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Friday, May 18, 2012

Coconut Cake for Mom


My mother's taste in sweets is quite different from mine.  While I love to try as many new-fangled recipes that I can, my mother sticks with the well-worn, butter-stained recipes from her cookbook.  While my idea of heaven would be some sort of cookie-dough, Oreo, ultra-chocolately brownie delight with a dangerous dark chocolate frosting, my mother's idea of heaven is a simple slice of Grandmother's Pound Cake--no lemon flavoring, no frosting, no chocolate chips.  (Actually, her idea of heaven is a perfect pear or a sweet orange, but where's the fun in that?) Even our ideas of the perfect portion size are different.  I go for a huge slice of cake and can usually polish it off in five seconds or less.  (And later on, when no one's paying attention, I'll sneak a second slice!)  But Mom always asks for a sliver of cake.  (And it kills me when she occassionally doesn't even finish that!)  And so, baking for Mom is both gratifying (I have to admit that Grandmother's Pound Cake is pretty wonderful) and frustrating (how could anybody not like Oreo cookie dough brownies?).  But after months of baking, I have finally found an item sure to please Mom's tastes, this adorable 6-inch coconut cake.

I love making cakes and have piles of recipes desperate to be tried, but waiting for an opportunity to make an entire cake is not easy.  And making a whole cake just to test a recipe seems like a waste. And then it appeared.  The 6-inch cake pan.  And I fell in love.  Yes!  Now I can a make a half recipe of cake for a 6-inch double layer cake.  It's sweet.  It's petite.  It's the 6-inch cake!  I knew my mom would love this.  She did, and the 6-inch cake has become something of a rock star.

But what do you make for a woman who already has her favorite recipes?  The answer came when we were having lunch at a bakery and Mom spotted a slice of coconut cake that looked yummy.  I immediately announced I would make a coconut cake for her.  My first attempt was a vanilla cake and vanilla frosting topped with shredded coconut.  We all liked it, but it was not coconutty enough.  My second attempt was a yellow cake recipe from Shirley Corriher with one of our family favorite frosting recipes, Brides Frosting, which I altered by adding imitation coconut extract and mixing in some shredded coconut, in addition to the shredded coconut sprinkled on top.  Mom loved it, but I wanted an even lighter frosting.  And so, Shirley's yellow cake recipe with Seven Minute Coconut Frosting fit the bill perfectly.

I am going to post the recipe for a full-size cake, with the half recipe measurements that I used for Mom's 6-inch cake at the bottom.  My half recipes contain seemingly impossible measurements, such as one and a half eggs. You may be thinking, "She nuts.  How do you split an egg?"  The answer is easy.  I lightly beat one egg into a small bowl and eyeball half.  It's not scientific, but it works for me.  Or you could use a smallish-looking egg.  But even if you just round up to the nearest egg and use normal size eggs, it'll probably come out fine.  

And so, for you coconut fans out there.  Here it is: Coconut Cake ala Mary.


Shirley Corriher's Magnificent Moist Golden Cake

Adapted from Bakewise by Shirley Corriher

(Mary's note:  In Bakewise, Shirley gives three different methods of making this cake.  The one I am using is the Two-Stage Method.)

Makes 2 9-inch cake layers or two dozen cupcakes

2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Place a mixing bowl in the freezer.

2.  Spray 2 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and line bottoms with parchment circles.

3.  Stir the eggs, yolks, and about half of the buttermilk and the vanilla together in a medium bowl.

4.  Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter, oil and the remaining buttermilk.  Mix on low to moisten the dry ingredients, then increase to medium speed and beat 1 1/2 minutes.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Add one-third of the egg mixture and beat for 20 seconds.  Repeat, adding thirds until all the egg mixture is incorporated.  Scrape down the sides with each addition.

5.  In the cold bowl from the freezer, whip the cream until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted.  Beat just a little beyond this soft peak stage.  Stir about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten it.  Then fold the rest of of the whipped cream into the batter.

6.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of 4 inches to knock out the bubbles.  Place the cake in the oven and bake until the center springs back when touched or a toothpick inserts in the center comes out clean but moist, about 40 minutes.  Ideally the cake should not pull away from the sides until it has just come out of the oven.  The center should be about 209F if you check by inserting an instant-read thermometer.  (I don't have one of these.  The touch-test works for me.)

7.  Place cake on the pan on a rack to cool, about 10 minutes, then loosen the cake before inverting onto the rack to finish cooling.  Peel off the parchment.  Cool completely before icing.

7-Minute Coconut Frosting
(Mary's note: I know this frosting actually takes about 11 minutes, but Seven-Minute Frosting is a widely used type of frosting, and I guess some cooks can get it done in 7 minutes. But take your time; it's not a race.) 

3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp coconut extract
2 - 4 cups shredded coconut

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using a handheld whisk, beat together the egg whites, sugar, water and cream of tartar just until combined, about 30 seconds. Place the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a saucepan and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot, 3 to 4 minutes.  (Mary's note:  To check if sugar is fully dissolved rub a little of the mixture between your thumb and forefinger.  If it feels grainy, then the sugar is not dissolved.  It it feels smooth, the sugar is dissolved--this also means that the eggs have reached the temperature required to kill any bacteria, so they are safe to eat.)

Set the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat until the outside of the bowl is cool and stiff peaks form 5 to 7 minutes more. Using a rubber spatula, fold in anywhere from 1 to 2 cups of shredded coconut (based on your preference) until just incorporated.

After frosting cake, sprinkle top and sides of cake with remaining shredded coconut.



Mary's half-recipe measurements for 2 6-inch layers:

Magnificent Moist Golden Cake Half Recipe:

1 large egg
1 1/2 large egg yolks (I know, half a egg yolk is weird.  See my non-scientific method of splitting an egg above.)   
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons of cake flour 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 + 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 cup heavy cream

Follow directions as written above.  Start checking for doneness when you can smell the cake in the oven, about 20 minutes.

7 Minute Coconut Frosting Half Recipe

1 1/2 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 - 2 cups shredded coconut

Follow directions above, folding in 1/2 to 1 cup of shredded coconut into the frosting.


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