The 144-Year-Old Cake Recipe That Has a Cool Connection to Taylor Swift

Here's a fun fact about Taylor Swift that we bet you didn't know: The Tortured Poets Department singer and the great poet Emily Dickinson are related. They are sixth cousins, three times removed. Pretty cool, right? The Poetry Foundation, in its description of Dickinson, states that she "experimented with expression in order to free it from conventional restraints." Sounds a bit like a famous singer-songwriter that we all know and love, does it not? But the similarities don't stop there.

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Swifties have noticed that the release of her 2020 album Evermore fell on Dickinson's birthday, and reports have surfaced that Swift's elementary school teachers remember the singer always writing poetry when she was in class. In addition, Swift is a known baking enthusiast (she made homemade cinnamon rolls and Pop-Tarts for Trav's Chiefs teammates) as was Dickinson.

So when I stumbled on the recipe for Emily Dickinson's famous coconut cake, it felt kismet. Sources claim Dickinson possessed two recipes for coconut cake. The one that has become her claim to fame was enclosed in a letter from a neighbor by the name of Mrs. Carmichael sometime around 1880. With that recipe at the ready and with the release of TTPD in the air (and on my playlist, of course), I got baking. Here's how it went down.

Get the recipe: Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake

Ingredients for Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake

For this cake, you need eggs, baking powder, flour, sugar, butter, shredded coconut and milk.

How to Make Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake

It takes longer to bake this cake than to mix everything together, making it the perfect treat for even the busiest of weeknights.

You’re going to start out by creaming your butter and sugar, then add the milk and eggs, coconut, and the sifted flour and baking powder. Mix until the batter just comes together (the recipe warns not to over-mix or the cake will be tough). Bake in a greased loaf pan in a 325° oven for 50 to 60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and the top is crisp and golden.

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<em>Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake</em><p>Courtesy of Jessica Wrubel</p>
Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake

Courtesy of Jessica Wrubel

What I Thought of Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake

This coconut cake was simple, light and fluffy and really everything a springtime dessert should be. The inside had a tender, delicate crumb and the outside had a golden sugary crust that was so satisfying to bite into.

Naturally, I first had to try this fresh out of the oven. But the next day, I enjoyed it toasted with a little bit of salted butter and it was heavenly. Emily Dickinson's coconut cake is a timeless treasure, and it's so versatile! You could take this cake in so many different directions.

I’m not going to say that I know better than Emily Dickinson, but I would absolutely add a dash of both vanilla and coconut extracts and maybe think about a light whipped cream frosting on top to really take it over the top next time. I think both Emily (and fellow poet-baker Taylor) would approve.

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Tips for Making Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake

  1. Use unsweetened or sweetened coconut. I used unsweetened coconut because that’s what I had on hand (and I don’t like my cakes super sweet, especially if I’m going to add frosting) but you do what feels right to you.

  2. Remove from the pan promptly. Don’t wait too long to remove this from the loaf pan. After you let it cool slightly, it should pop right out of the loaf pan and be ready for slicing. If you wait too long and it's stuck tight, there's still hope. Turn a burner on low and run the bottom of the cake pan over the flame to reheat and loosen the cake. It should pop right out with ease!

  3. Make muffins. If you’re not too keen on having a whole cake lying around, get creative and turn this cake into muffins. Just pour the batter into a greased muffin tin and bake. Be sure to adjust your baking time and keep an eye on the muffins to make sure they don’t dry out.

Up next: The Best Toasted Coconut Macaroon Recipe