With its twelve towering layers of delicious, Southern perfection, the Peninsula Grill Ultimate Coconut Cake® caused a sensation when it first appeared on the menu Valentine's Day 1997. Praise from Bon Appétit, Saveur, Martha Stewart Living, The New York Times, TODAY Show, and Vogue—in addition to other esteemed culinary and travel media outlets, made the fresh vanilla and coconut infused dessert famous.
Demand for whole cakes—an increasingly popular choice for wedding receptions—came pouring in, and a booming mail order business began. In 2012, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office certified the cake's national popularity when it awarded a trademark to the Peninsula Grill Ultimate Coconut Cake®.
We serve slices of the now-iconic dessert to Peninsula Grill guests nightly, and we also ship whole cakes across America via overnight delivery. The show-stopping Ultimate Coconut Cake® weighs approximately 12 pounds and may be delivered directly to your doorstep.
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KUDOS FOR THE ULTIMATE COCONUT CAKE®
Bobby Flay: “All-time favorite dessert”
Martha Stewart: “The richest filling, and the best ingredients…”
The New York Times: “A little slice of heaven…”
Bon Appetit: “… skyscraper high… light as a cloud…”
Southern Living: “One of the South’s Grand Desserts”
Delta Sky: “… a thing of beauty”
Charleston City Paper Editors’ Picks: “Best Slice of Heaven”
Featured on The Food Network's Throwdown with Bobby Flay and Food Finds
Featured on The Martha Stewart Show
Featured on The Cooking Channel's Unique Sweets
Featured on Turner South Original Programs Blue Ribbon: “Best Dessert Cake in the South”
THE STORY OF PENINSULA GRILL’S ULTIMATE COCONUT CAKE®
On any given morning in the kitchen at Peninsula Grill, you’ll hear a distinct chirping coming from the “pastry girls’” corner. It’s not the sound of eggs being carefully whisked or the sound of batter being tenderly scraped out of a bowl...
Glance around, and you’ll find the source, tucked away up on a skinny shelf above the counter where the ice-cream drawer is hidden. There, a tiny printer chirps out ticket after ticket, each one an order for the restaurant’s famously infamous “Ultimate Coconut Cake®.”
Whether for a slice or an entire cake, the requests come in from across the country and around the clock, via the phone and Internet. The pastry team—led by Peninsula Grill Executive Pastry Chef Claire Chapman—are all pros at crafting the dessert phenomenon. Reporting to their shift at 6 a.m., they make at least a dozen cakes a day, 52 weeks of the year, even more come holiday gift- giving and entertaining time.
So what’s the big deal? Let’s start with the height. The recipe calls for two cakes cut into three layers each. A fluffy filling punctuates each of the cake layers, and when fully assembled, the concoction towers with 12 layers. Cream cheese icing envelopes the entire treat and gently toasted coconut pressed into its sides adds the subtlest crunch. With cake and filling that isn’t overly sweet, and the thin spread of icing, it delivers decadence without being overwhelmingly sugary or coconut- infused. Reviewer after reviewer (from esteemed food editors to enthusiastic bloggers) all talk of being skeptical about everything from the hype over the name itself to past praise, but a few bites in and converts are born faster than the slices disappear.
It’s been like this since the cake debuted on the dessert menu at Peninsula Grill on Valentine’s Day in 1997. For a few months prior, the restaurant’s first Executive Pastry Chef Esthi Stefenelli perfected and put her own spin on a recipe that was primed to become a runaway success. A Swiss-born baker, Esthi had found her way to Charleston from Key West, where she worked at the acclaimed Little Palm Island Relais & Châteaux. Esthi stayed with Peninsula Grill until 2004, when she left to establish her own catering business.
As for the Ultimate Coconut Cake®? The tweaking began with the height, and it grew to a towering five inches. In classic Swiss pastry tradition, says Esthi, she added simple syrup to keep the layers extra moist. Then she adjusted the filling, too, whipping it up to make it extra fluffy. If you don’t do that, Esthi says, it’s not as nice and smooth as it can be, which is essential when you’re trying to cut through so many layers with a fork. She hunted down the perfect vanilla, and tried out a few iterations of cream cheese icing as well. It took about four different versions in the end, she says, to come up with the one recipe that has rocked every sweet tooth around.
And rock, it has. Once the national press started raving about the cake, orders took off exponentially. During peak season, extra pastry chefs are hired to make the Ultimate Coconut Cake®, which is shipped to fans across America via overnight shipping. During the holidays, the FedEx truck is often seen backing out of the Peninsula Grill parking lot with a cargo bay filled with precious cakes.
Claire Chapman, Executive Pastry Chef at Peninsula Grill since 2008, marvels at the phenomenon. Even the offcuts are treats, she says. It’s true. After the cake layers come out of the oven and cool, the brown tops are trimmed off so diners get a gorgeous side view of snowy layers with nary a browned crumb in sight. Claire says she couldn’t just toss the offcuts away, so she toasted and crumbled them to use as the base for the best pie crusts around. A cake with castoffs that are treasured? Apparently the “ultimate” moniker is fitting.
In 2012, the Ultimate Coconut Cake® was awarded a federal trademark by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the iconic dessert was was showcased in the stunning 250-page hardcover cookbook, Peninsula Grill: Served with Style.