Coconut Cake


Last February, I received a call from Hampton that had me reaching for the arm of a chair. She had played Gah to my Elphie for three years in Nashville, and just as it was settled that I would return to MBA, she was accepted to a phenomenal program that would take her to Paris! I knew she had to go. Four months later, another call, this time causing me to nearly drive off of Hillsboro Road. She was engaged an hour after MBA’s graduation! Thanks to her fiancé’s covert James Bond skills, he extracted that her favorite cake is Coconut Cake so I could surprise her with it for her birthday/engagement/farewell dinner.

Having seen the pictures, relatives at the farm asked me to make another one for the farm - NO PROBLEM! Then the next year, I cried when asked. It is a labor of love, no question, not for the faint of heart.

Perfect White Cake Ingredients -

2¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces)

1/2 cup + 2 T whole milk, at room temperature

1/2 cup coconut milk

6 large egg whites (¾ cup), at room temperature

1 tsp coconut extract

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

1½ cups + 2 T granulated sugar

4 tsps baking powder

1 tsp table salt

12 T unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened

Coconut Pastry Cream Ingredients -

1 can (14 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk

3/4 cup sugar

1 T vanilla extract

pinch kosher salt

3 large egg yolks

2 T corn starch

2 T unsalted butter

1 cup sweetened coconut flakes

1/2 cup whipping cream

Coconut Syrup Ingredients -

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup coconut water

Coconut Swiss Buttercream Ingredients -

1 cup sugar

4 large egg whites , at room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

24 T (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tsp coconut extract

3 cups sweetened coconut flakes

~ Cake: Set oven rack in middle position. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or butter/flour two 9-inch cake pans very well. Add a parchment paper circle in the bottom of each and grease that too. Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into a small bowl and whisk gently until blended.

~ In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks left.

~ Add all but about 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape down the sides of bowl before beating just a little longer.

~ Divide batter evenly between two prepared cake pans and smooth the tops with a spatula before dropping it from about 3 inches high to eliminate any bubbles in the batter. Arrange pans on middle rack. Bake until a thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs, 23 to 25 minutes. Let the cakes rest in pans for a few minutes before running a knife around the edges of the pan and inverting the cakes onto wire racks. Invert them again so they’ll be right-side up and let them cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours, before wrapping in wax paper and plastic wrap to freeze until pretty firm, about 30 minutes.

~ Coconut pastry cream: Heat coconut milk, sugar, salt and vanilla extract in medium saucepan over medium heat. In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and corn starch. Add 1/2 cup of hot cream slowly to yolks, whisking as you add, to temper eggs. Then pour yolk mixture into the pot of hot cream and whisk. Continue to whisk with heat on medium-high for 3 more minutes. The mixture will turn thick and bubble. You need to continue to whisk for the full 3 minutes or the pastry cream will separate once it is cool. After the 3 minutes, whisk in the butter. Add the coconut flakes. Pour into a shallow dish to cool. Cover with plastic wrap pressed right against the pastry cream. This will prevent a thick skin from forming on the surface. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Once cold, stir the pastry cream to loosen. Whip the 1/2 cup cream to medium peaks. Stir in 1/3 to the pastry cream to lighten. Fold in the remaining cream until the pastry cream is nice and light.

~ Coconut syrup: Combine the sugar, water, and coconut water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool completely, about 20 minutes.

~ Coconut Swiss buttercream icing: Combine sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil without stirring until syrup reaches 240° F on a digital thermometer, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer on medium speed, gradually pour in hot syrup in a thin stream; avoid pouring syrup on whisk. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool, about 8 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. (If at any time buttercream appears curdled, beat on high until smooth, then reduce speed to medium and continue.) Once all butter is added, beat on high speed until buttercream is smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla and coconut extract.

~ Assemble the cake: Carefully slice each cake layer in half with a long serrated knife. Drizzle a couple tablespoons of coconut syrup over the “inner” side (the one that seems most porous) of each layer. Spread 1/3 of the coconut pastry cream filling onto the first cake layer. Spread it almost to the edge, but pipe a thick bead of buttercream around the very outside edge of each layer to ensure no spillage. Sprinkle with flaked coconut. Repeat with the other layers. Frost the cake with a very thin crumb coat and set it in the freezer to set for about 15 minutes. Bring it out and continue frosting the rest of the cake generously. Carefully push handfuls of fluffy coconut all over the sides of the cake and on top. Keep the cake in the refrigerator, but let sit out for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving so the frosting will be soft.

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