Coconut Cake

January 17th, 2010 — 11:42pm

This is the Coconut Cake that concludes the chapter called “Alligator Toes” in Cakewalk: unforgettable as a 5-year-old’s birthday cake baked in a miniature pan, but even better three layers high and cut in slabs as thick as Bibles.

For the Cake:

2 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup light coconut milk, well stirred before measuring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut for garnish

For the Filling:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup light coconut milk, well stirred before measuring
¾ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut
For the Fluffy White Frosting:
3 egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup cold water
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
Rounded ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Additional 1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut for garnish

Heat oven to 350°. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.

For the cake: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg and set aside. Beat the butter for a full minute, then gradually add the sugar and beat until very creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating for another full minute after each addition. Add the vanilla to the milk. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts alternately with the milk mixture in two parts, beginning and ending with flour; beat until smooth after each addition, scraping the bowl after each addition as well.

Beat the reserved egg whites in a separate bowl on medium speed until they form soft peaks but are still glossy and not dry. Fold half of the whites gently into the batter, then the rest, just until they disappear.

Divide the batter among the cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

While the cakes cool, toast the 1 cup of coconut reserved for the garnish. Spread it on a cookie sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, stirring and watching carefully every 3 minutes or so, until it is evenly golden brown – it will burn easily so keep watch! Cool thoroughly.

For the filling, whisk together the sugar and flour, then add the milks and thoroughly combine. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring continually, until thickened and bubbly but still pale in color, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, salt, and coconut. Cool to room temperature before filling the cake.

When the cake and the filling have cooled completely, place the bottom layer on a serving plate. Spread half the filling on top. Center the middle layer of cake over the bottom layer and spread with remaining filling. Add the top layer of cake. Now make the frosting.

For the frosting, combine the egg whites and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the water, sugar and cream of tartar. Stir to dissolve the sugar but do not stir again after the mixture begins to bubble at edges. Let the mixture come to a full rolling boil, then remove immediately from heat.

With the mixer on medium-high speed, beat the egg whites and vanilla until foamy, about one minute. Without turning off the mixer, pour the warm sugar syrup into the beaten egg whites in a thin, steady stream. Continue beating constantly on medium-high for 5 to 7 minutes, until stiff peaks form but the frosting is creamy, voluminous, and holds stiff peaks.

Frost the top and sides of the cake immediately. Generously sprinkle the top with shredded coconut. Best served the day it is made. Makes one 3-layer cake.

VARIATIONS:

For a completely snowy-white cake:
Do not toast the shredded coconut for the garnish.

For 36 cupcakes:
Line cupcake tins with paper liners and divide cake batter evenly among them. Bake at 350˚ for 18-20 minutes, until cupcakes spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of a cupcake. When cupcakes are cool, spread a layer of filling ¼” thick over the top of each cake, then frost.

For Almond Joy Cake:
Use the recipe for Plenty of Chocolate Cake (see Cakewalk), baking three 8” layers. For the filling, substitute ½ teaspoon of almond extract for ½ teaspoon of vanilla, and toast 1 cup of roughly chopped almonds at 350˚ for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes until the almonds become fragrant and lightly brown; let cool before adding to the coconut filling. Frost with the Fluffy White Frosting and garnish the cake with untoasted coconut. This also makes great cupcakes: fill the cupcake cups a scant 2/3 full and bake for 18-20 minutes. When cool, top with a 1/4” layer of the coconut-almond filling, then frost with Fluffy White Frosting.

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