3½ cups (438 g) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 Tbsp. (13 g) baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
½ tsp. fine sea salt
1 cup (237 ml) whole milk
1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ pound (2 sticks/227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
8 large (240 g) egg whites
1 recipe Vanilla Milk Soak
1½ cups (171 g) pecans
12 Tbsp. (1½ sticks/170 g) unsalted butter
1½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
12 large (228 g) egg yolks
1½ cups (128 g) sweetened flaked coconut
1½ cups (218 g) golden raisins, finely chopped
½ cup (118 ml) bourbon or brandy
Vanilla milk soak:
¼ cup (59 ml) whole milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment and butter it as well. Lightly dust the pans with flour, tapping the pans on the counter to shake out the excess.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a large measuring cup or small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the speed down to low and add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour, mixing until just combined; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. If using a stand mixer, transfer the mixture to another large bowl (unless you have a second mixer bowl).
Wash and dry the mixer bowl and wipe the inside of the bowl (or another large mixing bowl) with the lemon juice to make sure the bowl is squeaky clean. Attach the bowl to the mixer stand (if using) and fit it with the whisk attachment.
Put the egg whites in the mixer bowl (or large mixing bowl) and beat (with clean beaters if using a handheld mixer) until the whites hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites until incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a large wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto another rack, peel off the parchment, and turn right side up to cool completely. Leave the oven on.
While the cake is cooling, make the frosting:
Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Let cool, then chop into ¼-inch pieces.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from the heat and let cool to tepid, then whisk in the sugar and egg yolks until smooth.
Return the pan to medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the frosting has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon; it should read 180°F (80°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Be careful not to let the mixture come to a boil.
Remove from the heat and add the toasted pecans, coconut, golden raisins, and bourbon, stirring well. Transfer the frosting to a heatproof bowl to cool; it will continue to thicken as it cools. It will be gooey, and that is exactly what you want.
Vanilla milk soak:
In a measuring cup, combine the whole milk and vanilla extract.
To assemble the cake: Level the tops of two of the layers with a serrated knife to make them flat. Place one layer cut side up on a serving plate (you can keep the edges of the plate clean while you frost the cake by sliding strips of parchment underneath the cake). Brush the top of the layer with half of the vanilla milk soak. Using an offset spatula or a butter knife, spread the layer with one-third of the frosting. Place the second cake layer cut side up and brush with the remaining vanilla milk soak, then spread with another third of the frosting. Place the final layer right side up on top and frost the top with the remaining frosting, leaving the sides of the cake naked.
The cake can be stored, loosely covered, at room temperature for up to 1 day or refrigerated for 5 days. If it has been refrigerated, bring to room temperature before serving.