Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Credit: Earl Carter

Coconut and chocolate cake

Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

Credit: Earl Carter

This recipe has been in our family for some time. A while ago I adapted it slightly as a homage to an ever-popular chocolate bar – the Cherry Ripe.

For the time poor, it can easily be made without the addition of chocolate and cherries. If you choose to do this, double the amount of syrup, as otherwise the cake will be a bit dry.

I enjoy the texture of syrup cakes. Middle Eastern in origin, such cakes are cooked and a warm syrup is then poured over them as they come out of the oven. This guarantees that the cake is consistently moist – a great advantage, because even the most diligent baker can sometimes overcook things. 

Baklava is one of the world’s most recognised syrup cakes. It contains a paste of ground nuts (almonds, pistachio or walnuts) with a few subtle spices sandwiched between multiple sheets of filo pastry. The filo pastry sheets have been brushed with butter before layering and being cut into diamond shapes. When the confectionery slab is taken from the oven, simple sugar syrup is poured over it. My runner-up syrup cake is an orange and semolina cake spiked with almonds – baked in slabs and cut into squares. It sits and steeps in the syrup and gets better as the day progresses. Syrup cakes keep well and are great served the next day. In fact, they are better the next day because the flavour has had a chance to develop. 

We now have a repertoire of about five go-to cakes at home. All of these take about 10-15 minutes of preparation to get to the oven, and have been on constant rotation for their speed and delicious goodness. 

Half the battle for cooking desserts at home is locating and weighing all the ingredients. This time-consuming job is often palmed off to a younger member of the family in exchange for a spatula coated in cake mix a bit later on. Accuracy is the key to all baking and pastry work and an electric set of scales is the way to go. 

Do not succumb to the allure of the packet cake mix, even when short on time. The length of time to cook a packet mix is not dissimilar to weighing and cooking a cake from scratch. The taste and health advantages of baking from scratch, instead of relying on a large commercial food factory, are exponential.

Wine pairing:

NV Les Cailloux du Paradis mistelle, Loire Valley, France ($55) – Liam O’Brien, sommelier, Cutler & Co



This recipe works well with fresh or preserved cherries. A more grown-up version can by achieved by using cherries steeped in kirsch or brandy. 

  • 125g soft butter
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup self-raising flour 
  • 2 cups desiccated coconut


  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 3 tsp lemon juice

Chocolate ganache

  • 400g dark chocolate
  • 200ml cream


  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC.
  2. Line a 23-centimetre springform cake tin with baking paper.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Pour in the beaten eggs, whisking until they are thoroughly incorporated. Fold in the self-raising flour and then the coconut.
  4. Place the cake in the oven, reduce the temperature to 180ºC and cook for 15 minutes.
  5. Reduce the temperature to 150ºC and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. When it’s ready, take the cake out and let it stand for five minutes before pouring the syrup over.


  1. Bring everything to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Allow the syrup to cool while the cake is baking.
  2. Pour the syrup over the warm cake and allow it to cool in the tin before pouring the chocolate ganache over the top.

Chocolate ganache

  1. In a saucepan, heat the cream to about 80ºC (hot to the touch, but definitely not boiling). Take the saucepan off the heat and stir the chocolate into the cream until it has melted.
  2. Pour the ganache over the cake while it’s still in the tin.
  3. Serve the cake decorated with slices of fresh, pitted cherries, or morello cherries or cherries preserved in brandy.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 28, 2015 as "A piece of cake".

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Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.