I don’t always share the recipes from my Food52 column, Project Dessert, here but my post from a few weeks ago is too good not to share again! This light and fluffy coconut cake is one of the best I’ve ever had, and it totally reignited my love for chiffon cakes which are such a great base for all sorts of flavors. I admit that I am late to loving coconut. I used to find the flavor overpowering in an “Am I eating sunscreen?” kind of way, but over time, I have learned to love it in its many forms.
I especially like thick, flaked coconut, which adds a little drama and a lot of delicious crispiness to the outside of this cake, which is made from light, sponge cake layers soaked in coconut rum syrup, and topped with Swiss buttercream. The whole thing is soft and squishy in the most comforting way.
In the taxonomy of sponge cakes, this one falls somewhere between a chiffon cake and a Génoise because it uses whole eggs and oil, but no chemical leavener. Instead, its lift comes only from the air incorporated when whole eggs are whipped with sugar.
I have a personal aversion to folding egg whites into cake batter, so unlike most sponge cakes, this method calls for whipping whole, room temperature eggs along with sugar (rather than separating the eggs, then folding the whipped egg whites in at the end)—and to great effect.
If you have a stand mixer, add the sugar, eggs, and extract to the bowl, crank it up, and walk away for a few minutes. After about 7 minutes of whipping, the mixture will grow so much it will threaten to fly right out of the bowl—that’s when you know it is ready.
If you have a 4 1/2-quart mixer, you may need to transfer the egg mixture into your biggest mixing bowl before folding in the flour. It’s always best to use a big, wide bowl when folding ingredients together to lower your chances of deflating the batter too much.
Putting this cake together is super forgiving because it will eventually be covered in toasty flaked coconut, so you don’t have to worry too much about your frosting technique. Just make sure there is a nice, even-ish coating of frosting all around the sides and cover all of your “mistakes” with crisp coconut.
Light and Fluffy Coconut Cake
Makes one 8 or 9-inch, 4-layer cake
An ethereally light cake soaked with coconut and rum syrup, filled with Swiss buttercream, and coated with a generous amount of crisp and nutty toasted coconut flakes. Use 8-inch pans for an impressively tall cake: A 9-inch cake will be just as nice, but a bit shorter in stature. Adapted from Tyler Florence's Towering Coconut Layer Cake.
10 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 3/4 cups cake flour, sirfted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rum
1/3 cup shredded or flaked coconut
5 egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 pound unsalted butter, soft but cool
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract (optional)
2 1/2 cups flaked coconut, toasted
For the cake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter four 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans. Line the pans with parchment rounds, then butter and flour the pans and paper.
In a stand mixer, combine the 10 whole eggs, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract. Beat on high until the mixture nearly triples in volume, 7 to 10 minutes. Note: This filled the bowl of my kitchen aid mixer, nearly to the top.
With the mixer on, slowly stream in the oil until well mixed. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt together.
Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture until well mixed. (You may need to transfer the egg mixture to a large mixing bowl to do this, and it’s always best to use a big, wide bowl when folding ingredients together to lower your chances of deflating the batter too much.)
Divide the batter between the pans and tap them lightly on the counter to remove any large bubbles. Bake the cakes until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the cakes cool in their pans, on a rack, until cool to the touch, then turn them out onto the rack, and remove the parchment. Let cool completely.
For the syrup: Combine the water and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves then stir in the rum and shredded coconut. Let the mixture cool completely before using.
For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites and 1 1/4 cups sugar in a glass or stainless steel bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture constantly until the sugar dissolves and is hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and whip on high speed until light and fluffy and the meringue has cooled to room temperature.
Turn the mixer down to medium and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until all of the butter is incorporated. If the buttercream curdles at any point, turn the mixer up to high and whip until it emulsifies. Add the extracts and a pinch of salt.
To assemble: Place one cake layer on a serving plate or pedestal. Brush with the syrup and scatter 1/3 of the syrup-moistened coconut over the top. Spread with about 1 cup of frosting, repeat with two more cake layers, then top with the final layer. Spread the remaining frosting over the cake, smooth the top and press the toasted coconut flakes into the sides.