I’m not gonna lie; this is an ambitious cake with many components which you may decide to make only parts of. I recently made this for both my nephews graduation party. The oldest graduated from college, and the younger graduation from high school, so excuse my not so great pictures as I only spent a few minutes taking pictures of the cake at the party.
I love nothing more than a good three layer dramatic cake. Of all the things I make- 3 layer cakes are still my favorite. If you love the taste of pina colada, then this is the cake for you. As I always say, make it your own. If you decide you want to leave out the curd filling and just make a coconut cake with a simple filling, then by all means. I have made this cake many times with different variations. I will also give the variation for this cake in 2 layers at the end of the post for those who want just a 2 layer cake. If you can find the large flake unsweetened coconut- it is an especially elegant cake; Bobs Red Mill makes a good version of the large flake coconut if you can find it. Another variation is to fill it with store bought lemon or lime curd. Dickensons makes a great lime curd if you can find it. Since I cover the cake with sweetened coconut I purposely leave the coconut buttercream on the subtle side. If you like a real full on coconut taste you may also decide to flavor all of the buttercream with more coconut extract. Just play around with it- by adding a little at a time until you like the taste. The cake takes a while to make and assemble, so when I am planning to make it- I like to make the syrup, pineapple curd and the buttercream the day before to save time. Just keep all 3 components chilled overnight.
* If you don’t like the visible flecks of vanilla bean in the frosting then you can use vanilla extract instead. I personally like the flavor of the vanilla bean paste over the vanilla in this buttercream as it adds a more pronounced flavor.
Pina Colada Cake
recipe: adapted from Donna Hay
300 gms Fresh Pineapple, chopped coarse
2 tsp. lemon juice
3 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 Cup caster (superfine) sugar
150 gms unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces.
In a food processor or vitamix, or super powered blender; process the pineapple until smooth. Strain pineapple directly into a small saucepan. Add in the lemon juice and stir with a heat proof spatula. Add in the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch and stir vigorously or whisk to combine. Place over medium heat and stir continuously with the spatula or non metal whisk until thickened; about 6-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter in pieces. Place in a bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap over surface. Chill until ready to use. Makes about 1 1/2 Cups; you will have a little left over. The curd will keep in the fridge for up to one week.
Rum Cake Syrup
1/2 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup water
2 Tbsp. dark rum
1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to ensure sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Set aside to cool at room temperature while you prepare the cake. Note: you can also prepare this a day or two ahead and keep in refrigerator to chill. Makes about 1 cup and you will have some leftover.
Coconut three-Layer Cake
4 3/4 + 2 Tbsp. Cake Flour
1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Cup unsalted softened butter (3 sticks)
2 1/4 Cup sugar
9 egg whites (if using liquid egg whites from a carton- use 1 1/2 cups liquid measured)
zest of one lemon- finely grated/zested
2 tsp. vanilla or vanilla bean paste. (I like to use the paste)
1 tsp. coconut extract
1 Cup (full fat) coconut milk [shake several times before opening]
1 Cup whole or 2 % milk
1 Cup sweetened flake coconut + more for covering sides and top of cake.
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare three 9 inch cake pans by spraying with nonstick baking spray and lining with parchment circles, then spray lightly again.
2. Whisk first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. In bowl of stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy; about 2-3 minutes. Mix coconut milk and whole milk in a 2 cup glass measuring cup, set aside. Add egg whites to butter sugar mixture one at a time or slowly if using liquid whites; stopping frequently to scrape down bottom and sides of bowl. Add extracts and mix. Note: mixture will look really loose and curdled (this is okay and normal)- it will come together in the end. In 3 additions on medium speed, alternate adding 1/3 of the flour mixture with 1/3 milk mixture starting an ending with flour mixture. Fold in sweetened coconut with a spatula. Divide batter equally between the three pans.
3. Bake at 350° F for about 25 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides and a wooden skewer comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake. It’s okay if you get a few moist crumbs on skewer. Let pans cool on a wire rack until completely cool, then flip out cakes.
Vanilla Bean & Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream
6 egg whites (note: I do not use liquid egg whites for this)
1 1/2 Cups sugar
5 sticks unsalted butter, room temp (slightly softened)
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/2 tsp. (+ more to taste) coconut extract
In a medium to large saucepan place an inch of water. In the bowl of your stand mixer place the egg whites and sugar. Place the bowl directly over the pan of water and bring water to a simmer; whisking continuously. Whisk the whites and sugar until mixture is 160 degrees F. If you don’t have an instant read thermometer- just heat until you no longer feel any sugar granules and mixture is warm to touch. Remove bowl; wipe off the bottom of any water and place on mixer with whisk attachment. Whisk on medium high speed until a meringue forms and is shiny and stiff; about 5 minutes. Continue to whisk until the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm. Reduce speed to medium and add in one tablespoon of butter at a time until buttercream is smooth. Stop as necessary to scrape down sides and bottom to ensure you are getting on the meringue mixed in. NOTE: It will go through a grainy curdled phase- but don’t worry (this is normal) it will come together- just keep adding in the butter and continue to whip. Once smooth, stop and remove about 1 1/2 cups and place in a bowl large enough to mix. Mix the 1 1/2 cups of buttercream with the coconut extract, then set aside. Mix the remaining buttercream with the vanilla bean paste until all the paste is incorporated.
1. Trim off cake tops with a large serrated knife to level any domed tops. Flip cakes over and also shave off a thin layer of the cake that has turned brown; this helps the syrup soak in a bit more.
2. Place a small dollop of buttercream onto a cardboard cake round. This helps “glue” the cake, so as not to slide while assembling. Place one cake layer down over the dollop of buttercream, being careful to center on cardboard round. Brush cake liberally with the rum syrup. Frost this first layer with the coconut buttercream, until buttercream is level and smooth.
3. Prepare a second cake layer by brushing with syrup and carefully flipping cake over so syrup soaked side rests over the coconut buttercream. Brush the top side of cake also with syrup. Place a generous amount of the pineapple curd over the cake layer and smooth to the side of cake leaving about 1/2 inch boarder as curd will spread a bit. If you want extra assurance; you may pipe a border of vanilla buttercream (about 1/2 inch tall) along the outside edge border of the cake and place the pineapple curd inside the piped boarder. If you like a thicker layer of curd this is a way to get a thicker layer without having to worry about it seeping out the sides of the cake. If you don’t have a piping bag you can simply use a plastic ziplock bag and snip off one of the corners and pipe that way. If find I like this way (using the piped border) as some of the curd tends to soak into the cake after assembling and you can get a thicker layer of curd this way.
4. Brush the third and final layer of cake with syrup and place it soaked side down over the curd layer. Brush the top layer of the cake also with syrup and spread a thin layer of vanilla buttercream over the top and sides of cake to “crumb coat”. Place the crumb coated cake into the fridge for 30 minutes. Frost the cake top and sides with remaining vanilla buttercream until smooth and cover top and sides of cake with flaked coconut. Keep cake chilled in refrigerator. Remove cake about 1 hour before ready to serve to come to room temperature. Store any remaining cake in the refrigerator.
For a 2 layer cake: Follow directions as above but reduce amounts as per below and prepare two 9 inch cake pans and bake as above. Prepare a 5 egg white buttercream.
3 1/4 Cups cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 Cups
6 large egg whites
1 tsp. lemon zest (fine)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or vanilla)
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
2/3 Cup coconut milk
2/3 Cup whole or 2 % milk
3/4 Cup sweetened flake coconut + more for finishing cake
Five egg white Swiss Meringue Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Follow method directions as above for buttercream
(enough to frost and fill a 2 layer cake)
5 egg whites
1 1/4 Cup sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste OR (Coconut extract to taste if you want coconut buttercream)