Rather than simply throwing coconut on the cake, put your coconut on a piece of paper and then curl the paper to the curve of the cake, gently shaking so that the coconut slides off the paper and on to the cake. Start from the bottom and work your way up. Far less messy.
Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.
Pour the coconut out onto a large plate or baking sheet lined with parchment. If you're right-handed, balance the cake on your left hand. Hold it over the coconut. With your right hand, scoop up some coconut and rub it against the side of the cake in a sweeping motion, pressing gently to adhere the coconut. Continue, rotating the cake on your left hand, until the sides of the cake have been covered with coconut. Brush excess coconut that has accumulated at the base of the cake back onto the plate or baking sheet. If you've used a baking sheet lined with parchment, it will be easy to return leftover coconut to its original container. This method works with anything you want to use to decorate the sides of a cake, also known as "masking."
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