There is a great restaurant in Columbus called Cap City Diner where my best friend and I like to have happy hour. They are known for several fabulous dishes, not least of which is the Seriously Big Chocolate Cake. It’s big. Seriously big. I’ve shared this cake with five other people and still not finished it.
After happy hour there, my friend also likes to order a piece to go so she can have chocolate cake for her hangover breakfast. Genius.
My good friend Stefanie turned the big 30 22-years old again last week, and her husband asked me to make a cake and some cupcakes for her pseudo-surprise party. She loves coconut, so I set out to make a seriously coconut cake.
It didn’t need to be seriously big, but I did want it to be tall. So I opted for a 6″ round cake, with three thick layers. I did some research to find the most coconut-filled coconut cake I could find. I came across a recipe for a cake that was based on one of my favorite white cake recipes from Cooks Illustrated, drizzled with coconut simple syrup, filled with coconut pastry cream, and frosted with coconut buttercream. It doesn’t get much more coconut than that.
I had a lot of leftover pastry cream, which made me sad, because it only keeps for a few days. I put some into additional cupcakes, and tried to cram way too much between the layers. That worked out with a straw pushed through the layers for stability, but in the future I would add multiple straws or less pastry cream. Once half the cake had been cut away and eaten, and the straw removed from the center, the top layer started to slide off. The fact that a guest immediately scooped up a second serving from the mound of fallen cake should be a testament to how good it was.
In the interest of time, I made the cake layers a week in advance, and froze them. I made the pastry cream the night before the party, and stored it in the refrigerator with plastic wrap tightly covering the top. The day of the party, I made the frosting.
For assembly, put a dollop of frosting on your cake stand or plate. My layers were pretty level, but you can level the tops as necessary. The stand I was using was a bit lopsided (thank you, outlet store), so I put the first layer on the stand and then leveled it so the top of the cake would be level with the ground. Then I attempted to take photos from the straightest side of the stand. It’s all about perception. After leveling, drizzle each layer with coconut simple syrup for extra moisture.
Between layers pipe a ring of frosting around the edge of the lower layer, to keep the pastry cream in place. This is important, as I noticed after trying to stuff in extra pastry cream. Then spread the pastry cream inside the frosting ring, and put the next layer on top.
The pastry cream is slippery, so push a drinking straw, skewer, or cake dowel through the center of the cake for stability. Cut the top off so that frosting will cover the hole. I used one straw, but would use a couple more if you feel like your cake needs it.
For the buttercream, I used my standard Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe, and used 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 2 teaspoons coconut extract.
Cover the whole thing with coconut buttercream, and sprinkle coconut on the top. I used unsweetened coconut for the top because it comes in the larger flakes.
Adapted from Willow Bird Baking
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened but still cool
Grease two 9″ round cake pans, or three 6″ round cake pans with butter. Cover the bottom of each with a parchment round, and butter the parchment. Dust the buttered pans with flour and tap to remove excess.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Whisk together the milk, coconut milk, egg whites and extracts in a measuring cup or small bowl.
Mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add the butter, beating at low speed until you get moist crumbs with no large clumps.
Add 3/4 of the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and beat at medium speed for one and one half minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 20 seconds longer at low speed.
Divide batter between prepared pans and smooth tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Coconut Simple Syrup
Adapted from Willow Bird Baking
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup coconut water
1 teaspoon coconut extract
Bring the sugar, water and coconut water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat, and simmer for several minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, add the extract and stir to combine. Allow to cool and use to moisten coconut cake.
Coconut Pastry Cream Filling
1 can (14 fluid ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
2/3 cup whipping cream
Simmer coconut milk, sugar, salt and vanilla in a medium pan over medium-high heat. In a small heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and corn starch with an electric mixer until thick. Slowly pour 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the egg mixture while whisking vigorously. Then pour the egg mixture into the rest of the cream, and return it to the heat.
Cook, whisking constantly, until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat, and stir in the butter. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and then stir in the coconut. Cover the surface tightly with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming, and cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or overnight.
Whip the cream in a chilled bowl with an electric mixer until stiff. Fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream until it is fully incorporated.