Coconut-Vanilla Bean Cake with Coconut Meringue Buttercream Frosting – A super moist coconut-packed layer cake and that frosting is a DREAM!
This coconut cake was originally an Easter project four years ago, and it was a big hit. Since originally posting it, some readers have commented that the cake is way too dense, and as time has passed and my memory faded, I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t as outstanding as I remembered. So, I whipped it up again for Sunday dinner a few weeks ago and asked my family for their most critical reviews (they do a great job giving me their honest opinions).
They all agreed that it was fabulous with loads of coconut flavor and yes, it is denser than a traditional “fluffy” cake, but that it was just different, not in a bad way. The texture is a little crumbly thanks to being packed full of shredded coconut, but again, everyone thought it was a given that with actual coconut in the batter the texture would be different.
SO! There you have it, this coconut cake gets two thumbs up from my crew again!
This recipe hails from the Flour cookbook, which is the origin of the amazing vanilla cream-filled doughnuts that I made ages ago (and are still insanely popular!). I loved the description from the start. Not only is there shredded coconut in the cake as well as on the cake, but there is also coconut milk in the cake itself and in the frosting. Need more evidence that this is quite possibly the best coconut cake, ever? The seeds of an entire vanilla bean are scraped right into the cake batter. That sealed the deal for me. A cake that’s bursting with coconut flavor and vanilla beans? I went all-in and it turned out to be a fabulous decision.
I took particular interest in the fact that the frosting was actually a meringue buttercream. I had only made one once before (see: Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Meringue Buttercream), and while it’s not as quick or easy as your standard butter and powdered sugar frosting, it’s absolutely delicious. Actually, more like phenomenal. This coconut version lived up to the hype, as well. A meringue buttercream almost has the consistency of satin; it’s not nearly as heavy as a powdered sugar-based frosting and it melts in your mouth. I could have easily eaten this frosting by the spoonful (and did, in fact, eat more than my fair share by the finger-ful).
How to Troubleshoot Swiss Meringue Buttercream
While Swiss meringue is an absolutely fabulous frosting, it can give fits at times (this one has done it to me!). Below are the two most common issues people have with Swiss meringue and how to fix them:
Frosting is Curdling – Ick! When this happens, the frosting will resemble cottage cheese. To fix it, take a quarter of the frosting, transfer to a glass bowl and microwave for 15 seconds. With the mixer running on low, slowly stream it back into the bowl with the remaining frosting. Increase the mixer speed and whip until fluffy and smooth.
Frosting is Runny – The frosting has the consistency of thick syrup and doesn’t even hold soft peaks. When this happens, transfer the bowl of frosting to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Beat again for about 5 minutes, until thick, fluffy and smooth.
The layering of coconut flavors in this cake is spectacular. While the coconut shines through, it’s not overpowering in the least; instead, it delivers quite a light, fresh-tasting cake. It’s perfect for any holiday, especially Easter or a spring or summer special occasion. You could dress it up with toasted coconut, colorful egg-shaped candies, or leave it as-is. However you choose to decorate it, you’re guaranteed to absolutely devour this cake.
Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans; set aside.
Sift the cake flour into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar, baking powder and salt and beat on low speed for 15 seconds to combine. Add the butter pieces and beat on low speed for 1 minute, or until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, coconut milk and the 1 cup shredded coconut until combined. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture and whisk to thoroughly incorporate the seeds throughout the mixture.
Add half of the coconut milk mixture to the dry ingredients and beat on medium-high for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the remainder of the coconut milk mixture and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds, or until the batter is well-mixed, light and fluffy.
Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tops are firm and golden brown and spring back when pressed lightly in the center. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans on a wire rack.
Make the Frosting: In a small, heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg whites. Place the bowl on top of a saucepan with about an inch of simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water). Heat the mixture, whisking occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar is dissolved.
Remove the bowl from the heat and transfer the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture becomes a light, white meringue and the mixture is cool to the touch. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter a couple of pieces at a time. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the butter is thoroughly incorporated and the frosting is smooth and glossy. The frosting may initially look curdled after adding the butter, but continue beating and it will come together, looking smooth and creamy by the end of the mixing time.
Add the vanilla extract, salt and coconut milk and whip for another few minutes on medium speed, or until the coconut milk is thoroughly incorporated and the frosting is smooth. Again, the buttercream may look thin and separated, but continue mixing until it comes together. It will be more of a satin-like consistency, versus the thick powdered sugar frostings that are often used. Note: Use the frosting within 30 minutes, or transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 1 day, then beat with a mixer (using the paddle attachment) until smooth before using. You can also store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, then bring to room temperature and beat with a mixer (using the paddle attachment) for 6 to 8 minutes until smooth before using.
Assemble the Cake: Remove the cooled cakes from their pans and level the tops, if necessary. Place one cake layer on a cake stand and top with 2 cups of the frosting, using an offset spatula to spread it evenly to the edges.
Place the second layer on top, top-side down. Spoon 1 cup of the frosting onto the top of the cake and use a large offset spatula to spread the frosting on top and over the sides of the cake, covering it with a very thin layer (this is the crumb coat). Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Use a wooden spoon to mix the remaining frosting to lighten it up since it has been sitting. Spoon it onto the cake and spread it evenly over the top and down the sides. Use an offset spatula to create a smooth finish. Press the 1 cup shredded coconut onto the top and sides of the frosted cake. The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.