2 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, slightly softened
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature (I often place them in a bowl of warm tap water if I forget to get them out)
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 cups toasted coconut, divided
2 (11 oz) bags caramel bits (or 2 bags wrapped caramels, 11 oz each)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 stick salted butter, slightly softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey Special Dark)
3 TBS warm water
Preheat oven to 350. Spray two 8 or 9 inch pans with nonstick spray and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder and set aside.
In the bowl of your mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.
Reduce mixer speed to low and mix in about a third of the flour mixture. Add half the milk. Repeat process with half the flour and remaining milk, ending with remaining flour mixture. Give the batter a good stir with a rubber spatula to be sure it's all combined, then spread batter evenly in prepared pans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched in the center. Remove pans to cooling rack for 10 minutes, then loosen carefully with a small sharp knife and flip onto racks to cool completely.
Once cakes are cooled completely, wrap and chill for several hours or overnight for ease in handling.
Level cakes carefully with a serrated knife. Split one cake horizontally so you'll have 3 layers.
Prepare filling: In a large bowl, combine caramel and cream and microwave for 3-4 minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to stir until smooth. Fold in 2 1/2 cups of toasted coconut, reserving 1/2 cup. Spread half of filling on one cake layer, top with another cake, and spread next layer with more filling. Top with last layer and place cake in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to allow caramel to firm up so it doesn't ooze out when you frost with chocolate frosting.
While cake is chilling, prepare frosting: In the bowl of your mixer, beat butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add powdered sugar and cocoa powder, beating until just combined. Add water and increase speed to medium high. Beat for about a minute, until smooth, light and fluffy. If frosting is too thick, add more water a teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
Frost cake and sprinkle top with remaining toasted coconut.
To toast coconut, place in a cold pan over medium low heat. Stir constantly until golden brown in color.