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Coconut Layer Cake

Coconut Layer Cake

This cake is absolutely fantastic—even a little bit sinful.

  • Total Time: 3 hours plus 3 hours for chilling the filling
  • Yield: 12 servings


  • Cake

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 4 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 11 ounces (2 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (see Notes)
  • 7 egg whites (9 ounces (reserve 4 yolks for the filling)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Cruzan coconut rum (see Notes) (optional)
  • 3 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted, for garnish
  • Coconut Cream Filling

  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 4 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the cake batter)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Coconut Frosting

  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 8 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus more as needed
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup Cruzan coconut rum (see Notes) or milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • To make the cake:

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three 10-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Cut three circles of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with the parchment, then grease the parchment with nonstick cooking spray, and then lightly dust the parchment and the sides of the pans with flour.

  • Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl.

  • In a standing electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on low speed until light and fluffy.

  • In a separate bowl, whisk the coconut milk, egg whites, and vanilla together. With the electric mixer still on low speed, begin alternately adding the liquid and the dry ingredients to the creamed butter in three stages, beginning with the liquid and mixing well after each addition (to minimize mess when adding flour, add just a bit at a time). Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Tap the pans lightly on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles, and place them in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, and then turn them out onto wire cooling racks to cool completely. Brush the cooled layers with the coconut rum, if desired.

  • To assemble the cake, place a cooled cake layer, bottom side up, on a serving plate, and spoon 3/4 cup of the coconut filling (recipe follows - best when made the night before) onto the middle of the layer. Spread the filling evenly to within 1/4 inch of the edge. Repeat with the second layer and another 3/4 cup of filling. Stack the two filled layers on top of one another, and top with the final cake layer, top side up. Lightly frost the top and sides of the cake with some of the coconut frosting (recipe follows) (this is called a crumb coating), and refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes. Then generously frost it again. Press the toasted coconut into the frosting on the top and sides of the cake. (This cake will keep for 2 days at room temperature.)

  • To make the Coconut Cream Filling:

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  • Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake it, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. The color should range from dark brown to light. Set the toasted coconut aside.

  • Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Then whisk in the butter, coconut milk, milk, and vanilla. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously with a heat-resistant rubber spatula or whisk, until thickened, taking care not to let it get so hot that the yolks scramble, about 10 minutes. The pastry cream will have a pudding-like consistency. Transfer it to a clean metal bowl set over an ice bath.

  • When the pastry cream has cooled, stir in the toasted coconut. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to overnight. (It works best when chilled overnight.)

  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups

  • To make the Coconut Frosting:

    1. Place a small saucepan of water on the stove and heat to a simmer. Place the butter in the bowl of a standing electric mixer, and position the bowl on top of the saucepan. Once the butter has melted, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the 8 cups confectioners’ sugar and the milk, rum, and salt. Place the bowl back on top of the simmering water and cook for 3 minutes, whisking occasionally (be sure not to cook longer than 3 minutes or the frosting will become grainy). Fit the electric mixer with the whisk attachment, and attach the bowl of frosting. Add the vanilla and whisk on medium speed for 15 minutes, or until cool.

  • Transfer the frosting to a container, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it aside until ready to use. Whisk it again right before frosting the cake. If the frosting seems too thin, whisk in additional confectioners’ sugar.

  • Yield: 5 cups

  • Notes:

    Coconut milk comes in 13.5-ounce and 14-ounce cans. This cake recipe is designed to use the entire can. If you come up a little short on the measurements asked for in the recipe, substitute whole milk.

  • This cake was made using Cruzan coconut rum. We found that the subtle, natural coconut flavor from this rum delightfully enhanced the cake and frosting. We recommend it highly.