Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coconut Cake

Coconut seems to be one of those flavors that someone either loves or hates. I'm partial to almost all flavors, especially in sweets. But I'm still amazed by people who will run for the trashcan when they bite into a coconut truffle from a chocolate sampler. Coconut is a wonderful substance in all its forms, whether it's a pina colada or a macaroon. It has a toasty nuttiness when it has been browned and a sweet chewiness when it has not. It is the perfect companion to fruits, nuts and chocolate.

A newer member of my lab had a birthday recently. She had previously mentioned loving a coconut cake from a Thai restaurant in her home town, so I set out to find a recipe that would make a reasonable facsimile.

Coconut Cake
Makes 8-10 servings. Adapted from Darlene Schmidt.

For the cake
6 eggs
1.5 cups coconut milk (not lite)
7 tbsp sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
For the icing
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 pinch of salt
2 tsp coconut extract
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" cake pans, line bottoms with parchment and grease parchment.

Stir the coconut into the coconut milk and set aside to soak.

Separate egg whites from yolks. Place the whites in a medium mixing bowl. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Place yolks in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt and melted butter. Beat to a smooth consistency for about 1 minute.

Combine baking powder and flour. Add the flour mixture and coconut mixture to the yolk mixture. Beat 1-2 minutes with an electric mixer until well combined, about 1-2 minutes. Fold in the beaten egg whites into the batter. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To make the frosting, prepare a double boiler by placing a medium metal or glass bowl over a pan of simmering water (note - don't let the water touch the bowl). Combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl. Start beating this mixture using an electric mixer at low speed. Gradually over 5 minutes, continue to beat while incrementally increasing the speed to high. Add the coconut extract as you move to the high speed and beat to combine. Remove from heat.

To assemble, place the first layer of cake on a serving plate. Top with a generous amount of icing, spreading to the edges. Place second layer on top. Cover the cake with the remaining icing (it doesn't have to be perfect). Lastly, cover the entire cake with the toasted coconut.
Coconut Cake

This cake is quite amazing. It has every form of coconut you could imagine save climbing a tree and chopping down a fresh one. The coconut meat, milk and extract all add layers of flavor and complexity to this very moist cake. The frosting tastes like a light coconut marshmallow and gives the cake a very dreamy quality. Though this cake is not for the coconut haters at your work or among your friends, for us coconut lovers it is a celebration of a delicious tropical "fruit."

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