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Toasted Coconut Cake

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Baking complex desserts is my version of a stress ball. When homework begins piling up and exams are around the corner, or I begin over-thinking things that happened at the veterinary clinic, I turn to a small list of desserts that I have found to be complicated, lengthy, or strange. I realize, however, that spending a few hours baking could be better spent actually cracking open a textbook… but you have to admit that studying is so much easier with a giant slice of cake. Especially when studying ecology and the math equations that go with it, yuck.

Baking causes me to zone out from the world, silencing the background chatter in my head of memorized chemistry reactions and growing to do lists. Instead I completely immerse myself in the prepping of ingredients, buttering of cake pans, and otherwise being in complete silence other than the humming of my laptop and my dog’s snoring. The complexity helps me continue thinking ahead so that I can prepare the best cake in the shortest amount of time, instead of letting my mind fret over exams.

I theory that concentrating on the complexity of the recipe allows me to relax a little towards the minor road bumps I face in school and in general daily life, and that the sweetness of cake counteracts any bitterness of studying, planning, or negative thoughts. Or maybe I’m just trying to avoid studying, so I find an excuse to work on a pastry for 3 hours.

But my test tasting subjects haven’t complained yet, so I’ll stick with the first theory.


I made this cake for my Aunt’s birthday and it was a hit. It received positive reviews, especially from my brother, who managed to eat three slices in one sitting.

This cake isn’t necessarily complex, it just takes a lot of time to complete and requires a good deal of preparation. Therefore, I’d suggest setting up all your ingredients before diving in, otherwise you’ll be in for quite a mess! But the work is worth it- this is probably one of my favorite coconut cakes of all time. It has an intense coconut flavor and the cake is so pillowy soft and moist. The custard is delicious, and really easy to make as long as you watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Don’t stop stirring it!

But my absolute favorite thing about this recipe is that is it incredibly exact. I had no leftover frosting or custard, barely any leftover toasted coconut, and there was enough cake batter for both pans to fill. So thank you, Bobby Flay, for not leaving me with a heaping amount of coconut buttercream that I’d have no idea what to do with!

Toasted Coconut Cake with Coconut Filling
From Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown”

Toasted Coconut:

  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Coconut Simple Syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Coconut Custard:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons coconut rum (Optional; recommended: Malibu)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Coconut Filling:

  • 3/4 cup coconut custard (recipe above; cold)
  • 3/4 cup very cold heavy cream

Coconut Buttercream:

  • 3 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup coconut custard (recipe above; cold)
  • Pinch fine sea salt


  • 2 tablespoons softened butter, for pans
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, slightly cold

For the toasted coconut:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Spread the coconut evenly onto a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden brown, stirring once, 8 to 10 minutes.

For the simple syrup:
Bring water and sugar to a boil. Stir in the coconut, remove from the heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Strain the liquid into a clean saucepan, bring to a boil and let cook until the mixture is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

For the custard:
Combine the milks and vanilla bean and seeds in a medium nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture then return the mixture to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until thickened. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the rum and vanilla extract. Let cool to room temperature then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

For the filling:
Combine the custard and cream in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form.

For the buttercream:
Beat the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the coconut custard and salt and beat until combined and smooth.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour 2 (9 by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper.

Whisk together the milk, egg whites, vanilla bean seeds and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With mixer running at low speed, add the butter, one piece at a time and continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture, increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape sides of bowl and mix for 20 seconds longer. Divide the batter evenly between the cakes pan and smooth the tops using a rubber spatula.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in the pan on baking rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the side of the pan and invert cakes onto the baking rack, removing parchment paper, and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

To Assemble:
Using a long serrated knife, slice each cake horizontally into 2 layers. Reserve 1 of the flat bottom layers for the top of the cake. Place another layer on a cardboard round cut side up and brush with some of the coconut simple syrup. Spoon 1/3 of the coconut filling onto the cake and using a small offset metal spatula, spread it into an even layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the cake. Repeat with 2 more layers. Brush the cut side of the reserved cake layer with the remaining syrup. Place the layer cut side down on top of the cake.

Frost the sides and top of the cake with the buttercream. Pat the coconut onto the sides of the cake and sprinkle the remaining coconut on the top of the cake.


2 responses »

  1. this soundsamazing but are you sure about the buttercream numbers? 3 sticks of butter to 1/3 cup of powdered sugar sounds like butter.

    • When I first saw the recipe I did a double take as well! However it is correct, the three sticks, 1/3 cup of powdered sugar, and the 3/4 cup of the prepared custard allow for a mildly sweet buttercream that didn’t taste like straight butter to my family or I (however everyone’s tastes are different so taste testing is encouraged 🙂 ). I personally enjoyed it because it countered the sweetness of the cake and coconut filling, however for a sweeter buttercream more powdered sugar can be added easily. 🙂


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