Creamy Coconut Layer Cake

A creamy coconut custard, made with coconut-infused whole milk – which has a richer, cleaner flavor than canned coconut milk – forms the base for the filling and frosting of this tall, luscious layer cake. A rum-spiked soaking syrup adds some punch to the moist, white coconut cake layers as it offsets the richness of the coconut.  I like to make this cake in stages, so that it’s not too overwhelming a project – bake the cake layers one day, make the custard and syrup another day, and finish the filling and buttercream and assembly on the third day.

Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 12-16


Coconut Custard:

  • 1 1/2 cups (362 grams) whole milk
  • 1 cup (80 grams) sweetened flaked coconut
  • 4 large (74 grams) egg yolks (save the whites to use in the cake layers)
  • 1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (22 grams) cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Coconut Cake Layers:

  • 3 1/4 cups (325 grams) sifted cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup (161 grams) whole milk
  • 2/3 cup (161 grams) unsweetened coconut milk (stir well before measuring)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 16 tablespoons (227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)

Rum soaking syrup:

  • 1/2 cup (118 grams) water
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) dark rum
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Coconut Cream Filling:

  • 3/4 cup (180 grams) Coconut Custard (from above)
  • 3/4 cup (174 grams) heavy cream

Coconut Buttercream:

  • 24 tablespoons (338 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (38 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup (180 grams) Coconut Custard (from above)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Coconut Garnish:

  • 2 cups (200 grams) sweetened flaked coconut


Make the Coconut Custard:

  1. Place the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook until scalding. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside to steep for 30 minutes.
  1. Strain the milk, pressing down on the coconut with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Measure the milk; you should have 1 1/3 cups. If you have less, add a little milk as necessary to make up the difference.
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt until pale; set aside.
  1. Return the coconut-infused milk to the saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk about 1/3 cup of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan containing the remaining milk. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Continue to boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter until completely melted. Quickly strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Whisk in the rum and vanilla extract. Set the bowl containing the coconut mixture in a large mixing bowl filled one-third of the way with ice water (be careful that the water doesn’t splash into the coconut mixture). Stir the custard frequently until it is slightly chilled, about 5 minutes.

Make the Coconut Cake Layers:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the milk, coconut milk and vanilla; set aside.
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until very light, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the lemon zest. If you have a splatter shield for your mixer, attach it now (the milk tends to splash up as you add it). Add the flour mixture at low speed in three additions, alternating it with the milk mixture in two additions. Mix just until the flour is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly, and smooth the tops.
  1. Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges. Cool the cakes in the pans, set on wire racks, for 15 minutes. Invert the layers onto the racks and cool completely.

Make the Rum Soaking Syrup:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally just to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rum. Let stand at room temperature until ready to use.

Make the Coconut Cream Filling:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat 3/4 cup (180 grams) of the Coconut Custard with the heavy cream at high speed until it is light and forms soft peaks. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the Coconut Buttercream:

  1. In another bowl of the electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at high speed until very light and creamy, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of the Coconut Custard, the vanilla extract, and salt, and beat at medium speed until blended and smooth.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Using a long, serrated knife, trim off the domed tops of the cakes so that they are even (save any cake pieces and crumbs for snacking). Cut each cake horizontally into 2 layers. Reserve one of the flat bottom layers to place on top of the cake. Arrange a cake layer, cut side up, on a cardboard cake round or flat serving plate. Generously brush the cake with some of the Rum Soaking Syrup. Spoon one-third of the Coconut Cream 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. Top with another cake layer and brush it with more syrup. Top with another third of the filling. Repeat with another layer, more syrup and the remaining filling. Take the remaining cake layer and brush the cut side with the remaining syrup. Place the layer, cut side down, on top of the filling.
  1. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the Coconut Buttercream. Pat the coconut onto the sides and top of the cake. Serve the cake immediately, or refrigerate it. If refrigerated, let stand at room temperature for about 45 minutes before serving.

Recommended equipment:

Fat Daddio’s Round Cake Pan, 9 x 2 Inch

Egg Beater Stainless Surround helixSpring Coil Whisk

9″ Round Coated Cakeboard


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Tish Boyle
Tish Boylehttps://pastryathome.com
Tish Boyle is the Managing Editor of Pastry Arts Magazine, a food writer and cookbook author with expertise in baking, desserts and chocolate. A graduate of Smith College and La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine, Tish has written several dessert and baking books including Chocolate Passion, Diner Desserts, The Good Cookie, The Cake Book and Flavorful. Co-writing credits include Payard Desserts and the Grand Finales series of books.

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