Zombie Easter Peeps Coconut Cake (With Lemon)

This recipe probably isn’t for the easily offended. Or those who don’t like coconut, but you probably got that from the title. You may have, come to think of it, figured out that this post might offend going off the title as well. Meh. The cake tastes awesome and it makes me laugh.

I struggle with cakes. I mean, I love to bake and I do pretty well – mostly. Cakes are my Achilles heel, so to speak. So, naturally, I keep making them in an attempt to better myself.

Let me explain, first, the Peep thing. I am not a fan of eating Peeps, but I love their many decorative uses in food. Every Halloween I make a Bad Peeps Cake where the Algonquins (Leah, Stacey, Amanda, and, when they aren’t living in Denmark, Shelly and Maricris) choose a scene from a horror movie and I attempt to re-enact it – with Peeps – atop a cake that generally tastes pretty bad. Last year we did the pool/coffin scene from Poltergeist. The year before we did the shower scene from Psycho. Neither of these cake dioramas resembled the film in the slightest. How can they, really, when I can’t find a small knife for Anthony Perkins’ Mother and I choose to use a cocktail sword instead?

I digress, but I think you understand my Peeps fixation. This past Halloween I added Peeps Zombie cupcakes to the mix for a party where I feared no one would understand my poorly-done dioramas. Each of the Peeps became undead a different way – impaling, beheading, crushed by an Oreo – and it turned out well. I liked the cupcakes and I liked the mini-scenes and I wanted to do it again. Peeps Zombies could be a whole new market for the company, but I doubt they listen to me. No one ever does.

Leah’s dad owns a restaurant in Boston and he’s down visiting for a while. They’re Greek, and Greek Easter isn’t until next week, but he’s making a leg of lamb tonight and invited us. I am not a Christian but I am a carnivore, so I would be a fool to say no. My contribution? A coconut cake. I really, really wanted to do Peeps as Zombies in honor of Easter (think about it – Jesus rose from the dead? That BEGS for a zombie cake!), but seeing as how not everyone has my… capricious… views of religion and myth, I figured a straight up cake would be more respectful.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t make Zombie cupcakes. And, yes, they’re awesome. Here’s the recipe, with a hearty thanks to Tiffany, who convinced me to modify a box cake mix to her standards (which I also modified to add lemon taste) and told me the best way to crack a coconut.

Coconut Cake With Lemon


  • 1 box white cake mix (I used Duncan Hines)
  • Coconut milk (saved from fresh coconut)
  • Cream of coconut (check the “ethnic” food aisle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used the real stuff, not imitation)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract

Coconut Buttercream

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch table salt
  • 1 pound (four sticks) unsalted butter, each stick cut into six pieces, softened but still cool
  • 3/4 cup cream of coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon coconut extract (Depending on strength; I used a full teaspoon of McCormick)
  • Coconut meat from fresh coconut
  • Sweetened, flaked coconut (equal parts with above)

1. Measure the grated fresh coconut; mix with an equivalent amount of sweetened, grated coconut and set aside.

2. Mix cake batter according to package directions as follows (incorporate changes):

  • Add enough cream of coconut to the coconut milk to equal the amount of water called for in the cake mix instructions and substitute that mixture for the water (do not add both)
  • Stir in vanilla extract before final beating. 
  • Bake cake (as package directs) in two 9-inch layer pans. Remove from pans and let cool on wire racks.

3. Make the buttercream: 

  • Combine egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. 
  • Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water; whisk constantly until the mixture is opaque and warm to the touch (about 120°F), about two minutes
  • Transfer the bowl to the mixer and use the whisk attachment 
  • Beat whites on high speed until glossy and sticky, about four minutes.
  • Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in the butter, one piece at a time 
  • Beat in cream of coconut, vanilla extract and coconut extract. 
  • Scrape bowl down well; continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about one or two more minutes.

4. Assemble the cake: 

  • Spread each layer with buttercream 
  • Stack together
  • Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream and press grated coconut over the top and sides (any leftover coconut will freeze well)
  • Refrigerate until serving.

Best if made the day before and allowed to sit overnight.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.