The absolute best coconut layer cake recipe. Those are bold words aren’t they? This recipe is honestly divine. It has so much coconut flavor and the toasted coconut topping adds a delightful crunchy texture. This cake is covered and filled with a decadent Swiss meringue buttercream, it’s rich and tastes of a dreamy tropical holiday. Sold yet? Read on to learn how to make this fabulous cake for yourself!
This cake is from America’s Test Kitchen, and if you’ve ever made anything from one of their cookbooks before you’ll know that they know where it’s at. Like where everything is at, I have yet to find a bad recipe. So here it is, if you want to make this for company and seriously blow your guests away with your mad baking skills, this is it!
Coconut Layer Cake from America’s Test Kitchen
For the cake:
- 1 large egg
- 5 large egg whites
- ¾ cup cream of coconut
- ¼ cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- 2 ¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces softened
For the frosting:
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 pinch table salt
- 1 lb unsalted butter, each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened
- ¼ cup cream of coconut
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted (I used unsweetened shredded coconut, I find cake incredibly sweet and this helps reduce a bit of the sugar)
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment, grease parchment and dust with flour. Separate your eggs, I find the easiest way and least likely to break your yolk is with and egg separator (mine is from Pampered Chef). Many recipes tell you to have room temp eggs, then separate them, but I find the yolk is more likely to stay intact if the eggs are cold. For the cake portion of the recipe is the yolk does break and a little gets in with your whites it’s not a big deal, a bit of extra yolk won’t do any harm to the outcome. However, when you’re making the frosting the slightest bit of yolk can prevent your meringue from turning out, but we’ll get there in a bit.
Whisk egg whites, whole egg, cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract in a large measuring cup (this makes it easier to add to the batter later). Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.
With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds.
With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds.
Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.
Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans with paring knife, invert cakes onto racks and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.
While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 5-7 minutes, depending how hot your oven runs so keep an eye on this. Cool to room temperature.
Now we get down to the fun part. If you’ve never made a Swiss meringue buttercream or have had one fail you may be a bit nervous. Don’t be! Swiss meringue is super easy to make and is such a lovely, creamy, buttery, blissful frosting you may never go back to American buttercream again. Don’t get me wrong, I love a confectioner’s sugar-based frosting as much as the next kid, but Swiss meringue is so luxurious, it’s a great frosting to have in your arsenal. I promise it’s not as hard as it looks or sounds, so let’s do this!
Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2-inches of simmering water. This is where it is vital that there are no yolks in your whites. Like not a speck. Resist the urge to use egg whites in a carton. They may work, they may not. If they’re pasteurized they probably won’t, but really it’s hit or miss. However, if they don’t whip up it’s beyond aggravating to start the whole process over, so it’s best to just take the time and use whole eggs and separate them. You can use the yolks for creme brulee, lemon curd, or some other delicious custard.
Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Most recipes will tell you that heating the egg whites to 120 or 140 degrees F is sufficient. If you’ve taken any sort of food safe program they stress that 160 degrees F is the temperature required to kill bacteria. So while it takes a couple of extra minutes and you need to whisk like you’ve never whisked before to prevent the eggs from cooking, I think it’s worth it to make sure your frosting is safe.
Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Isn’t it pretty? And so tasty, go on and try it! You know you want to.
Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. So this is where things can get confusing with a Swiss meringue buttercream. Below is what you want your frosting to look like once you’re done, but quite often when you’ve added all the butter what you’ve got is a runny lumpy mess. I threw out and started over a few times when I first tried making SMB, thinking I had somehow broken my meringue and clearly it was a loss. So frustrating when you think you’ve wasted ingredients and time.
But fear not. What most recipes don’t tell you is you just need to beat it longer. And keep beating and beating and beating until it comes together. And it will. I swear. If your kitchen is cooking hot you may want to try to refrigerate your frosting for a few minutes to help solidify it a little. It’s honestly like magic when you watch what you think is a total disaster all of a sudden turn into this gorgeous whipped delight right before your eyes! Don’t laugh, it’s seriously that exciting just you wait!
Once your frosting looks like frosting, beat in the cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute.
To Assemble the Cake:
With a long serrated knife, cut both cakes in half horizontally so that each cake forms two layers.
Put a dab of icing on a cardboard round cut just larger than the cake. Center one cake layer on the round. Place a large blob of icing in the center of the layer and spread it to the edges with an icing spatula.
Hold the spatula at a 45-degree angle to the cake and drag it across the surface to level the icing. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining cake layers. To ice the sides of the cake, scoop up a large dab of icing with the tip of the spatula and spread it on the sides with short side-to-side strokes. Don’t worry about doing a crumb coat with this cake (for more info on the wonders of crumb coating see this post), there is not really any point since your cake will be covered will lovely toasted coconut and no one will notice a few stray crumbs.
Put cake over a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Make sure you use the baking sheet or you’ll end up with coconut everywhere. Then press the coconut into the sides, letting the excess fall back onto a baking sheet.
And there you have it, a gorgeous, delicious delightful cake! I made this for a birthday cake, all you need is a sparkly cake topper and voila!
If you have any questions about this recipe or Swiss meringue buttercream, please leave a comment below!