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I find red velvet cake is nowadays almost universally paired with a cream cheese frosting. While this icing is a nice topping to the classic cake, it doesn't hold a candle to the traditional coconut pecan cake filling. My family's southern cake filling makes for a fantastic flavour packed addition to the dessert, whether in cake or cupcake form!
Southern Red Velvet Cake Filling
For most people, red velvet is synonymous with cream cheese frosting. While I'm not against a cream cheese swirl, the classic southern red velvet cake filling deserves greater recognition!
Coconut Pecan Cake Frosting
Much like the German Chocolate Cake, the traditional Red Velvet Cake has a coconut and pecan frosting. This is made using a thickened milk mixture, which helps to stabilise butter and sugar.
I'll be honest, I've had mixed success following my Granny's recipe, without a couple of tweaks! Overall, the key is to stir your milk and flour, heating this until the mixture is thick like a custard. You'll need patience, since this will take a while. Failure to make this sufficiently thick will result in a runny icing that won't set firm.
Tips and Tricks for Coconut Pecan Filling
1. What type of milk to use?
I call for evaporated milk and water in making my filling. My Granny's original recipe called for just milk, but I have regularly struggled to make this thicken sufficiently. I prefer using evaporated milk or condensed milk (both with equal part water) as these tend to have a higher fat content than the average milk and thicken more quickly.
2. How long does this take to thicken?
This will depend on the heat you are using. Over a medium high heat, the mixture will take around 10 to 15 minutes to thicken. This requires a lot of patience and stirring as you don't want it to stick and congeal to the base of the pan. Once it coats the back of the spoon you know you are almost there. You are looking for a consistency a bit like pastry cream.
Once removed from the heat and allowed to cool, this should become a relatively firm gel like substance.
The original recipe simply calls for chopped nuts and canned coconut.
Personally, for the nuts, I think pecans work best, but you could also try walnuts in this recipe. You'll want to use unsalted nuts, roasting optional.
As for the coconut, sweetened flaked coconut is one of my favourite ingredients! Unfortunately, I have yet to find a satisfactory replacement in the UK that lives up to Baker's Coconut. Thankfully, I can rely on a relatively steady supply in care packages from my parents or from import stores. When I'm unable to find this, I've used dessicated coconut in this recipe as well with success. You want something that will fold into the filling well, so I would not recommend large toasted flaked coconut.
FAQs for Coconut Pecan Filling
This is likely a result of not thickening the milk mixture enough. You can try to chill the mix down in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. This may help it to set up more firmly and enable you to continue. It may look a bit curdled, but it won't impact the flavour!
As an alternative to sweetened flaked coconut, you can use dessicated coconut or canned coconut. I wouldn't recommend large flaked toasted coconut as this is quite dry and won't mix in as well.
Due to the milk and butter content, this frosting should be kept refrigerated. It can be made a day in advance, but shouldn't be made too far in advance to preserve freshness and best flavours.
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Coconut Pecan Cake Filling
- ¼ cup evaporated milk
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tablespoon plain flour
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- ½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
- In a small saucepan, add the milk, water and flour. Heat over a medium high heat and whisk until smooth and thickened to the consistency of a custard. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- In a mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until light and creamy.
- Add the cooled milk mixture to the butter mixture and beat until the consistency of whipped cream.
- Add the pecans, coconut and vanilla, fold to combine.