Classic Coconut Cake with Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 fresh coconut, husk and peel removed and grated or finely shredded (3 to 4 cups)
3 egg whites
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Prepare Batter Let eggs, butter, and milk stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl combine cake flour, baking powder, and kosher salt; spoon flour mixture onto a square of waxed paper. “It makes adding flour to the bowl much neater,” says Scott. Butter three 8x8x2-inch square or three 8×1-1/2-inch round cake pans; line bottoms with waxed paper. Butter waxed paper and lightly flour; set aside.
In large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add 2 cups sugar and 1 Tbsp. vanilla; beat 3 to 4 minutes on medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Using waxed paper as funnel for flour, alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low after each addition until just combined. “It should be satin smooth,” says Scott. Divide batter among the three pans.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove the cake layers from pans; peel off waxed paper and discard. Cool on wire racks.
To drain coconut water, with an ice pick or nut pick make holes in two of the eyes with a pressing, twisting motion. If eyes are especially tough, tap top of pick with hammer. Pour coconut water into measuring cup. “Some folks use this water as a replacement for part of the milk in the cake layer recipe. I enjoy drinking the coconut water over ice.”
To crack coconut shell, hold coconut in one hand and with hammer tap-somewhat assertively-rotating the coconut as you strike. “The goal is not to smash it open, but to systematically tap and loosen the shell, so tap up and down and all around,” says Scott. “Rotate and tap a bit more aggressively as you go. After 2-3 minutes of this you will hear a change in the sound of the tapping and then a cracking sound, which indicates the shell has been split.” Separate coconut into pieces, tapping with hammer as necessary.
To remove coconut meat, on towel-protected counter slowly work thin-blade knife between coconut and shell. With vegetable peeler remove brown skin from coconut. Using smallest holes on box grater, shred coconut.
To make sugar syrup: Let egg whites stand at room temperature 30 minutes. In medium saucepan combine 2 cups sugar, cream of tartar, and water. Cook and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Cover, bring to boiling; boil 2 minutes. Remove cover; attach candy thermometer to pan and cook, without stirring until 240 degrees F (5 to 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl beat egg whites with electric mixer on medium to high until frothy. Add 1/4 tsp. salt and beat just until stiff peaks begin to form.
With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in hot syrup. Beat in the 2 tsp. vanilla. Increase speed to medium-high; beat until light and fluffy and a dollop of whites lifted off the beater holds its shape (3 to 4 minutes).
On a serving plate or stand arrange first cake layer on 2-inch-wide strips of waxed paper. “Once you’re done frosting,” Scott says, “remove the waxed paper and your plate is pristine.” Spread top of each layer with frosting, then sprinkle generously with shredded coconut. If frosting starts to thicken, set over bowl of hot water. When cake is completely frosted heap with additional coconut, pressing gently with your fingers to bed the coconut.
With a broad knife or spatula gently lift base of cake and slide waxed paper free. Repeat on all sides of cake.