The Best Coconut Layer Cake

Can something be impossibly light while also being incredibly rich and decadent? Apparently so. This coconut cake is majestic in its height and a beauty—a flurry of tangy frosting, sweet shredded coconut and tender cake. It will truly put all other coconut cakes to shame. The bar has now been set.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 2 hr (includes cooling)
  • Active: 40 min
  • Yield: 10 to 12 servings
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Ingredients

Cake:

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans

2 3/4 cups cake flour, plus more for the pans (see Cook's Note)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup buttermilk 

1/2 cup sweetened cream of coconut (from one 15-ounce can), stirred well (see Cook's Note)

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar 

4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coconut extract

Frosting:

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coconut extract

2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Directions

  1. For the cake: Position racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper; butter the parchment, dust with flour and tap out the excess. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the buttermilk and cream of coconut in a small bowl. Beat the butter and 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the vanilla and coconut extracts. Reduce the mixer speed to low; beat in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, until combined.
  3. Beat the egg whites and the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl with clean beaters on medium-high speed until stiff glossy peaks form, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter in three batches until just combined (do not overmix). Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake, switching the pans halfway through, until the cakes are lightly browned and the centers spring back when lightly pressed, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to racks and let cool 20 minutes in the pans, then run a small knife around the edges of each cake and carefully invert onto the racks; remove the parchment and let cool completely.
  4. For the frosting: Beat the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in about half of the confectioners' sugar until combined. Add the remaining confectioners' sugar, salt and vanilla and coconut extracts and beat until combined. Increase the mixer speed to medium high and continue beating, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
  5. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or platter and top with a heaping 2/3 cup frosting. Add another cake layer, more frosting and the last cake layer. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the coconut all over the top and sides of the cake, gently pressing to adhere.

Cook’s Note

When measuring flour, we spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.) This cake gets its flavor from canned cream of coconut. Look for it with the drink mixers at your supermarket (don't use coconut milk or coconut cream).