Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cake-O-Rama Sans the Drama

Okay, I’m recovered. Well, sort of.  I’m still not quite sure what month it is, let alone what day. I’ve been on more airplanes than I can count since mid-July and I’ve done everything from getting Eric moved into a new apartment in Philly, eating and hiking in Spain, attending three weddings, two funerals and one big birthday party, making and transporting the cakes for three of those events, to dealing with aging parents, sick dogs and rotting wood on the exterior of my house, plus hosting a couple of dinner parties.

Cripes, and is it really Thanksgiving next week???? Uh-oh. That means I need to get my act together and give you the recipe for my cranberry upside down cake in the next few days. It’s my favorite Thanksgiving dessert so I will make it a priority to pass it along in case you want to try it out for your holiday dinner.

For now though, we’re going to talk about coconut cake. When Andy’s best friend Anna asked me to make her wedding cake, it was a short conversation. We’ve known Anna since she and Andy were in the 4th grade and she’s part of our family. So what if her wedding was taking place in NYC? So what if I couldn’t do any advance prep since there was no way to get it there via the friendly skies? So what if I had to create the thing in Andy’s kitchen, which is about the size of my car? Minor details.

Here's the extra suitcase I had to drag with me to NYC

Here's what was in it

And here is Andy's one-ass kitchen!

But first, I had to come up with the perfect recipe. While I believe that a wedding cake should be beautiful, it’s even more important that it is moist and utterly delicious. Since the layers have to be made several days in advance, this is not an easy task. I tested several recipes which didn’t make the cut. Then I turned to biochemist and problem-solver extraordinaire, Shirley Corriher. Another short conversation.

If you ever have the opportunity to meet Shirley, you will fall in love with her immediately. She is ebullient, gregarious and flat-out hilarious. She is also smart like nobody’s business and has applied her vast knowledge to every food application known to man. She has been a trusted resource for everyone from Julia Child to Alton Brown.  Her two books, Cookwise and Bakewise are volumes which no serious cook should be without. Next to Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis’ The Gift of Southern Cooking, hers are the books which receive the most use in my kitchen.

Her take on coconut cake is pure genius. Rather than incorporating coconut in the batter, she makes lovely golden cake layers and soaks them with a mixture of milk, sugar and coconut. She also eschews the usual creaming of butter and sugar for a dissolved sugar method, resulting in a velvety-soft texture. This cake came together easily, which was a good thing since I had to make the recipe times eight. Thanks, Shirley!

Dinner-on-the-Grounds Coconut Cake  (adapted from Shirley Corriher)

For the cake:
1 ¾ cups cake flour
1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into fourths
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
½ teaspoon salt (I used sea salt)
1/3 cup canola oil
3 egg yolks (I used extra-large)
2 eggs (I used extra-large)
½ cup heavy cream

Arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven, place a baking stone on it and preheat the oven to 350-degrees.

Spray a 9 x 2-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom and sides of pan with parchment paper and spray again. Set aside.

Place flour and baking powder in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Remove to a large bowl and set aside. Add sugar to the mixing bowl and place it back on the mixer stand.

Heat the water to a simmer and add it to the sugar. Beat a few seconds to dissolve the sugar, then beat in the butter, vanilla extract, almond extract and salt. Add the oil and mix on medium to blend.

Sprinkle one-third of the flour mixture over the sugar mixture. Blend on low speed with a minimum amount of beating. Continue adding the flour until all is incorporated.

By hand, stir in the egg yolks, one at a time, then the whole eggs, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Whip just a little more, just past the soft peak stage. Stir about ¼ of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten. Then gently fold the rest of the whipped cream into the batter by hand.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Drop the pan on the counter from a height of about 4-inches to knock out any air bubbles. Place in the preheated oven on the baking stone and bake until the center springs back when touched or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean but moist, about 40 minutes. Place on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then shake pan to loosen the cake. Turn onto a baking rack to finish cooling completely.

Yield: 1 9-inch round layer (which can be sliced into 2 layers)

For the coconut soaking solution:
1 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
6 oz. grated coconut

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then let cool slightly.  Can be used hot or warm.

For the frosting:
I tested a lovely recipe for cream cheese buttercream, but it was a lot of work and I don't think the end result was worth it.  At the end of the day, I used my standard cream cheese frosting, enhanced by a splash of pure almond extract.  It was delicious and no one missed the fact that it wasn't a true buttercream.  Here's the link to my frosting recipe.  Just remember to add 2 teaspoons of almond extract.


To assemble:
6 oz. shaved coconut

Place one cake layer, cut side up, on a serving platter.  Spoon the soaking solution over, in small spoonfuls and let it absorb into the cake.  Use enough to ensure that cake is moist but not falling apart.  Spoon some of the frosting over the soaked layer and spread out evenly over the coconut, leaving a small border around edges.  Place the second layer on top, cut side up and repeat the process, bringing frosting down the sides to create a very thin crumb coat.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes until set, then frost completely. Press shaved coconut onto sides and top of cake.  Store at room temperature.

Serves 8 - 12

First batched baked.  Check!
(Note Magi-Cake strips on pans)

Baking core in place. 
 Think we could use a little more counter space?

Baking core did its job

All baked.  Whew!

Here's the coconut soaking solution

Frosting ingredients.  Think there will be enough?

Frosting done and I didn't even eat all of it!
Don't you just want to stick your finger in there?

Leveling the layers

Now for the fun part!

Crumb coat completed

Ready for transport -- to Brooklyn.
Oy veh!

*  Shirley says that the use of cake flour is essential to this recipe.  I would never be one to argue with her, so do as I did and follow her instructions.  Yet another short conversation.

*  I also did as I was told and baked my layers on top of a baking stone (in my case, it was a pizza stone).  It did help to ensure nice, even layers so if you have one, by all means use it.  If not, I would not race out to buy one, unless you are in the mood to make your own pizza. 

*  The recipe as written yields one cake layer which can be split into 2 layers.  Alternatively, you could divide the batter between 2 pans and bake two thin layers.  Or, you could double the recipe and divide between two pans, resulting in a higher finished cake.

*  Here's a professional tip:  use Magi-Cake strips when you bake your cake layers.  These are long strips which you soak in water, then wrap around your cake pans.  They help the cake edges bake more slowly than the middle of the cake, resulting in even layers without domed centers.

*  One more tip:  use a baking core if you are baking layers 10-inches in diameter or more.  These are metal "cups" which you spray with cooking spray and insert directly into the batter in the middle of the pan, then fill with cake batter.  When the cake is done, you remove the core (which leaves a hole in the middle of the cake), let it cool, then remove the cake inside and use it to "plug" the hole in the cake layer.  These help the middle of the cake bake more quickly and also help to ensure that layers bake evenly.


Anna and Jourdan held their ceremony on the roof garden of their high-rise building in DUMBO at 11:00am on a gorgeous autumn Saturday morning.  We were treated to a fabulous view of Manhattan, then we walked en masse (all 75 of us) to the ferry where we boarded for a short but beautiful trip to Greenpoint, disembarked and walked a short distance to Paulie Gee's, which bills itself as a neighborhood pizza joint.  We loved the place and it was the perfect spot for Anna and Jourdan's celebration.  Oh, and the pizza was pretty good, too!

(Here is a 5-minute video of that wonderful day.  It makes me cry.  Stick with it after the toasts (that's best man Andy doing the first one) and you'll get a good view of the cake.  Brief cameos of Henry and Eric, too).

There was only one problem.  Since Paulie Gee's is in a very small space, they did not have room for me to deliver and set up the cake on Friday and there was no way I could get it there on Saturday morning then make it to the wedding on time.  In stepped Pola, of Tashi and Bobo, the lovely lady whom Anna and Jourdan chose to do the flowers.  Andy and I managed to deliver the finished layers to her on Friday, then she transported, stacked and adorned them with flowers at the restaurant on Saturday morning.  Thank you, Pola!  BTW, if any of you are in need of an incredible florist/designer, check out her website.  Ha, and she makes wedding cakes, too!

Lest you think my work was done, think again.  That evening, there was a big football game on the tube (don't even ask me what it was; remember I am not a football person) and Andy decided that everyone should watch the game at his apartment.  Of course that translated into "can you make something for us to eat, Mom?"  So "Mom" headed back to the city in the late afternoon, hit the grocery store and whipped up a huge pot of chicken chili.  They devoured every bit of it.  Go, Liz Mom.

We returned to Atlanta on Monday and I hit the ground running on Tuesday.  Why?  That's because I was making another cake - this time for a dear friend's birthday.  Somehow I managed to pull it off - at least I didn't have to pack a suitcase this time!

Rich and Moist Bittersweet Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel,
 Milk Chocolate Buttercream and Bittersweet Chocolate Tiles


  1. We love you, Liz Lorber.

  2. Liz, a beautiful cake and as always a good story.