Monday, April 15, 2013

Fluffy Coconut Layer Cake with Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream


     My loving Grandma just turned 86 this year!  I was so delighted to make this birthday cake for her.  My grandma Charlotte has always been one of the biggest fans of my cakes, and this one is especially for her!

     Since its finally starting to feel like spring, and coconut is considered a spring-ish flavor for some reason, I decided to bake a nice, coconutty cake.  It's weird how coconut ends in "nut" even though it's a fruit. It's very misleading.

     You know, I didn't used to like coconut.  When I wasn't as old and wise as I am now, I despised Samoas and I wouldn't touch an Almond Joy, even though it's covered in chocolate.  But my opinion was drastically altered the second I tasted my first coconut cupcake.  Coconut cupcakes were one of the first cupcakes that I successfully made from scratch.  Since then, I have been using coconut in lots of things:  coconut macaroons, pudding, and toasted coconut to put on German chocolate cake.

     The cake turned out perfect.  There was a very lovely coconut flavor in both the cake and the icing.  The cake was tender and fluffy, and the icing was nice and creamy.

      My favorite type of frosting for layer cakes is Swiss meringue buttercream.  It's really smooth so it's good for frosting cakes, and it isn't too sweet.  What's unique about it is that it uses egg whites.  People claim that fresh egg whites make a fluffier frosting, but if you're worried about eating uncooked eggs or don't feel like dealing with a bunch of egg yolks, pasteurized egg whites in a carton work well too.

     This buttercream takes a bit longer to make than other frosting since you have to whip the egg whites for a while.  However, you can make the buttercream awhile ahead and keep it in the refrigerator.  Just re-whip the frosting make sure it reaches room temperature before you serve it to make sure it's nice and creamy.  For more tips on how to make Swiss meringue buttercream, you can look here.

To make the cake, first sift together the dry ingredients.
Add chunks of room temperature butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbles.
In another bowl, combine the coconut with the coconut milk and 6 egg whites.
Stir in some vanilla bean seeds. You could also use 2 tsp vanilla extract here.
Add half of the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
Add the rest and beat for 30 seconds until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Spread evenly into two prepared pans.
Bake until the cake is light brown and springs back when poked. 
After 20 minutes, remove the cake from the pan and cool completely.
While the cakes are cooling, make the Swiss meringue buttercream.  First, whisk together egg whites and sugar until foamy.
Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Still occasionally, until the mixture is 160*F  or hot to the touch.
Beat the egg white mixture on high spreed for about 10-15 minutes, until the sides of the bowl are cool and the whites are thick and glossy.
Add the butter chunks little by little, mixing in between additions.
It will look curdled at first, but keep beating until the frosting becomes more satiny.
Add the coconut milk, vanilla, and salt and beat for a couple of minutes until the frosting is fluffy.

When the cakes are cool, trim the tops off to level the cakes.  Enjoy the scraps.  They are delicious.
Spread some frosting on one layer.  
Put on the next layer and frost the whole cake with a crumb coat.  You can frost it with the rest of the frosting, or you can decorate it like I did.
I piped some roses on the sides of the cake using a large open star tip.  
Then I pressed another 1 cup of coconut shreds into the cake.
And finally I piped the cake with some chocolate ganache I had in my freezer.  Easy, simple, perfect.  
**Another useful note:  one can of coconut milk will suffice for both the cake and the frosting.


Fluffy Coconut Layer Cake

makes one 8" two-layer cake, serves 8-10
recipe from Flour by Joanne Chang


2-1/4 cups (270g) cake flour
1-1/4 cups (250g) sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks, 170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
6 egg whites (198g)
1 cup (240g) coconut milk (not the "lite" kind)
1 cup (120g) sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract

1 recipe Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream (recipe below)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (for garnishing)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Place the rack in the center.  Butter and flour 2 8" pans and then line with wax paper.  Butter and flour the wax paper. 
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add the cubes of butter and mix until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup shredded coconut with the coconut milk and egg whites until blended. Add the vanilla bean's seeds or vanilla extract and mix.  
  4. Add half of the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Beat for about 1 minute, until combined.  Add the rest and beat for another 30 seconds, until combined and fluffy.  Divide batter evenly among pans. 
  5. Bake the cakes in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until the tops are light brown and spring back when lightly touched.  Let cakes cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely, removing the wax paper on the bottom.  
  6. Level the cakes by trimming off the tops.  Frost with the Swiss meringue buttercream and press the shredded coconut into the frosting.  Store in a cool place for up to 3 days.  

Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream

makes about 5-1/2 cups, enough to frost one 8" cake
recipe from Flour by Joanne Chang


1-1/2 cups (300g) white granulated sugar
6 egg whites (198g)
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup (160g) coconut milk


  1. Place egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl and whisk until combined.  Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Stir occasionally for 6-10 minutes, until the mixture is 160*F or hot to the touch.
  2. Remove the bowl from the heat.  Beat the egg whites on high speed for about 10 minutes, until the sides of the bowl are cool, and the mixture has about doubled in volume.  Add the butter chunks, a few at a time, and beat until incorporated.  It may look curdled, but keep beating until the butter is well incorporated and the frosting is glossy.  
  3. Add the vanilla, salt, and coconut milk.  Whip for another couple of minutes until smooth.  
  4. If you make this ahead of time, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Before using, bring it back to room temperature and whip it for a few minutes until smooth.  


  1. This looks SO delicious!! Happy Birthday to your Grandma!! :)

  2. This looks yummy! I love coconut!

    1. Thank you! I just saw those strawberry cupcakes you made and I need to make them sometime!