Food Challenge: Coconut Cake

A couple weeks ago, we had a mini London reunion over dinner at a friend's house. When I asked if I could bring something, she suggested dessert. Then suggested the specific dessert, then gave me the recipe. Well, ok then. Food challenge accepted. 

As most of you know (as does my friend) I am not a lover of the baking. I usually do anything I can to avoid it and when that doesn't work, I go straight to the boxed good items. That's like baking, right? Kind of? Not really.

Anyway, I read over the recipe, and thought to myself, yikes, this is the kind of cake that I made when I was dating my now husband for his birthday. Once a year. As soon as we got married, I went back to the boxed cakes. Hey, courting works both ways!

This cake is so intense (both in terms of making and flavor), I'm not even going to try and break it down for you. Following along with the recipe on will probably be easier for both of us! But I'll still fill you in on the steps I took and any substitutions, etc.

First things first: make the custard.

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out, bean and seeds reserved (I omitted this)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons coconut rum (I omitted this)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the milk, coconut milk and vanilla bean and seeds in a medium nonreactive saucepan; bring to a simmer over low heat.

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture. Return the mixture to the pan, set it over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the rum and vanilla extract. Let the custard cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

Next up: make the cake

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (for the pans), plus 12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 12 pieces (for the cake)

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for the pans ( I used regular flour)
  • 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved ( I omitted this)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-by-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Whisk together the milk, egg whites, vanilla seeds and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the 2 1/4 cups flour, the sugar, baking powder and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, add the 12 tablespoons butter, one piece at a time, and continue beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs. Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the remaining 1/2 cup milk mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds more. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for 20 seconds longer. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in the pans on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the sides of the pans and invert the cakes onto the baking rack. Remove the parchment paper and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Step 3: Make the coconut simple syrup

  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Combine 1 1/2cups water and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the coconut, remove from the heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Strain the liquid into a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

Step 4: Make the coconut filling
3/4 cup Coconut Custard, cold
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, cold
Combine the coconut custard and cream in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form.

Step 5: Make the buttercream

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3/4 cup Coconut Custard
  • Pinch of salt
Beat the butter and confectioners' sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the coconut custard and salt; beat until the buttercream is smooth.

Step 6: Toast coconut
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted

And finally: Assemble

Use a long serrated knife to slice each cake horizontally into 2 layers. Reserve one of the flat bottom layers for the top of the cake. Place another one of the layers on a cardboard round, cut-side up, and brush with some of the coconut simple syrup. 

Spoon one-third of the coconut filling onto the cake, and using a small offset metal spatula, spread it into an even layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the cake.

 Repeat with 2 more layers. Brush the cut side of the reserved cake layer with the remaining syrup. Place the layer, cut-side down, on top of the cake. 

Frost the sides and the top of the cake with the buttercream. Pat the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake and sprinkle some on the top.

Step 592: ENJOY! 

Seriously, it may feel that way when you finally finish the cake, but it is worth it. Delicious. So, if you are looking for a true celebration cake give this one a try. You will NOT be disappointed.

Until next time,