Our friends, Don and Jeff had a dinner party this weekend. Among the invitees were two of their friends from Miami, where they have a winter home. We'd met Jorge and Peter before. In fact, the last time we met them, Andrew had brought the dessert pictured above (on Don and Jeff's kitchen counter). As it turned out, Jorge had fallen so hard for this coconuttiest of all cakes, that whenever and wherever he saw Coconut cake on a menu, he would order it. For two years, he kept hoping he'd find one that matched this incredible recipe. And no wonder, this is a coconut lover’s dream, because it’s coconut on coconut covered with more coconut. The result is a decadent buttery cake filled with coconut pastry cream. But it doesn’t even stop there. Shredded coconut covers the coconut buttercream icing like a blizzard of sweetness. It’s a three layer cake made in a single nine inch pan. Is it hard to make? Well I tried to convince Jorge and Peter that they too could achieve this result in Miami. But I don't think I got very far. Andrew then offered the following piece of new news. Apparently one of our friends told him that she had taken a cake recipe off Chewing the Fat, gone to her local bakery and they had baked the cake for her. I keep thinking that Jorge might be able to pull that one off himself. Because if he did, I could almost guarantee that baker would put this cake on their regular cake list instantly. To non-bakers like Jorge and me, anything this elaborate looks difficult. But Andrew assures me it’s not. And I can promise you that the results are worth any degree of difficulty, it’s just that good.
John Barricelli has appeared in Chewing the Fat before and he will again. Chef Barricelli has a background equal to his status as a third generation baker. He was Martha Stewart’s right hand baker on her TV show, hosted her Everyday Baking Show and then, in 2005, took his talents north where he opened his SoNo Bakery in South Norwalk CT. of all places. But with the New York Times waxing over his wares, and saying “This new bakery is superb and proves it daily”, it naturally became a reason for pastry lovers to come from all over to sample the chef’s creations. In 2010, John wrote “The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter 2010) which is where Andrew found the recipe for today’s Coconut Cake. If you are looking around for a great baking cookbook, put this one on your list. John is a great teacher. And like all great teachers, his instructions are highly detailed, his explanations of techniques don’t stint on details. All of which is to say, don’t be put off by the length of this recipe. The devil, after all, is in the details. Here is the recipe:
Recipe for SoNo Baking Company’s Coconut Cake:
For the Cake
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) coconut milk
2 tablespoons cream of coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract
For the Coconut Pastry Cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and scraped,
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
For the Coconut Buttercream
5 large egg whites
1-1/3 cups sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
1 pound unsalted butter, firm but not chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons coconut extract
2-1/2 to 3 cups shredded, sweetened coconut, for decorating.
1. Set an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan with softened butter. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat; set aside.
2. To make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and the baking powder; set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs whites on medium speed until frothy. With the mixer running, gradually sprinkle in the granulated sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Scrape the meringue into a bowl; set aside.
4. Exchange the whisk for the paddle attachment. Wash and dry the bowl. Add the butter, confectioners' sugar and salt to the mixer bowl. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the coconut milk, cream of coconut, and coconut extract.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, beating until the flour is absorbed. Remove the bowl from the stand and fold in the meringue.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake on the prepared baking sheet, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the the way through the baking time, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
7. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Then turn the cake out and let cool completely on the rack.
8. To make the pastry cream: In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, about half of the sugar, all the cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of the milk.
9. In a saucepan, combine the remaining sugar, the remaining 1-1/2 cups milk, the vanilla extract or vanilla bean, and the salt. Bring to a simmer. Whisking contantly, pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, gradually at first to temper it, and then more quickly.
10. Set a strainer over the saucepan.
11. Strain the custard mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Boil for 10 seconds, whisking. (Make sure the custard boils for 10 seconds in the center of the pan, not just around the sides.) The mixture should thicken to a pudding-like consistency. Discard the vanilla bean, if using.
12. Transfer the pastry cream to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, to cool slightly. Beat in the vanilla extract, if using. With the mixer running, beat in the butter a little at a time, until incorporated. Beat in the coconut. Transfer to a bowl, press plastic wrap directly over the cream to prevent a crust from forming, and chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
13. To make the buttercream: Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. In the top of the double boiler, whisk the egg whites with the sugar and the salt over (not in) the simmering water until warm to the touch, 1 to 2 minutes (be careful to not let the bottom of the top of the double boiler touch the water).
14. Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until stiff peaks form. With the machine running, gradually beat in the butter, piece by piece. By the time all the butter is added, the mixture will break, but it will become smooth again as you continue to beat. Beat in the vanilla and coconut extracts.
15. To assemble the cake, use a long serrated knife to trim the top of the cake, if necessary, to level it. Andrew uses toothpicks to guide the knife and create three perfectly even layers.
16. Set one layer on a 9-inch cake round. Scoop some of the buttercream into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe a line of buttercream around the edge of the cake layer to create a dam.
17. Spread about half of the pastry cream over the cake, inside the buttercream "dam." Set the second cake layer on top and repeat to make a buttercream dam, and spread with the remaining pastry cream. Set the third layer on top, and spread the top and sides of the cake with a crumb layer (a very thin layer of buttercream used to capture any loose crumbs, preventing them from getting into the outer frosting.)
Refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes, until the buttercream is set. Spread the cake with the remaining buttercream. Gently press the coconut all over the cake to coat completely.