Rich's Magnolia Room's Old Charleston Coconut Cake

Southern Kitchen
The coconut cake is an iconic dessert in South Carolina, perhaps because it is believed to have been created at Charleston-based restaurant Peninsula Grill in 1997. But the Atlanta-based cake from Rich's rainbow room is arguably more famous.

About the recipe

Rich’s and its Magnolia Room restaurant are no more, but here is one of the recipes that made it famous. 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. If you can’t find cake flour, use White Lily brand all-purpose flour.

Yes, the frozen coconut is presweetened (although unsweetened works just fine). No, you don’t add vanilla to the cake, only to the frosting. Thawed frozen coconut really does make a difference for this easy cake. You can assemble the cake when the layers are still a little warm as the shortening-based frosting doesn’t melt. While it’s good after an hour, it’s far better after a day. Recipe courtesy of Rich’s Bakeshop.

Serves: 16

Hands On Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes


Yellow Cake

Shortening and flour for pans

2 1/4 cups cake 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


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)

Coconut Filling

2 pounds frozen shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened --- recipe tested with unsweetened), divided

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons granulated sugar


To make the yellow cake layers: Heat 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 or a mixing bowl with a hand 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 for about 20 to 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.

To make the icing: 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.

To assemble the cake: To make the filling, in a large bowl, thaw the frozen coconut and set aside. Take 1 1/2 cups of the coconut and place in a smaller bowl. Combine the water and sugar and pour over the 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 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 1 hour to set (it helps the coconut to stay), and then serve.