Coconut cake is easily one of my favorite cakes ever. I remember years ago when I still lived in Los Angeles, I had a craving one night for coconut cake. I called my nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to see if they had any and quickly dashed over there to purchase a slice before the store closed.
Although I know some people who are coconut-haters, there is a whole camp of us who love and appreciate all things coconut. When you’re a fan of coconut, and coconut cake especially, there is little that can stand in your way before inhaling a slice or two of this decadent treat.
There are countless recipes for coconut cake, all featuring slightly different variations. Some feature snow-white cake layers created from all egg whites, while others use whole eggs to yield yellow coconut-infused layers.
Some mix shredded coconut into the cake batter while many do not. Some cakes are constructed with two rounds piled on top of each other, whereas others split those cakes each in half to create four thinner layers for an even more refined looked.
Some cakes utilize coconut custard fillings, coconut-infused simple syrups, and more in between the layers, while others use the same or a modified frosting inside and out. When it comes to the frosting, come cakes feature coconut buttercream, and yet others showcase a traditional cream cheese frosting.
Some use freshly grated coconut while others use flaked sweetened coconut or unsweetened coconut, and some leave the coconut stark white to create a single-toned cake exterior, while others lightly toast the coconut to give a bit of contrast to an otherwise all white cake.
Some cakes garnish with coconut only along the sides of the cake, while most cakes feature it prominently all over the exterior.
What kind of coconut cake would I make? I’ve made coconut cakes before, but I had never really thought long and hard about it. Never really played out the endless possibilities for making my coconut cake shine.
There are easy alterations which I have mentioned in my instructions that can tweak this recipe to your liking if you are seeking a different style of coconut cake, but after much deliberation this is what I’ve come up with.
My cake layers are white white white. I opted for a simple cream cheese frosting, spiked with coconut, and then used some of the frosting whipped up with cream for the filling. Yes. I considered making a simple syrup to add a bit of extra flavor and moisture to my cake, but quite frankly, they were incredibly moist without any extra help. Sweetened flaked coconut finished off this beautiful cake.
It was the perfect centerpiece for a friend’s surprise 30th birthday party this past weekend. The entire group loved this cake. It was so tender and delicious, with tons of fresh coconut flavor to go around. Leftover cake was still fantastic the next morning for breakfast. This is definitely a cake that will impress, both in its ethereal look and its all-around perfect coconut flavor.
Coconut Layer Cake
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake
Coconut Cake Layers:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 egg whites (or 3 whole eggs, if you desire a more yellow-toned cake)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (don’t forget to shake the can first!)
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese (or Neufchâtel), at room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (see above)
About 1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (lightly toast the coconut, if you desire)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, line each with a circle of parchment cut to fit and then grease the parchment as well. Set the pans aside.
In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites and beat until well combined. Scrape down the sides, add the vanilla and continue to beat until smooth. Add half the dry mixture and beat until nearly combined, then add the coconut milk, mix again, and finally add the remaining dry mixture and beat just until the mixture comes together. Do not over mix.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Smooth out the top, slightly pushing the batter more toward the edges so it doesn’t dome up as much when it bakes. Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes before flipping them out of the pans onto a wire rack. Peel the parchment off the bottoms and finish cooling the cakes upside down (this will also help if your cakes are slightly domed on top to flatten them a bit).
Meanwhile, make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar about 1 cup at a time until smooth and creamy. Add the coconut milk and continue you beat until smooth. Transfer the frosting to another bowl. You should have about 3 cups of frosting total.
To make the filling: In the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (it’s fine if they still have some frosting on them), beat the heavy cream to medium peaks. Add 1 cup of the frosting to the whipped cream and continue to beat until smooth. Set aside.
Flip your cooked cakes right-side up again. If they are badly domed, trim off the domed part of the cake with a long serrated knife, such as a bread knife. If the top is mostly flat, just leave it as is. Carefully use the serrated knife to cut each cake layer in half horizontally to create a total of 4 even cake layers.
Place one of the “bottom half” layers of cake on a serving dish, cake pedestal, or cardboard round and place a few pieces of aluminum foil or parchment paper around it (tucked underneath it) to make for easy cleanup after decorating. Spread one-third of the filling over the layer using an offset spatula. Top with a “top half” layer of cake. Spread one-third of filling over the layer. Top with an inverted “top half” layer of cake, and spread it with the final third of filling. Finish up by placing the last “bottom half” layer of cake upside down onto the cake (so the smooth bottom is on top).
Frost the top and sides of the cake evenly with the frosting. Press the coconut onto the frosting all over the cake. It should stick to the frosting pretty well, since it will still be somewhat soft. Chill the cake to allow the filling and frosting to set, at least 1 hour. This will make the cake easier to transport, if needed, and the coconut will adhere better to the frosting.
Remove the foil from the edges of the cake to give it a clean finish. The cake will slice more cleanly if chilled, but it should be served at room temperature so the frosting is soft and fluffy. This cake will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.