Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream

Sometimes, when working on a blog post, I want to skip the writing entirely. No cute stories, no poetic descriptions, no embarrassing confessions about late-night munching. Just a few in-your-face pictures, and a recipe.

Because some recipes, and some pictures, need no other accessories.

Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream |


Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream |

…okay, you know I love yapping way too much to really follow through on that threat. (Or promise?) But really, if ever there was a food that could stand without narrative, it would be this monster carrot cake.

It got its start as a short notation in my “recipe ideas” file. Some of my recipe entries are super-specific, and I’ll write long, detailed lists about ingredients or decorations or photo ideas. Others are short and cryptic, a few words jotted down as they flit through my mind. The entries that birthed this beast?

“Really tall cake.”
“Carrot cake—lots of coconut.”

Yep, that’s it. I wanted to make a really tall cake, and I wanted to make a coconutty-carrot cake. From humble beginnings…

Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream |

I blame my tall cake cravings on Half Baked – The Cake Blog. If you haven’t checked out this site, you must visit—they share the most gorgeous tiered cake designs and tutorials! Some wedding cakes, yes, but also lots of fun celebration cakes too. And since extra-tall cakes are on trend right now, they are popping up everywhere, and I’ve been lusting after them for months. They’re imposing and extravagant—perfect for a bit of fun or a special occasion!

This cake is only 6” in diameter, but because it is so tall, it can feed the same number of people your typical 9” cake can feed—plus it has even more visual impact. I added large flaked coconut in an ombre pattern on the outside, and topped it with a not-at-all-appropriate orange candy. Seriously, it didn’t add anything to the flavor, but I thought it looked awesome, so I regret nothing.

Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream |

This recipe was sort of a gift to Jason, who adores carrot cake. I rarely make it, so I wanted to ensure that everything about it suited him perfectly. Consequently, this is his ideal carrot cake—heavy on the carrots, with extra coconut and pecans inside. If you’d like, you can add some drained pineapple, cranberries, raisins, or walnuts to the batter. It’s very forgiving, and can handle lots of mix-in shenanigans.

Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream |

My real triumph with this recipe, though, was the cream cheese swiss meringue buttercream. If you’ve ever tried to cream cheese-ify meringue buttercream, you might know that it doesn’t work very well. You can’t just substitute cream cheese for some of the butter, since they have different moisture contents, and it tends to cause your buttercream to separate and break. Instead, the secret is to make the buttercream, then add it little by little to whipped cream cheese, and finish off with a bit of powdered sugar.

The result is a frosting that has the lightness and smooth, silky texture of a meringue buttercream, but with the characteristic tang of cream cheese. It also doesn’t get rock-hard in the refrigerator, so you can enjoy a slice of this cake straight from the fridge! I added a little coconut flavoring to mine, but you can stick with vanilla, or use almond or orange extract instead.

Obviously I need to work on presenting pictures and a recipe without commentary. In the meantime, I’ll stick to what I’m good at.

BAM.Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream |

Click Here to Print the Recipes: Carrot Cake | Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Carrot Cake with Coconut-Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream
yield: one super tall 6” cake or one reasonably tall 9” cake

Carrot Cake
2 1/2 cups (11.25 oz) flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 TBSP ground cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 TBSP vanilla extract
4 cups shredded carrots (from 7-8 medium carrots)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
Coconut Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream (recipe below)
4 cups flaked coconut, to decorate (optional)

Recommended Equipment:
6″ cake pans
6″ cardboard cake rounds
Offset spatula
Revolving cake stand (optional, but makes decorating easier)
Candy thermometer
Pastry bag
Pastry tips

Spray three 6” cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line them with parchment rounds. Preheat the oven to 325 F (162 C). Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and oil, and beat with a paddle attachment until well-mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix until just a few streaks of flour remain. Add the carrots, coconut, and pecans, and finish mixing by hand. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is well-mixed.

Divide the batter equally between the three cake pans. If you have a scale, you’ll use about 22 oz of batter for each pan. Bake the cakes at 325 F for 50-60 minutes, until they spring back lightly when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the cake pans to cool completely. Cakes can be made several days ahead of time and kept, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.

I find it easiest to work with carrot cakes when they’re partially frozen, so before you are ready to use them, freeze them for about 30 minutes so that they are firm but not frozen throughout. (If they have been stored in the freezer, partially defrost them.) Use a large serrated knife to cut each round in half, so you have 6 cake rounds.

Set 1 cake round on a cardboard cake circle. Top it with about 1/2 cup of frosting, and spread it out to the sides with an offset spatula. Add another frosting round on top, then top that with more frosting. Continue to layer the cake rounds with frosting, until all 6 layers are stacked. Spread a very thin layer of frosting on the outside and top of the cake. Wrap the outside of the cake with plastic wrap, and use your hands to press the cake layers straight and to straighten it if it has started tilting in any direction. Chill the cake for about an hour, so that it is firm and solid. (This step can be skipped if your cake and frosting are cool to start with, but it is helpful if your kitchen is warm and your cake starts to tilt or slide during assembly.)

While you wait for the cake to firm up, prepare the flaked coconut, if you’ll be using it. Separate out about 1 cup of coconut, and put the rest on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 325 F, and toast the coconut until it is a very light golden color, 5-7 minutes. Remove another cup of coconut, and toast for about 5 minutes more, until it is a medium golden color. Remove another cup of coconut, and toast the remaining coconut until it is dark brown. You should now have 4 batches of coconut, ranging from white to dark brown. Cool completely.

When your cake is firm, spread a thicker layer of frosting on the sides and top. It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth, since you’ll be covering it with coconut. Hold the cake in one hand, and use the other to press a layer of dark brown coconut around the bottom of the cake. Next press the medium brown coconut in a layer above the dark brown, and continue working your way up the cake, gradually adding lighter coconut, until you’re pressing a layer of white coconut at the top of the cake. Do the same effect on top of the cake.

Fit a pastry bag with a star tip, and fill it with some frosting. Pipe decorations on top of the cake, if desired. This cake keeps very well, and can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Coconut Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream
6 egg whites, at room temperature
9.33 oz (1 1/3 cups) granulated sugar
10 oz unsalted butter, cool but softened
1 lb cream cheese, cool but softened
1-2 tsp coconut extract, to taste
1/2 cup more more powdered sugar, to taste

Begin by making the swiss meringue buttercream.  Combine the egg whites and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and whisk them together. Choose a small saucepan that lets you fit the base of the stand mixer snugly into the top of the saucepan—this is your makeshift hot water bath. (Alternately, you can use a different bowl or an actual bain marie and then transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl once it’s heated.) Add an inch of water to the bottom of the saucepan, and bring the water to a simmer.

Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure that the bottom isn’t in contact with the water, and heat the egg white mixture. Whisk frequently so that the egg whites don’t cook. Continue to heat the whites until they are hot to the touch, and when you rub a bit between your fingers, you don’t feel any grittiness from the sugar. Once the whites are hot, transfer the mixing bowl to your mixer and fit it with a whisk attachment.

Beat the whites on high speed until they are no longer warm to the touch—feel the outside of the bowl, and make sure that it is around room temperature. Depending on your mixer and the temperature of your environment, this may take 10-20 minutes, or more. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the  softened but cool butter in small chunks, a tablespoon at a time, making sure to wait in between additions. It may separate or look a little gloopy at this point—fear not. Once all of the butter is added, increase the speed again and whip until it comes together and is light and fluffy. If, after 5 minutes, it hasn’t come together, refrigerate the mixing bowl for 5-7 minutes, to cool the mixture down, and whip it again.

Once the buttercream is finished, transfer it to a bowl, and place the softened but cool cream cheese in the mixing bowl (no need to wash it out first.) Beat the cream cheese with a paddle attachment on medium speed, just until it is creamy and free of lumps. Turn the mixer speed to low and add the buttercream gradually, scoop by scoop, until it’s mixed into the cream cheese and your frosting is smooth. Add a teaspoon of coconut extract, and the powdered sugar, and mix again. Taste the frosting, and if you desire more coconut flavor, or more sweetness, add more extract and sugar to taste.  Chill the frosting until you’re ready to use it. It can be made several days in advance.

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55 Responses to Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream
  1. Liz says:

    OMG! This looks absolutely amazing and delicious! Most times I’d rather skip the writing part too…I never know what to say and I ‘d rather just say it with pics! :)
    Liz recently posted…Ham, Cheese and Zucchini Muffins

    • Elizabeth says:

      And what’s funny is that I don’t mind when other people post mostly recipes and pictures, so why not cut myself the same slack? I think we need to revive Wordless Wednesdays for food bloggers. :) Thanks for stopping by Liz!

  2. Sarah says:

    Oh my word… Did you ombré-ify the coconut on the outside?? SKILLZ!! I love carrot cake.
    Sarah recently posted…Emperor’s Pancake with Spiced Cherry Compote

  3. This is beautiful. Did your hubby appreciate the Ombre effect?? I’ll tell you though, my favorite part of this post, (besides wanting to chow through my computer screen) is that you used the word “shenanigans”. Tell me you’ve seen Super Troopers. . . .
    Sara {Home is Where the Cookies Are} recently posted…Parmesan Corn Pudding Casserole

    • Elizabeth says:

      Haha, well, he thought it looked nice, but the be honest I don’t know how much of the detail he took in, in his haste to gobble the whole thing.

      I haven’t seen Super Troopers! Do I need to add it to my Netflix queue? I do love the word shenanigans…and hijinks…and tomfoolery…

  4. Wow! Wowsers! Woozie?

    All the above? Just a magnificent cake altogether. Love the gradient of toasted coconut and the TALLNESS of it (coming from a 6′ tall woman, I feel a kinship!).

    The candy on top is perfect; I first thought it was a kumquat or some sort of adorable itty bitty orange I’d never seen before; candy works!
    Barbara | Creative Culinary recently posted…The Honey Deuce – US Open Cocktail with Raspberry and Peach Liqueur #FridayCocktails

    • Elizabeth says:

      You’re 6′ tall?! That is rad! I’ve always had tall woman envy. So glad I could make the cake equivalent. :)

      I’m a sucker for a good garnish, even if the appeal is more visual than anything else. A kumquat would be a great touch too!

  5. I love carrot cake but not just carrots themselves Quite strange but this looks AWESOME
    Not sure I would be able to make it with all those layers but maybe I would do 2 of them

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Rosemary! I feel that way about zucchini–I love zucchini bread, but don’t have much use for the vegetable itself. Good thing we have carrot cake and zucchini bread to help us appreciate these veggies. :)

      P.S. You can totally cut the recipe in half and do a baby cake, or just bake it in one 9″ cake pan!

  6. That is the most impressive cake I have ever seen, hands down. And the coconut frosting (first of all, its COCONUT frosting!) contrasts the orange beautifully! Lovely cake, Liz!
    Mary Frances @ The Sweet {Tooth} Life recently posted…Tomatillo Guacamole

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks so much Mary Frances! I’m kind of obsessed with coconut everything, so of course I had to shove it onto this cake. :) Fortunately it worked out!

  7. casandra thompson says:

    Could you do it with 9 inch cake pans?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Casandra, Yes, two 9″ cake pans will totally work–you might have to tweak the baking time, though. Just go by visual cues and the toothpick test to tell when it’s done.

  8. Liz says: What a stunning, towering cake!!! And it’s carrot cake, too!!! Just plain gorgeous!
    Liz recently posted…Egg Free Chocolate Mousse with Brandied Cherries #SundaySupper

  9. This is absolutely stunning! I love that frosting. I want to swim in that frosting!
    Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust recently posted…Pumpkin Toffee Gooey Bars

  10. Danguole says:

    Ooooooh. Congrats on the buttercream victory–you are truly a wizard in my eyes.

    Have you seen Momofuku’s carrot cake? With graham frosting and beautiful carrot ribbons on top? I am sure I pinned it. Anyhow. Just in case this inspires you further, YOU’RE WELCOME JASON.
    Danguole recently posted…The Sun Also Rises Cocktail

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks for the tip! I haven’t seen the carrot cake–I must have eaten everything BUT the carrot cake when I visited! You know I’m going to get on the google machine and learn all about it. Jason is blowing you virtual platonic kisses right now.

  11. This looks so amazing! You’re so talented, I’d never get to make a cake this perfect!
    Sometimes I don’t feel like writing either, because writing in both English and Spanish is such a hard work, but then, I don’t know, I kind of remember I do like writing my posts and everything’s fine again ;-)
    Consuelo @ Honey & Figs recently posted…Skinny Cinnamon Rolls

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Consuelo! Glad to know I’m not alone–I have no problem making and photographing things, but sometimes the words won’t come when it’s time to write the blog post. Fortunately, like you said, the feeling often passes…and when it doesn’t, at least there are other bloggers to commiserate with!

  12. What an epic cake! I’m totally with you on this one – no narrative is needed! Just pass me a couple of slices and a fork please!
    Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious recently posted…Loaded Nachos

  13. Jemz says:

    Hello, My names Jemz and I am 12 years old! I also have a site and I am a regualr visitor to yours! Can u help me kick off my site by spreading the word! PLEASE check it out?! And maybe even donate?? :) 9/03/2013
    I love your site sooooooo MUCH.. When im on it i cant come off and my mum even bought me your book as a present from amazon!! Its really good and all your pictures look so tasty…
    And i always try and make your recipes:)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Jemz, thanks so much for the comment! Your site looks great, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else you put up there! I’m so impressed that you’ve started a blog at age 12–keep up the good work! Thanks also for the support for my book, I really appreciate it.
      Best to you! Elizabeth

  14. Dina says:

    wow that is a lovely carrot cake!
    Dina recently posted…Free Mini Tandoori Pie from Pie Face NYC Today

  15. Mom's Dish says:

    Wow, this is my dream cake. I plan to make it asap. :)
    Mom’s Dish recently posted…Buttermilk Waffles

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Stephanie! To me, half the fun of baking is making things taste as good as they look. I’m a perfectionist but at least I enjoy the process! :)

  16. Incredible cake Elizabeth! Extra tall and all. It is absolutely gorgeous as are your photos!

    Thanks for your kind words about my blog – made my day!!
    Carrie (The Cake Blog) recently posted…Recipe: S’mores Coffee Cake

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks so much, Carrie! I meant every word–I am seriously obsessed with the gorgeous cakes you share. They inspire me on a daily basis!

  17. Susannah says:

    This was the BEST cake that I have ever made! My whole family and neighbor loved it. Thanks for sharing:)

  18. Kristin says:

    I am making this cake for a family Thanksgiving this weekend. I made a test cake last weekend and had to do some substititions. It tasted great but I was wondering if you could help me out. I used 2 9in pans because it’s what I had. I also used cake strips because I had problems with other cakes doming. However with the carrot cake it sunk in the middle. I also left out the nuts. This time around I am going to use 3 8in pans and no cake stips and hopefully they won’t fall in the middle. I can’t find a 6in pan anywhere so I probably won’t cut the layers in half unless they come out thick enough. Let me know if you think my changes will help with the center.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Kristin, Sorry to hear about the trouble with the 9″ cake! I’ve made this before as a 9″, so I think we should be able to find a way to get it to work for you. I haven’t ever used the cake strips, so it’s possible that they’re one of the problems. I’m also wondering if the cakes were underbaked–were they gooey or underdone in the center? That will cause them to collapse every time. How long did you bake the 9″ cake for? I’d love to hear how the 8″ goes and if that’s an improvement.

  19. Kristin says:

    The cake was actually baked perfect. I left it the oven for 60 min. I’m going to ditch the cake strips and see how it goes in the 8 inch pan tonight. Thanks!

  20. I remember pinning this a while back and thinking how gorgeous it was, and how does a person create such a masterpiece? The patience you have to toast coconut to different levels of golden-deliciousness… sigh. You are so talented.
    Meggan @ Culinary Hill recently posted…Couscous with Pine Nuts and Parmesan Cheese

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Meggan! Ombre-ing coconut is actually an exercise in laziness–just grab a few spoonfuls off the baking sheet every 5 minutes as you stir it, and pretty soon they’re all different colors. :)

  21. Danny & Valentina LaViolet says:

    wonderful looking stuff
    Val & I gained 50 LBS just looking at it
    She promised to make the carrot cake for my birthday though

    We Made A pineapple upside down cake for hers with peaches N Cream topping Cream round the sides cloaked in almond granules smothered with strawberries,

  22. Kee Fodrey says:

    Great recipe. It was a huge hit at a birthday party. I will keep this recipe to make for many more parties. I used 3 8inch pans and it still turned out great!!!!

  23. Sof says:

    Looks great, Elizabeth! I am actually hoping to try this later next month, but I’ve previously had consistency issues with cream cheese buttercream.
    I was wondering if you used block cream cheese for this recipe or regular tub (such as Philadelphia) cream cheese?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Sof, I used regular block cream cheese–not reduced-fat or non-fat, but full-fat Philly. I actually always use name brand cream cheese, too, because I’ve had some dubious experiences with no-name cream cheese. I haven’t tried the recipe with cream cheese in a tub, so I can’t say for sure if it will work, but I would definitely avoid the “whipped” variety for sure, and would suggest trying to find the regular-fat block cream cheese if possible.

      I would also suggest following the recipe steps as written–I’ve had problems trying to add cream cheese to swiss meringue buttercream, but it works much better for me if I’m adding the buttercream to the cream cheese in the mixing bowl. This simple step has made all the difference! And of course, feel free to substitute regular cream cheese frosting if you don’t want to mess with the cream cheese buttercream version.

  24. Sofia says:

    Looks perfect!
    I’m actually wanting to try out this recipe, but I’m from the UK and I think our cream cheeses over here are a lot softer than the US ones, ie. they are in tubs, not block cream cheese. Would your frosting still work if I used soft cream cheese, or do you think it would become a runny mess?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Sofia! Honestly, I would be a little worried about using a soft cream cheese from a tub. I used a firmer block of cream cheese and I’m hesitant to endorse a different product. If you have a favorite cream cheese frosting recipe you usually make, I might suggest using that instead, since you know it will work with the products you have available!

  25. Pam Brown says:

    This looks so amazing! Carrot cake is may favorite! I have always used 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar instead of 2 cups of sugar. It really makes a difference! I sure wish I had a piece of this cake right now!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Pam! Subbing in some brown sugar is a great idea–always makes cakes more moist and flavorful! Hope you get to enjoy some carrot cake soon. :)

  26. Heather says:

    Made this cake for a birthday. WOW!!!
    I have a request from a friend. She wants me to make the bottom tier with this carrot cake. It’s going to be a 16 inch round. Hopefully when all said and done, the cake should be 4 to 5
    inches in height. Should I double? Triple? This recipe. And the buttercream recipe, the same? What do you think?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Heather, To make sure I understand you, you want to make this recipe in a 16-inch round? I would triple it. (Or, more accurately, do two 1.5x batches, assuming you only have access to a regular stand mixer and not a big one.) I can’t say for sure, but I think tripling is a good start, and if it seems like too much batter, you could always make a few cupcakes with the rest.

      I would also recommend trying to track down a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. She talks a lot about making large special-event cakes, and one of the things she mentions is that you often want to change the amount of leaveners in larger cakes (like 16-inchers!) because as the surface area of the cake increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for the leaveners to support the structure of the cake without sinking…basically, you might want to reduce the baking powder and baking soda a bit. Her book goes into more detail, though, so you may find it helpful in preventing a large cake with a sunken middle! Good luck, let me know how it goes!

      • Heather says:

        Yes, a 16-inch round is correct. I will for sure be checking out Rose Levy Beranbaum’s
        book for reference. Thank you so much for your advice!! Maybe I can convince my friend to have a beautiful display of cupcakes for her wedding:-)

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