Foolproof Chocolate Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup cake flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
Garnish: 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Custard Filling (plus 2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream, if needed):
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut (preferably unsulphured)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8- x 2-inch round cake pans. Line pans with parchment paper; butter paper.
Sift first 6 ingredients into a 10-quart bowl (or the largest you have). Stir until well combined.
Whisk together buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and 1 cup room-temperature water in a medium bowl until just combined. Immediately add to flour mixture, and whisk until smooth, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add butter, and whisk until well combined. Batter will be thin.
Divide batter evenly among prepared pans, gently shaking pans to level batter if necessary. Bake 16 to 19 minutes or until cakes are springy to the touch, start to pull away from sides of pans, and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cakes cool in pans on cooling racks for 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, remove pans and parchment, and invert again so cakes are right side up.
Place 1 cake layer on an 8-inch cardboard round or cake plate. Using a stiff offset metal spatula (the blade bends up where it meets the handle), spread one-third of chilled Custard Filling evenly over the top of the layer. (If filling seems too stiff, gradually stir in heavy cream to loosen it a bit.) Top with second cake layer, and spread another one-third of filling over the top. Place final cake layer on top, and spread with remaining filling, leaving sides bare.
Sprinkle coconut over cake. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 to 3 days. Slice into hearty wedges, and serve a little cooler than room temperature.
NOTE: After baking, cake layers can be assembled as described above or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and chilled up to 1 day or frozen up to 1 month.
For Custard Filling: Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a full boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer about 1 minute.
Whisk together egg yolks in a large bowl until well combined. Whisk about 1 cup hot cream mixture into yolks to temper them, then pour yolk mixture back into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking often, until slightly thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in coconut, stirring until thoroughly combined. (As you stir, coconut will absorb custard, and filling will thicken.)
Pour filling onto an 18- x 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Cover with aluminum foil, and chill at least 2 hours, or until cool.
NOTE: For a little extra crunch, stir in 1 cup chopped pecans with coconut.