Coconut cake is my favorite kind of cake. I would choose coconut over yellow birthday cake any day. My favorite coconut cakes in the city are from Baked and Balthazar. But alas, Baked closed down its Tribeca location for good (their Brooklyn location is still open), and Balthazar shut down its Soho location due to covid. I’m left without any options for coconut cake nearby, so I’ve decided that I’ll have to make it myself in the meantime. My daughter’s 17 month birthday was coming up, so I thought that now was as good a time as any to try to tackle this coconut project. I pulled out my trusty Joanne Chang’s Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe cookbook, which has a white coconut cake recipe on p. 176-177, and eagerly started prepping.
I made some adaptations, obviously, because as awesome as Joanne Chang is, she is a professional baker who has a ton of different ingredients at her arsenal, and I do not. Like I do not believe it is necessary to have different types of flour in my cupboard, just all-purpose is enough, thank you. I still get pained looking at the bag of whole wheat flour that I bought for a banana bread recipe and that now goes unused. And Joanne Chang is a stickler for detail and drawn-out steps, as she should be, whereas I like to cut steps out if possible, as I do not like using thousands of different bowls or picking out seeds from a vanilla pod.
The key substitutions I made were:
*All-purpose + cornstarch instead of cake flour – cake flour results in a fluffier cake, apparently, whereas all-purpose is denser. Supposedly the cornstarch gives the all-purpose a little lift. For every cup of cake flour that you need to use, put two tablespoons of corn starch in a cup and fill the rest of the cup with all-purpose flour. This recipe calls for 2 1/4 cups cake flour, so I used this 1 cup mixture twice, and for the remaining 1/4 cup I just used all-purpose flour, I did not bother with the mixture.
*coconut milk – you’re always supposed to use the real stuff in a can. But my husband did the shopping and bought the diluted one in a carton. I used the carton form and it turned out fine.
*vanilla bean – instead of a vanilla bean, I used 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
*Frosting – I actually went with an Ina Garten recipe for the frosting, as the Joanne Chang recipe called for 6 egg whites, and again it pained me to think that I would throw out another 6 egg yolks. Ina Garten’s recipe does not require egg whites and would save me from the pain of the food waste. Plus Chang’s frosting requires some stovetop heating, whereas Garten’s does not require additional heating or cooking, just mixing.
White Coconut Cake from Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 2-in pieces
6 egg whites
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Coconut Cake Frosting from Ina Garten’s Coconut Cake
1 pound cream cheese (~2 packages), at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
6 ounces shredded sweetened coconut
Making the cake
Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. (If you’re like me, you’ll only have one round cake pan, so you’ll just have to bake the rounds one at a time. Let the first one cool completely before moving on to the second one).
Sift the cake flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (I whisked my all-purpose flour + corn starch substitution mixture in a bowl and then poured into a stand mixer. I didn’t actually sift it). Add the sugar, baking powder and salt and mix on low speed for a few seconds. Add the butter pieces and mix on low speed for about 1 minute until the cake mixture is crumbly.
Combine the egg whites, coconut milk, vanilla extract and 1 cup of the shredded coconut and whisk thoroughly.
Add half of the coconut milk mixture to the flour mixture in the stand mixer bowl, and mix on medium-high speed for about a minute. Add the rest of the coconut milk mixture until the batter is well mixed. Scrape down any stray flour spots if needed. Divide the batter between the two pans.
Bake for 45 minutes and cool completely on a wire rack. If you want to make the cakes ahead of time, wrap each round in plastic wrap then aluminum wrap and put it in the freezer. Thaw on the day that you will frost and decorate it.
Put the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Combine on low speed. Add the confectioner’s sugar GRADUALLY and continue combining on low speed. (I made the mistake of dumping all the confectioner’s sugar into the mixer, there was powdered sugar everywhere). Mix until it starts looking like frosting.