Hannah’s Coconut Layer Cake

We’re celebrating the release of COCONUT LAYER CAKE MURDER with a look back at some of our favorite Joanne Fluke recipes from the Hannah Swensen series! Tell us your favorite recipe in the comments.


By Joanne Fluke

selective focus photo of three eggs on tray
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  • 8-ounce can crushed pineapple (I used Dole)
  • 2 cups shredded coconut (pack it down when you measure it)
  • 1/8 cup (2 Tablespoons) all-purpose flour
  • 12-ounce (by weight) bag of white chocolate chips or vanilla baking chips (11-ounce package will do, too—I used Nestle)
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup cold whole milk
  • ¼ cup rum (I used Malibu Caribbean Rum with Coconut Liqueur)
  • 2 teaspoons coconut extract
  • 8-ounce (by weight) tub of sour cream (I used Knudsen)
  • 1 box of white cake mix with or without pudding in the mix, the kind that makes a 9-inch by 13-inch cake or a 2-layer cake (I used Duncan Hines)
  • 1-ounce package o instant coconut pudding mix (I used Jell-O, the kind that makes 6 half-cup servings)


  • Preheat oven to 350°F., rack in the middle position. Prepare your cake pans. You’ll need 2 round cake pans, 8 or 9 inches in diameter.
  • Spray the inside of your cake pans with Pam Baking Spray. Alternatively, you can spray them with Pam Cooking Spray and flour the inside of the pan, sides and all, knocking out the excess flour.

Hannah’s 1st Note: To flour a baking pan, put some flour in the bottom, hold it over your kitchen wastebasket, and tap the pan to move the flour all over the inside of the pan. Continuing this until all the inside surfaces of the pan, including the sides, have been covered with a light coating of flour.

  • Place a strainer over a bowl on the counter. Open the can of crushed pineapple and dump (yes, that is a cooking term) it into the strainer. Leave it there to drain while you continue to make the batter for your cake. (You can save the juice to add to orange juice in the morning.)
  • Put the coconut in the bowl of a food processor. Sprinkle on the 2 Tablespoons of flour. Process to chop the coconut into much smaller pieces by using the steel blade in an on-and-off motion.
  • Place the finely chopped coconut in a bowl on the counter.
  • Put the white chocolate or vanilla baking chips in the bottom of the food processor bowl. In an on-and-off motion with the steel blade, chop the chips into small pieces.
  • Place the chopped chips in another bowl on the counter.

Hannah’s 2nd Note: You can mix up this cake by hand, but it takes some muscle and you must make sure everything is well combined. It’s a lot easier to do if you use an electric mixer.

  • Crack the eggs into the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix them up on LOW speed until they’re a uniform color. The consistent color will tell you that the eggs are thoroughly mixed.
  • Pour the half-cup of vegetable oil over the eggs. Mix the two ingredients together on LOW speed.
  • Add the quarter-cup of cold milk to the bowl. Mix it in on LOW speed.
  • Add the quarter-cup of rum to the bowl. Mix that in on LOW speed.
white plastic container beside basket of brown eggs
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Hannah’s 3rd Note: If you do not want to use liquor in this cake, you can substitute another quarter-cup of cold milk for the rum.

  • Add the 2 teaspoons of coconut extract to the bowl. Mix that in on LOW speed.
  • Scoop out the 8-ounce container of sour cream and add it to your bowl. Mix that in on LOW speed.
  • When everything is well combined, open the box of dry cake mix and sprinkle HALF of it on top of the liquid ingredients in the bowl. (This doesn’t have to be precisely half. Just use your best judgment.) If you add the cake mix all at once and then turn on your mixer, you risk having the dry cake mix fly all over your kitchen! (And please don’t ask me how I know this.)
  • Mix the first half of your cake mix on LOW speed.
  • Add the second half of your cake mix and mix that in. Continue to mix until everything is well combined.
  • Add the package of dry instant coconut pudding mix. Beat it in, again on LOW speed.
  • Finally, sprinkle in the chopped coconut and chopped white chocolate or vanilla chips. Mix them in thoroughly on LOW speed.
  • Remember the crushed pineapple that you set in the strainer on your counter? Now it’s time to deal with that.
  • With the back of a mixing spoon, press down on the crushed pineapple in the strainer. Keep moving the spoon and pressing down until you’ve gotten as much liquid as possible from the pineapple.
  • Tear off several pieces of paper toweling and place it over the top of the pineapple in the strainer. Press down on that with your impeccably clean hand. Again, express as much liquid as you can. You want this pineapple as dry as you can get it.
  • Place the crushed pineapple in the bowl of the mixer and mix it in on LOW speed. Mix until it’s thoroughly combined.
  • Shut off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and give your batter a final stir by hand.
  • Use a rubber spatula to transfer the cake batter to the prepared cake pans. Do this as evenly as possible.
  • Smooth the tops of both pans with a rubber spatula and place them on the same shelf in the oven, leaving as much room between the pans as possible.
  • flour in a jar
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    For two 8-inch rounds, bake your Coconut Layer Cake at 350°F. for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted 1 inch from the center comes out clean.

  • For two 9-inch rounds, bake your Coconut Layer Cake at 350°F. for 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted 1 inch from the center comes out clean.
  • Before you take your cake out of the oven, test it for doneness by inserting a cake tester, thin wooden skewer, or long wooden toothpick one inch from the center of the cake pan. If the tester comes out clean, your cake is done. If there is still unbaked batter clinging to the tester, shut the oven door and bake your cakes in 5-minute increments, testing after reach increment, until they test done.
  • Once your cakes have finished baking, take them out of the oven and set them on cold stove-top burners or wire racks. Let them cool in the pans for 15 minutes.
  • After the 15-minute cooling time is up, run a table knife from your silverware drawer around the sides of the pans to loosen the cake.
  • Pick up each cake pan with oven mitts or potholders and tip the pan upside down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Gently tap the bottom of the pan to free the cake. Carefully lift off the cake pan so that the cake rests on the parchment paper.
  • Cover your cake layers loosely with foil and refrigerate for at least one hour. Overnight is even better. You want the cake layers to firm up.
  • Frost your Coconut Layer Cake with Coconut Lemon Frosting. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a frosting that is not cooked on the stove, use the Coconut Lemon and Cream Cheese Frosting. (Both frosting recipes and instructions for frosting your layer cake follow.)
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Yield: At least 8 pieces of incredibly good and very rich cake. This cake is wonderful with vanilla ice cream on top. Serve with tall glasses of ice-cold milk or cups of strong coffee.

Coconut Layer Cake Murder HCBakery owner Hannah Swensen is leaving Lake Eden to help a friend in sunny California. But an unexpected phone call swiftly brings her back to a cold Minnesota winter . . . and murder . . .

When Hannah learns that her sister Michelle’s boyfriend, Detective Lonnie Murphy, is the prime suspect in a murder case, she goes straight from a movie studio sound stage to the Los Angeles airport.

Back in frigid Minnesota, she discovers that proving Lonnie’s innocence will be harder than figuring out what went wrong with a recipe. Lonnie remembers only parts of the night he went out to a local bar and ended up driving a very impaired woman home. He knows he helped her to her bedroom, but he doesn’t recall anything else until he woke up on her couch the following morning. When he went to the bedroom to check on her, he was shocked to discover she was dead.

Hannah doesn’t know what to believe—only that exonerating a suspect who can’t remember is almost impossible, especially since Lonnie’s brother, Detective Rick Murphy, and Lonnie’s partner, Chief Detective Mike Kingston, have been taken off the case. Before everything comes crashing down on Lonnie like a heaping slice of coconut layer cake, it’ll be up to Hannah to rack up enough clues to toast a flaky killer . . .