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Monday, September 3, 2012

Coconut Layer Cake

It has been over 6 weeks since my last blog post. I'm embarrassed. The truth is that I've actually been working on my dissertation proposal and internship applications (you can't stay in graduate school forever, apparently) and they've taken up a lot of my time and energy. Whereas I don't think this excuses my lack of cooking and posting, I guess it is an acceptable explanation. But, this long holiday weekend was a welcomed treat and I was able to spend a lot of time in my kitchen.

My first task was this coconut cake. And as you probably know, I love baking cakes. It is time consuming, but, like bread-making, the end result is so rewarding after investing that much time, attention, and care. Not only was the finished product absolutely the best coconut cake I've ever had, but it looks stunning when sliced (thanks to Jason Volpe's photography). It was a crowd pleaser and a perfect end to a wonderful dinner. You should make this before summer is over! Recipe adapted slightly from Cook's Illustrated.

1 large egg
5 large egg whites
3/4 cup coconut cream (not milk)
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into 12 pieces, softened, but still cool)
2 cups packed sweetened shredded coconut

5 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch of table salt
3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into about 20 piece, softened, but still cool
1/3 cup coconut cream
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Making the cake...
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and adjust oven rack to lower middle-position. Grease 2 8-inch round cake pans with shortening and dust with flour.

In a large measuring cup, beat egg whites, whole egg, coconut cream, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with a fork until thoroughly combined.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and mix on lowest speed with the paddle attachment for about 30 seconds. While mixer is running, add the butter, 1 piece at a time then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas (2-2 1/2 minutes).

With mixer still running, add 1 cup of the reserved liquid, increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. While mixer is still running, add remaining 1 cup of liquid in a stead stream. Scrape down the bowl and beat to combine. Divide batter between the two cake pans and level with a spatula. Bake until cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted comes out clean (about 25-30 minutes). Cool pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks to cool to room temperature.

While oven is still on, spread the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 10-20 minutes, stirring every few minutes so that the coconut browns evenly. Cool to room temperature and set aside for the cake assembly.

Making the buttercream icing...
Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2 inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch (~120 degrees), about 2 minutes.

Transfer bowl to mixer and beat egg whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (~80 degrees) and whites and glossy & sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter, 1 piece at a time. Beat in coconut cream, and coconut & vanilla extracts. Stop mixer, scrape down bowl, and continue to beat until well combined.

Assembling the cake...
With a long serrated knife, cut both cakes in half horizontally, so you have 4 thin layers of cake in total.

Center one layer of cake on a cake stand (you can steady the layer by putting a dab of icing on the bottom of the stand before placing the first layer on top). Spread icing on the top of the first layer and spread with a knife or spatula (the layer of icing should be about ~1/4 inch thick). Repeat with remaining layers. Once you place the top layer on, spread the remaining icing on the top and sides of the cake. Take the toasted coconut and sprinkle on top and press into the sides. Cut slices, serve, and enjoy! Cake can be stored in the fridge if you want, but the cake is best served room temperature (or slightly cool), so take it out hours before serving.

**** If you want to make this ahead of time: bake the cakes the day before, let cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge overnight. Ice and assemble the following day.

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