Ugly Duckling Cake

Use a box cake mix to make this vintage Ugly Duckling Cake recipe with fruit cocktail! With its moist texture, coconut and pecans, it is sure to be a favorite.

My grandma passed away just a few weeks ago. She was just 4 months shy of 100 years old and had moved by me recently. She’s moved many times in life and was so excited to move, even at 99 years old!

In moving, my mom came across her old handwritten cookbook. Grandma said I could have it as long as I baked for her. Unfortunately she passed away just a few days after I got the cookbook so I never got to do that. One of the recipes in the book was this Ugly Duckling Cake. I had never heard of it and just had to make it.

Ugly Duckling Cake with a bite out of it

Why you’ll love this cake:

  • It’s a conversation starter. Really! This cake has such a fun name.
  • Starts with a box cake mix..but no one will know it!
  • Rich and buttery.
  • Pecans and coconut.
  • Sweet, but not overly so.
  • Moist texture from fruit cocktail.

Why is it called Ugly Duckling Cake?

It is thought that this cake has the “ugly duckling” name because it isn’t pretty. The brown sugar and nuts kind of bakes into the top of the cake making the top kind of lumpy. And the coconut syrup isn’t perfectly swirled dollops of buttercream.

But you know what? I think for an “ugly” cake, this cake is quite stunning.

ingredients for Ugly Duckling Cake

How to Make Ugly Duckling Cake

There are 3 parts to this old cake recipe:

  1. Cake base.
  2. Brown sugar nut topping.
  3. Coconut syrup.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Prepare. Spray a 9×13 baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
  • Mix. In a large bowl, mix together all of the cake ingredients. Mix using a hand mixer on low speed until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, then mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes.
  • Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle the brown sugar and nuts evenly on top of the batter. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake tests done.
  • Boil. Prepare the coconut frosting by melting the sugar, milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Stir and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes. Then mix in the shredded coconut.
  • Top. Spread the topping on the cake.
Ugly Duckling Cake with coconut topping spreading on top

How to Serve Ugly Duckling Cake

This cake is best served warm. We serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. It’s honestly very good on it’s own though too!

Ugly Duckling Cake on a spatula

Should this cake be refrigerated?

This cake should be safe to sit at room temperature for 24 hours, but after that, we store any leftovers in the refrigerator. It will also freeze well! Just make sure it is in an airtight container.

Looking for a cake like this that doesn’t use a box mix? Try our fruit cocktail cake!

square of Ugly Duckling Cake
square of Ugly Duckling Cake

Ugly Duckling Cake

5 from 1 vote
Use a box cake mix to make this vintage Ugly Duckling Cake recipe with fruit cocktail! With its moist texture, coconut and pecans, it is sure to be a favorite.
Servings 15
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes

Ingredients
 

For the cake:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix (15.25 ounces)
  • 16 ounces fruit cocktail (1 can, with juice)
  • 3.4 ounces instant lemon pudding (1 small box)
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • ½ cup vegetable or canola oil

For the sugar topping:

  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

For the coconut frosting:

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • ½ cup salted butter
  • 1 ½ cups shredded coconut

Instructions
 

  • Spray a 9×13 baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
  • In a large bowl, mix together all of the cake ingredients. Mix using a hand mixer on low speed until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, then mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
  • Sprinkle the brown sugar and nuts evenly on top of the batter.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake tests done.
  • Prepare the coconut frosting by melting the sugar, milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Stir and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes.
  • Then mix in the shredded coconut.
  • Spread the topping on the cake.
  • Serve with whipped cream.

Notes

The calories shown are based on the cake being cut into 15 pieces, with 1 serving being 1 slice of cake. Since different brands of ingredients have different nutritional information, the calories shown are just an estimate. **We are not dietitians and recommend you seek a nutritionist for exact nutritional information.**

Nutrition

Calories: 454kcal | Carbohydrates: 60g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Cholesterol: 68mg | Sodium: 401mg | Potassium: 152mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 39g | Vitamin A: 344IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 116mg | Iron: 1mg
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Calories 454
Keyword old fashioned, picnic, vintage
Can I leave out the coconut?

Yes, but you’ll just have a buttery syrup for the top.

Can I leave out the pudding?

Yes, the cake should still work but it won’t have the same flavor. We love the lemon flavor in this cake! Get creative and use a different flavor pudding if you’d like.

Can I use a different flavor cake mix?

Yes! Use white cake, lemon cake or even strawberry cake.

Can I use regular milk instead of evaporated milk?

Yes you can, but we recommend a high fat milk.

About Julie Clark

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This looks really good.. But we don’t get ‘yellow cake mix’ or ‘lemon pudding mix’ here in the UK . what would be a good substitute plz. Could I use plain vanilla cake mix and lemon juice or lemon curd ? Thanks in advance.