Combine 1 ½ cups sugar, ¾ cup butter, 1 ½ tsp. vanilla, 4 egg yolks, and evaporated milk in a 2-qt. pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer; cook until thick, 12 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl; stir in pecans and coconut; chill frosting until firm.
Heat oven to 350° Grease three 9″ round cake pans with butter; line bottoms with parchment circles. Grease parchment; set aside. Put chocolates into a small bowl; pour in ½ cup boiling water; let sit for 1 minute. Stir until smooth; set aside. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In a standing mixer, beat 1 ¼ cups sugar and remaining butter until fluffy; add remaining egg yolks one at a time. Add chocolate mixture and remaining vanilla; beat until smooth. On low speed, alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk until just combined; set batter aside.
Meanwhile, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Add remaining sugar; whip to stiff peaks. Fold egg whites into batter; divide between pans and smooth batter. Bake until cakes are set, 25–30 minutes. Let cakes cool; frost the top of each cake and assemble, leaving the sides bare.
Make the cake at least 1 day ahead before cutting it into shapes. This makes it easier to cut out the shapes. Store un-iced cakes in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Place your icing and sweets for decorating in separate bowls so you’re ready to decorate.
Spread little icing between the cakes if layering on top of each other, such as in our Fairy Castle Cake. This helps the cakes stick together and ensures the layers stay still so it’s easier to decorate and cut into serving pieces.
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