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Buttermilk Layer Cake With Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting and Coconut

There are a lot of voices in the food world right now.

If it's not the bazillion food blogs yelling at you to eat pie! make your own baby food! go vegan! stop eating gluten!, then it's the equally disjointed food magazines, movies, cookbooks, and podcasts. It's hard to know who to listen to and when to listen to them, especially when you're tired and jaded and just want to cook something simple for dinner.

Cooking isn't about always having great ideas or making food look like the magazines. Cooking isn't about the latest trendy vegetable or tapping into the muse. Cooking is a process that most of us participate in, whether from necessity or desire, almost every day.

Those of us who work in food can be overbearing at times. It's what we care about, and our minds dwell at the table. It is the place that calibrates our lives, and we find a great degree of comfort, memory, and meaning there.

But it's just food, folks. Food is important. It is connected to health, family, politics, ethics, environmentalism, and to joy. But tonight you have to cook dinner, and your family has to like it, and it needs to be affordable. If you're lucky, things will go without a hitch. We're here to help with that.

We may not be the flashiest, the trendiest, or the newest kid on the block, but we've been around for a while, and we make it our business to know about food. The process is ongoing. We learn new things about our trade every day. In short, we're here to help you get dinner on the table. To make those moments of uncertainty more manageable. And today, we brought dessert.

The buttermilk layer cake is one of the most underappreciated little cakes out there. It has an old-fashioned sensibility that doesn't always stand up to the wild and wonderful creations on your Pinterest page. But while it may call to mind dusty doilies and weak coffee, the buttermilk cake is a foot soldier, and it's here to spruce up your Easter menu.

Making layer cakes should be fun. And if making cakes is your thing, then you probably don't shy away from even the trickiest of recipes. However, I've been told by many that they find layer cakes to be intimidating, hence the popularity of the boxed cake mix and pre-made icing.

But guess what? Making a beautiful cake from scratch can be a piece of you-know-what. You can personalize it to your tastes, and you don't have to worry about all those nasty little four-syllable ingredients in the boxed cake mix.

I know, I know. Pies are having a moment. But a pretty little two-layer cake is smart and dressy, an appropriate ending to an important meal. I've chosen the buttermilk cake as my base, for its sheer understated simplicity and tender crumb. It's light, but it's not "white cake," possessing the gentle tang of cultured buttermilk.

You can go a long way with this cake. Add different extracts or citrus zest, or brush the cake layers with flavored syrup. Choose an icing recipe that you really like, be it cream cheese-based, chocolate, or just a basic butter frosting. As you can see from the images above, I chose a bittersweet chocolate frosting and piled toasted flaked coconut on top.

In the past several years, there has been a move towards getting the proper ratio of frosting to cake rather than just drowning the whole thing in sticky sweet icing. I think the reason so many of us prefer pies these days is due to an overdose of frosting. Think about all those grocery store cakes. There's enough frosting on them to put Willy Wonka into a diabetic coma. This is why I prefer to leave the sides of my cake bare. Not to mention the fact that rather than spending an hour trying to get your frosting perfectly smooth, you can build a cake that's more attractive and go to less trouble in the process.

Other articles you might enjoy: Chocolate Ganache Tart With Press-In Shortbread Crust, Pistachio Raspberry Cakes, Strawberries With Vanilla-Bourbon Zabaglione

Buttermilk Layer Cake With Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting and Coconut
Serves 12 to 14

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70°F. Spray two 9 × 2-inch or 8 × 2-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. For extra insurance, line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Whisk together until thoroughly blended:
           2 1/3 cups sifted cake or all-purpose flour
            1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
            1/2 teaspoon baking soda
            1/4 teaspoon salt
Beat in a large bowl until creamy
            3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
Gradually add and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes:
            1 1/3 cups sugar
Beat in, one at a time, until each egg is fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed:
            3 large eggs
Beat in:
            1 teaspoon vanilla
Beating at low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with:
            1 cup buttermilk
in 2 parts, beating until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Divide the batter between the pans and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes in 9-inch pans, 30 to 35 minutes in 8-inch pans. Cool the cakes in the pans on a rack for about 10 minutes before removing the cakes from the pans to cool completely.
Frost with your icing or frosting recipe of choice, or use the recipe below. To make the cake as shown above, divide the frosting, using half between the cake layers and half on top of the cake. Refrigerate to firm up the frosting. Meanwhile, toast on a baking sheet in a preheated 325˚F oven until nicely browned, about 5 to 8 minutes:
           2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
Allow the toasted coconut to cool completely before piling it on top of the cake. Store the cake, covered, in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Satin Frosting
Makes about 3 cups

Finely chop:
            6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
Bring to a boil in a small saucepan:
            1 cup evaporated milk or heavy cream
Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, without stirring. Cover and let stand for exactly 10 minutes.
Scrape into a food processor or blender and add:
           1 1/4 cups sugar
            6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
            1 teaspoon vanilla
Process until the mixture is perfectly smooth, 1 minute or more. Transfer to a bowl. If necessary, let stand for a few minutes (longer if you used cream), until thickened to the desired spreading consistency. This keeps, refrigerated, for up to 1 week if made with cream, or about 3 weeks if made with evaporated milk.



cupcake with filling's picture

put aside the coconut, I love your cake's presentation... I notice that you managed to do nice swirling layers with your chocolate frosting. can you tell me how do you do that?
meg's picture

I used a pastry bag with a star tip. Starting in the center of the cake layer, I made a tight spiral out to the edges.
Teresa's picture

Just had the opportunity to sample this cake over the Easter weekend.......wonderful! Soft crumb, not too sweet cake, delicious bittersweet chocolate icing.....just enough.....pretty, shaved toasted coconut.....nice texture compliment....great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight snack with a cup of strong coffee Or a tall glass of milk. Heavenly!
Daniel N. White's picture

This cake also makes a wonderful pineapple upside-down cake. Make a layer of fresh pineapple pieces mixed with sugar and some minute tapioca, and lemon juice and zest to taste. Bake in over for about 1/2 hour. Then add the cake mix, bake until cake is done. Raisins and maraschino cherries are interesting additions, too. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

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Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. Whisk together in a bowl or pulse together in a food processor:
           2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose...