this cake. It is quite rich, so I suggest serving it with coffee, espresso, or lightly sweetened whipped cream. Eat it for breakfast and appreciate that your mother would have never let you eat cake for breakfast if it were 1998.

Photo Credit – Reed Davis


Celebration Cake 

(Food and Wine, September 1998) – Recipe by Emily Luchetti

My Cooking Notes

  • Although the recipe does not say to do so, I mixed the flours, baking powder, and salt together and sifted them.
  • If you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, get their pound-plus dark chocolate bar. The $5 bar has 17 ounces, as opposed to the $2.50 bar of Baker’s chocolate that only has 4 ounces.


  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • Coconut Pecan Filling
  • Chocolate Frosting


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and position 2 racks in the middle and lower thirds. Line the bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment or wax paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the cake and all-purpose flours with the baking powder and salt. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small pitcher.
  2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture resembles moist sand, about 3 minutes. Beat in the flour mixture at low speed in 3 batches, alternating with the milk mixture; stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating at medium speed between additions.
  3. Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the layers are light golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn each out onto a rack and peel off the paper. Invert onto another rack and let cool completely.
  4. Center a cake layer on a platter and spread one-third of the Coconut Pecan Filling over the top, leaving a 1/2 -inch border at the edge. Set a second cake layer on top of the first and spread another third of the filling on top. Cover with the third cake layer. Spread the top and side of the cake with the Chocolate Frosting. Spread the remaining Coconut Pecan Filling over the frosting on the top, leaving a 1-inch border.

Coconut Pecan Filling 

(Food and Wine, September 1998)


  • 1 2/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans (2 1/2 ounces)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate (4 ounces)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the coconut and pecans on separate baking sheets and bake for about 7 minutes, or until golden and fragrant; let cool.
  2. In a large heavy saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the granulated and dark brown sugars. Stir in the milk, cornstarch, salt and 1 cup of the coconut and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until pudding-like, about 6 minutes. Strain the custard, pressing hard on the coconut. Discard the coconut and let the custard cool. Stir in the vanilla and refrigerate until cold.
  3. Whip the cream until it holds firm peaks. Fold the cream into the custard, then fold in the chocolate, pecans and the remaining coconut.

Chocolate Frosting 

(Food and Wine, September 1998)


  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened


  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream until bubbles appear around the edge; remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Stir in the butter until smooth. Let the frosting cool, then beat with a wooden spoon until slightly thickened.