Joel’s birthday was in November and his birthday cake is a very important part of whatever we do each year. Rather than surprising him with a cake that he may or may not wholeheartedly approve of, I usually look for ideas and run them by him well in advance of his birthday. This year I found the most perfect cake in the November issue of Food & Wine magazine. I showed it to Joel and he approved. Not a wholehearted approval, but an approval nonetheless.
So I made the aptly named “Towering Coconut Layer Cake” and it was spectacular! So spectacular that I made it twice more in the same week and once more again since then. Yes, I’ve made this cake four times in not quite two months. It’s just that good.
Just so that we don’t sound like complete gluttons, all four of these cakes were for events involving people other than the three inhabitants of our house and three of these events did not take place in our home. As difficult as it was, we shared this wonderful cake with other people. And if I’m not mistaken, everyone we shared with is glad that we did.
Still not convinced that this cake is that good? I’ve got reasons. First, I think this might be my most favorite of all the cakes I’ve ever baked. Second, it contains rum. Third, I won best dessert at my sister and her husband’s annual chili cookoff. (Please ignore the fact that I had only one competitor.) Fourth, people are apparently dreaming about this cake and telling their friends about it. Fifth, if I were making my own wedding cake, this would be the cake I would bake. Sixth, I have people offering to make jewelry for me in exchange for this cake. I’ll stop now but I’ve got more reasons should you need them.
I’m going to share the full, unchanged recipe from Food & Wine here but I’m also going to tell you about all of the things I changed when making this cake. Those notes are in italicized parentheses throughout the recipe.
Towering Coconut Layer Cake
- 10 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (To add more coconut flavor, reduce vanilla 1 teaspoon and add 1 tablespoon coconut extract.)
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons spiced rum (I used more rum, probably 4 tablespoons or even a little more.)
(Sorry, I cannot vouch for the goodness of this frosting as I did not make this particular frosting. Instead I made a double batch of my own favorite buttercream frosting and added several tablespoons of coconut extract to it along with a splash of rum. If you have a favorite plain buttercream frosting recipe, use it and add lots of coconut extract to it. If you bake and don’t have a favorite buttercream frosting recipe that you go to again and again, shame on you. Find one soon.)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 6 large egg whites
- 4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pure coconut extract
- 2 cups unsweetened or sweetened coconut flakes, toasted
- Make the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter four 9-inch cake pans. Line the pans with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla (and coconut extract if you use it) and beat at high speed until the mixture is light, fluffy and tripled in volume (I literally let it rise in volume until it almost filled the mixer bowl). With the mixer on, gradually beat in the oil until incorporated. In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the cornstarch and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the beaten-egg mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake the cakes for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and let cool. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment paper.
- Make the rum soak: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with the water and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool, then stir in the rum.
- Make the buttercream frosting (or make your own favorite buttercream frosting should you choose to do so): In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and stir over high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stop stirring, then boil the syrup until it reaches 238° (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
- Meanwhile, in a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. With the mixer at medium-high speed, gradually beat in the hot sugar syrup. Reduce the speed to medium and beat until the meringue is cooled to room temperature. Beat in the butter, 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time, until all of the butter has been incorporated. Beat in the coconut extract.
- Brush the rum soak over the cakes (make sure you use ALL of the syrup. You’ll be sad if you don’t). Set one layer on a large plate and spread 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top; repeat with the next 2 cake layers. Cover with the final cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting evenly around the side and over the top of the cake, swirling it decoratively on top. Gently press the toasted coconut onto the side of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before serving. (This cake actually tastes better the next day, once the rum syrup has soaked into the layers really well.)