Coconut Cake with Swiss Meringue Frosting Recipe

Toasty coconut and layers of cake with buttery frosting make a lovely springtime treat—and Twin Cities culinary instructor Jason Ross helps you every step of the way
Coconut Cake with Swiss Meringue Frosting

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

I have been watching the most recent seasons of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix and am always amazed at the challenges put to the amateur bakers competing on the show. How often do you see a cage made out of pastry placed over a tart, sculptures made out of dough or gingerbread creations complete with moving parts? If you haven’t made a cake—or “sponge,” as they often call it across the pond—from scratch, it might look like a lot of ingredients and instructions, but Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Arts instructor Jason Ross, who created this recipe for Real Food, walks you through every step of the way. While the contestants on the show are given cheeky instruction for a recipe such as simply “make the cake” or “bake,” our detailed instructions are aimed to help you succeed. Then, no judges’ scrutiny—your creation will just meet with appreciative delight from friends and family who get to enjoy a slice. “Bake!”

Coconut Cake with Swiss Meringue Frosting

Makes 2 10-inch Cakes, 16 Servings

Toasty coconut and layers of cake make a lovely springtime treat. Coconut milk instead of cow’s milk in the cake adds tasty, toasty flavor.

For the Coconut Topping
2¾ cups sweetened coconut flakes (half a 14-ounce bag)

For the Cake
2 cups sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
3¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups coconut milk

  1. Toast the coconut: Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the coconut into an even layer on a sheet tray and toast for 5 minutes in the oven. Remove the tray and stir the coconut with a wooden spoon. Jiggle the pan to spread coconut into an even layer again, and toast for another 5 minutes. Repeat until the coconut is light brown and fragrant. Set aside.
  2. Reduce oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour two 10-inch round cake pans and line with a circle of parchment paper.
  3. Using a mixer with the paddle attachment (hand mixer or counter-top is also fine) beat the sugar and butter on medium-low speed for about 8 to 10 minutes or until light and fluffy. With a rubber spatula, scrape the bowl and the paddle to make sure all the sugar and butter are fully combined.
  4. Add the vanilla and eggs one at a time and mix on low until fully incorporated.
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  6. Add 1/3 of the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and mix on low until just blended. Add 1/3 of the coconut milk and mix on low until just blended. Scrape the bowl and the paddles with a rubber spatula, making sure cake batter is fully incorporated as needed. Continue adding dry mixture and coconut milk, alternating, until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Tap or jiggle the pan gently to get the batter to lay flat and even. Put cake pans on sheet tray and bake in oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake pulls clean with no wet batter.
  8. Cool the cakes in the pan until set, about 40 minutes, then invert cakes onto a wire rack and remove parchment paper. The cake can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or in the freezer for 3 to 4 months.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Makes About 6 Cups (Enough to Frost one 2-Layer Cake)

Buttercream can be made with different bases. The French version uses egg yolks whipped with boiled syrup. Italian uses egg whites whipped with boiled syrup. And Swiss, the gentler and more versatile cousin, uses a warmed egg white meringue for the vanilla-scented icing. It’s stable, spreadable and simple to work with.

6 egg whites
1¾ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Bring a wide pot filled with a couple inches water to boil. Then, reduce heat to very low, enough to keep water hot but not bubbling.
  2. Put egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a stainless steel bowl that will fit on top of pot with hot water. Whisk the egg whites with a wire whisk over the hot water until they are warmed through, about 120°F. This should take about 10 minutes. If you do not have a thermometer, taste a small spoonful; it should be warm, or put a dollop on your wrist or upper lip for the temperature check.
  3. Use a mixer with whisk attachment (hand mixer or counter-top is fine) and whip at high speed until the meringue is white and fluffy, forms stiff peaks, and is cooled. The side of bowl will feel cool.
  4. With the mixer still running, add the softened butter by the spoonful, allowing butter to incorporate with each addition. Continue until all the butter is used and the mixture is light and fluffy. Finish by beating in the vanilla.
  5. Butter cream can be used immediately or stored in a zip-top bag or container in the refrigerator for 7 days, or in freezer for 3 to 4 months. If refrigerated or frozen, the buttercream will need to soften until it is at room temperature, and then be re-whipped until smooth.

Cake Assembly

  1. Use a long serrated knife to trim off any rounded tops on the cakes and brush off any stray cake crumbs.
  2. Place one cooled cake on a revolving cake stand if you have one, or use a plate. With an offset spatula or cake spatula, spread 1 cup of buttercream across the top of cake from edge to edge and just past the edge of cake. Put the next layer of cake on top of the frosted cake and repeat, spreading 1 cup of buttercream across the top, and just a little bit past the edges. Next, spread the extra buttercream that went past the edges, adding a little more as needed around the sides of the cake to make a thin coating. Do not worry if some crumbs make a messy coat, this is called the crumb coat, and will be covered with a fresh coating of buttercream. Refrigerate the cake until the buttercream is firm, about 15 minutes.
  3. Use the rest of the buttercream to cover the crumb-coated sides and another thin layer on top. While the buttercream is still damp and sticky, sprinkle and coat tops and sides with toasted coconut.
  4. Serve immediately, or the cake can be stored at room temperature in a cake box for up to 3 days but does not refrigerate well.

TIP: BETTER BUTTERCREAM

It is a common mistake to make a buttercream that ends up either too stiff or too runny, and it might even seem ruined—but the good news is that buttercream is simple to fix if you run into problems. If the buttercream is loose and soupy, it has gotten too hot. Put the mixing bowl in the refrigerator until the outside edges of the buttercream have gotten firm, like refrigerated butter. This should take around 10 to 15 minutes. Then re-whip on high speed and the buttercream will firm up into a smooth, spreadable consistency. If the buttercream looks curdled or grainy, it has gotten too cold. Put the mixing bowl back over the hot water and stir until the edges of the buttercream start to melt around the edges. Then re-whip. The cold buttercream will soften and smooth as it whips with the melted butter. —Jason Ross

Nutrition info Coconut Cake with Swiss Meringue Frosting (per serving): Calories 650; Fat 41g (Sat. 27g); Chol 115mg; Sodium 280mg; Carb 67g; Fiber 2g; Sugar 45g; Protein 6g

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.