Monday, May 7, 2012

Coconut Cake: The real deal

It was my dad's birthday recently, so I asked him what he'd like us to make. Admittedly, I expected one of our numerous savory concoctions would be the first thing to come to mind, so I was a little surprised when he asked if we'd be up for making a coconut cake. Not one to back away from a challenge, I decided to go for it and drag Aaron along with me.

After perusing pinterest and the general interwebs for a while, I found this recipe from Saveur. I'd never made anything from there before, but I liked that it called for fresh coconut. We stopped by Whole Foods on the way home and bought all the coconuts they had (since we weren't certain how many it would take to get enough of everything the recipe called for). Later that week we bought the same Whole Foods (which happens to be just a few blocks from our house) out of okra. They're either going to come to love us or hate us.

For what it's worth, the entire coconut stock of Whole Food was 3 coconuts. Which made them slightly difficult to find and I was getting a tad irritated. In the end, we used most all of what we got from 2 of them. The third is still sitting in our fruit basket waiting for us to find a use for it.

The recipe as Saveur states it is as follows:

SERVES 10–12


16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for pans, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
5 eggs

4 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh coconut water
3 cups freshly grated coconut


1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans, and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, alternately add dry ingredients in 3 batches and wet ingredients in 2 batches. Increase speed to high, and beat until batter is smooth, about 5 seconds. Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth top with a rubber spatula; drop pans lightly on a counter to expel large air bubbles. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cakes cool for 20 minutes in pans; invert onto wire racks, and let cool. Using a serrated knife, halve each cake horizontally, producing four layers; set aside.

2. Make the frosting: Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form; turn mixer off. Bring sugar, syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup tap water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; attach a candy thermometer to side of pan, and cook, without stirring, until thermometer reads 250°, 4–5 minutes. Turn mixer to medium speed, and very slowly drizzle hot syrup into beating egg whites. Add vanilla, and increase speed to high; beat until meringue forms stiff peaks and is slightly warm to the touch, about 3 minutes.

3. To assemble, place one layer on a cake stand, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated coconut; top with another cake, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup coconut. Place another cake over frosting, drizzle with 3 tbsp. coconut water, spread with 1 1/2 cups frosting, and sprinkle with 12 cup coconut; top with remaining cake and drizzle with remaining coconut water. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting, and cover outside of cake with remaining coconut, pressing it lightly to adhere; chill cake to firm frosting. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Some notes from actually making it:
Fresh coconut is a beast to work with. Aaron was tasked with the job of cracking the things and getting the flesh out for grating. It took him the same amount of time to do that with 2 coconuts as it took me to do ALL of the other steps in the process.

The cake layers didn't rise as much as some do, so when you cut it into four layers it becomes slightly thin. Not horribly so, but more than I was expecting. The cake itself though is SUPER tasty and a great texture. It will now be one of my go-to cake options.

The cream of tartar in the frosting may well be a very important ingredient. I forgot it and my frosting came out VERY sticky. I'm not sure if that has more to do with the omission of the ingredient or the fact that I don't have a candy thermometer and had to guess at when my syrup hit 250°. Regardless, it was a complete mess to try to spread over the cake. By the third layer I had almost figured it out. Sort of. Good thing the shredded coconut covered everything up. (One plus to the stickyness: the shredded coconut had no problems staying in place.)

All in all, this cake is a good one. The fresh coconut had a lighter flavor which made a coconut hater such as myself not mind it as much as I normally would.  The cake itself is flavored with the coconut water which is also a very nice and delicate touch.  So, if you have a sledgehammer handy and a store that will sell you some coconuts, this recipe is definitely worth a try!

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