Coconut layer cake may be just about my all time favorite cake. ALL time. Yes, I love a chocolate cake with a vanilla buttercream, and a vanilla cake with a chocolate buttercream, but I truly adore a coconut cake. And making the coconut layer cake of my dreams (intense coconut flavor in both the cake layers and the frosting, super moist cake, layered with super light and creamy frosting) has been on my bucket list for a good while. Yes, I have dabbled in developing coconut cakes of the non-layer variety, such as a coconut sheet cake for Matt and Nato and a coconut cake with meringue and coconut cake bars (aka coconut flavored lamingtons) for this here blog. But this is my first attempt at creating a coconut layer cake and, at the risk of being a little braggy, it’s sort of, kind of, totally amazing.
Now, the timing of the making of this cake was not a product of chance. A few weeks ago, on July 4th, I shared a spectacular coconut cake (won at a cake Sharon Historical Society auction, no less) with a group of friends that was so exactly the coconut cake of my dreams that I was at the computer and emailing the person who donated the cake to the auction inquiring about the recipe within a few hours of eating it. The recipe arrived in my inbox shortly thereafter, and the recipe-development nerd in me immediately noticed something most uncanny. The auction cake recipe was practically identical to a coconut cake recipe from Vogue that I have been harboring fantasies about for some time now. To say that I loved the happenstance of having bid on a cake whose recipe was not unlike one that had caught my fancy years earlier would be an understatement. Development of my own recipe promptly ensued.
I began by closely comparing the auction cake and the vogue one. although there were more similarities between the two recipes than differences, i focused on what set them apart: the vogue cake called for more butter than the auction one, and because i wanted to use coconut oil, both because it would amp up my coconut flavor and add moisture (as all oil is want to do), i added coconut oil to my own recipe. the vogue recipe used super fine sugar, rather than regular granulated, and i did the same (having recently read a great deal in my vintage recipe pamphlets about how nicely a finer sugar creams with butter). as for my cake’s liquid, again, my thoughts turned to my recipe pamphlets and how they touted the power of water as a cake tenderizer. since the auction cake called for a bit of it, AND baked’s coconut cupcakes do as well (really, all baked’s vanilla cakes do), i decided to go in that (seemingly counterintuitive!) direction as well. i also added a bit of whipped heavy cream, as i was taught (and so too was jeffrey steingarten at vogue) to do so by shirley corriher.
I added shredded sweetened coconut to my cake as well, as I had done when I made my meringue covered coconut cake, and I added plenty of coconut extract, as I had done when I made my lamingtons. I used a bit of cake flour, in addition to all purpose, perhaps as a tribute to all of the Swan’s down cake flour pamphlets I’ve been reading, and I turned with much excitement to the developing of the coconut frosting. The auction cake’s frosting had tasted as light as air, but it’s recipe bore no resemblance to Vogue’s. In fact, the frosting on my auction cake was what many refer to as a “boiled milk frosting” and was essentially the recipe baked uses to frost its cakes (milk and flour are cooked on the stovetop til a loose pudding-like paste forms, the paste is cooled and then added to the sugar and butter). No idea why it has taken me this long to develop a recipe for and to use such a frosting, but now that I have done so, not sure I’ll be adding anything else to the frosting rotation . . . ever again. And finally, I brushed my layers (prior to frosting) with a coconut simple syrup for added moisture insurance. Enough said. If you are a lover of coconut or even someone who feels sort of lukewarm about coconut, I entreat you to give this cake a whirl. It’s an auction-worthy winner and the bidding amongst your guests for the largest piece, will inevitably be high.
Coconut Layer Cake
For the coconut cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter room temperature
- 1/4 cup coconut oil whisk it a bit in the jar if it is chunky
- 2 cups super-fine sugar
- 1 Tbsp coconut extract
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
For the coconut simple syrup
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 tsp coconut extract
- 6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 sticks of unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups super fine sugar
- 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp coconut extract
- Shredded sweetened coconut
To make the cake layers
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 8" cake pans, and line with parchment. Spray the parchment and set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift the two flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium high speed until light and smooth. Add the oil, the sugar, and coconut extract and continue to beat on medium high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is quite fluffy (full of air). Scrape the bowl down periodically.
- On medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next one. Scrape the bowl after adding the second and fourth eggs.
- Lower the speed on the mixer, and add the dry ingredients in 3 installments, alternating with the water, and beginning and ending with the dry. Begin with a bit more than 1/3 of the dry and scrape the bowl after the second installment of the dry. Stop the mixer when there is still a bit of visible flour in the batter and incorporate it by hand with a rubber spatula. Add the shredded coconut and mix again by hand.
- Whip the cream in a separate medium sized bowl with a hand mixer (or transfer the batter to a large bowl, and reuse the stand mixer's bowl after washing it) until it holds soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream in to the batter, gently.
- Transfer the batter evenly between the 3 pans (I use an ice cream scoop for accuracy) and bake the layers for 20 - 25 minutes, rotating at the midway point. Start checking the layers after 20 minutes. A cake tester should come out with a moist crumb or two, but relatively clean. Let the cakes cool for about ten minutes, and then invert them on to cooling racks.
To make the simple syrup
- Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium high heat, and cook until the sugar melts and the mixture simmers. Take it off the heat and add the extract. Set aside to cool.
To make the frosting
- Combine the flour, milk, and cream in a medium-sized saucepan. Over medium high heat, whisk the mixture until it simmers and forms a loose pudding-like paste. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap (to avoid a skin forming) and set aside to cool completely.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and mix on medium high speed until light and smooth. Add the sugars and extract, and continue to beat the mixture until it is very light and fluffy. This can take up to 5 minutes. Add the cooled flour mixture, a little at a time, and continue to beat the frosting until it almost resembles whipped cream. If when you taste the frosting, it is a bit grainy from undissolved sugar, continue to beat the frosting until the graininess disappears.
To assemble the cake
- Brush each cake layer with the simple syrup — I end up using up almost all of the syrup between the three layers. Place one layer on a cake stand or serving platter and spread frosting on the top of the layer. add the second layer and repeat. Add the third layer, and frost the sides and top of the cake. You should have enough frosting to be generous. Scoop up the shredded coconut with your hands, and gently press it into the frosted cake until completely covered.
- Cut into slices and serve with mixed berries. The cake will last at room temp lightly covered for up to 3 days.