Bright Coconut Cake

Coconut cake is one of those quintessentially Southern desserts that pops up on holidays and special occasions. Light and fine and scented with bright coconut, this is a dessert that will satisfy your sweet tooth without weighing you down. Lime zest brightens and perfumes the cake and it the perfect companion to the coconut. This cake takes a little extra time because it features a rich coconut buttercream filling and fluffy meringue-like frosting. The buttercream can be made in advance, but you must decorate the frosting as soon as it is made because it will stiffen quickly. You can wait to make this cake for a special occasion, but I found myself with a craving on a Tuesday, which is when I made this one!

For the cake:

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 c. vegetable shortening

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 3/4 c. cane sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. coconut extract

5 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 1/4 c. cake flour

1 c. light coconut milk

1/2 tbsp. fresh lime zest (grated)

For the coconut buttercream filling:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tbsp. vegetable shortening

pinch of salt

5 c. powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. coconut extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 c. heavy whipping cream or coconut cream

For the 7-minute frosting:

1 1/2 cups sugar 

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/3 cup water 

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

2 egg whites, at room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut


Step One: Make the Cake!

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 8- inch or two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, shortening, baking powder, sugar, salt and extracts until very light and fluffy with a hand mixer on medium-high. (In a standing mixer beat with the whisk attachment on medium- high.)

  3. Beat in three of egg whites, one at a time, on medium- high. Add two tablespoons of the flour and beat to incorporate. Then add the last egg white and eat until the batter is light and smooth.

  4. Using the paddle attachment on your mixer or a large, sturdy spoon, stir 1/3 of the remaining flour into the batter, then half of the coconut milk. Stir in another 1/3 of the flour, then the rest of the coconut milk. End with the last 1/3 of the flour. Beat well, then stir in the lime zest.

  5. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 23 to 28 minutes, until the cakes start to pull from the side of the pans and the top springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes; then remove from the pans at place back on the rack to col completely.

Step Two: Make the Coconut Buttercream

  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, and salt until fluffy. Add half of the powdered sugar and beat slowly until blended; then add the vanilla, coconut extract, and half of the cream and beat until fluffy.

  2. Alternate adding the rest of cream and powdered sugar and then beat until stiff and fluffy.

Step Three: Assemble the cake with the buttercream

  1. Place one of the cakes on a cake plate or stand.

  2. Pile the buttercream in the center and spread nearly the edges of the layer. (If you are making a three-layer cake, pile one half of the buttercream of the bottom layer and the other half on top of the middle layer.)

  3. Place the top layer of the cake evenly on top of the bottom layer(s).

Step Four: Make the frosting and frost the cake

  1. Place all ingredients except the vanilla and coconut into the top section of a double boiler.

  2. Place 1-2 inches of water in the bottom section of the double boiler and bring to a boil. Set the top part of the double boiler over the bottom - the pan should not touch the water! Immediately begin to beat the egg whites on high with a hand-held mixer and beat until stiff peaks form - this will take about 7 minutes.

  3. Remove the frosting from the heat and beat in the vanilla. Continue to beat for another 2 minutes.

  4. Immediately swirl the frosting all over the cake and sprinkle with the coconut. The frosting with stiffen and slightly harden on the outside.

The cake is now ready to slice and serve! It will keep, covered, for about 3 days.