Coconut cake with cream cheese frosting

A dense cake, but not too much, with a perfect, tender crumb.

The Pastry Chef's Baking
Coconut cake with a tender crumb and a rich coconut cream cheese frosting.

I’ve blogged before about my favorite coconut cake recipes. I have two – the Mrs. Fields one when I want the fancy two-layer cake and the coconut sheet cake when I need something fast and simple. I like both so much that I don’t really try a bunch of different coconut cake recipes as there’s no need to find something “better.” And the other ones I’ve tried haven’t really measured up to my Top 2 favorites. Until now. Now I have a Top 3 favorite for coconut cakes.

The funny part is, there isn’t any coconut in the cake itself. Sure, there’s cream of coconut but the only coconut is actually part of the garnish covering the frosting. At least, if you follow the original recipe to the letter. I almost didn’t follow it exactly because who makes a coconut cake without coconut in the cake? But I resisted the impulse to improvise because I wanted to see what it was like as the original blogger had posted it.

Turns out, it was actually quite fabulous. I loved the cake itself. It was more dense than a cakey-cake (my highly scientific baking term for cake texture you can get from a box mix) but not quite as dense as a pound cake. Instead it was a nice in-between with a perfect, tender, moist crumb. Plus the flavor was fantastic. The coconut cream added to the texture and moistness of the cake but didn’t add a strong coconut flavor so even people who hate coconut (I don’t understand those people but I know they’re out there somewhere) may enjoy this cake. If you wanted to be really nice – and deceptive – to their coconut-hating taste buds (who are these people??), you can leave off the coconut garnish entirely and just serve what would seem like a great vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting.

I happen to love coconut so I had no compunction about adding coconut with abandon. I frosted the bottom layer with a thin layer of cream cheese icing then sprinkled it generously with coconut before I topped it with the second layer. Then I covered the whole thing with the rest of the frosting. Note: I did adjust the frosting recipe from the original. I cut back on the cream cheese by half and cut the coconut cream in half as well so as not to make the frosting too runny. You might want to experiment here and see what you like best in terms of flavor and consistency. The recipe below reflects my changes.

To make it easier to blanket your cake with coconut, put it on a cardboard circle that’s the same size as your cake layer(s). You can get these at places like Michaels – don’t forget to use their 40 percent off coupon. Once you have it fully frosted, grab handfuls of coconut and, holding the cake in one hand over a large bowl, press the coconut over the sides and top, letting the excess fall into the bowl beneath. Rotate it as you cover in coconut. It may get messy but it’s the easiest way to cover the cake in coconut.

It was hard for me to get a decent picture of the cake (I really need to take some kind of food photography class) but this was an amazing cake, not that hard to make and tastes even better than it looks. Depending on my mood, this may have even unseated the Mrs. Fields coconut cake recipe that I’ve sworn by for years.

A few additional baker notes: the original recipe says to bake this in 9-inch cake pans. I only have 8-inch cake pans because I like to have thicker layers but I also leave enough batter to bake in a small ramekin. That ends up being my taste test so I can see how the cake tastes without having to slice a frosted, filled, two-layer cake. Tacky to show up somewhere with a cake that has a slice missing and lamely explain you had to taste it first before bringing it.

If you don’t normally buy or bake with cream of coconut, you can find it either in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores, including Target’s grocery section, or at any Asian grocery store like 99 Ranch. The original blog used Coco Lopez but I used an Asian brand from 99 Ranch. One 15-ounce can was sufficient for my needs and was less than a couple of dollars. Just stir it when you first open it as most of the coconut solids will have drifted to the bottom and you want it an even consistency when you add it to the cake batter and frosting.

I also left out the coconut extract and substituted extra vanilla extract instead. Much as I love coconut, I despise it in extract form. Tastes too artificial and metallic. I have equally negative feelings towards almond extract yet I love almonds. No, only vanilla extract will do for me.

I brought most of this cake into work and several people stopped me in the hall or came to my desk to thank me and tell me how much they liked it. It was gone before lunchtime. Apparently I have a lot of coconut-loving coworkers – yay.

Coconut cake with cream cheese frosting
Adapted from Gonna Want Seconds

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sweetened cream of coconut (like Coco Lopez)
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (I left it out and added extra vanilla extract instead)
1 cup buttermilk
Frosting (modified)
1 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup sweetened cream of coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (I left it out and substituted vanilla bean paste instead)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick baking spray and line bottoms with parchment rounds.

2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; whisk and set aside.

3. In the large bowl of a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment, beat sugar, butter and sweetened cream of coconut until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time. Add vanilla and coconut extracts. With mixer on low speed, beat in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk, until just combined.

4. In another bowl, using the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff but not dry. Gently fold egg whites into cake batter.

5. Evenly divide batter between prepared pans. Beat for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.

6. Meanwhile, make the frosting: using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until just combined and creamy. Add cream of coconut, vanilla and coconut extracts; beat until just combined.

7. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat until all ingredients are just combined and smooth. Add more powdered sugar if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Frost cooled cake and sprinkle coconut generously over tops and sides.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Coconut Battered Shrimp

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