Friday, June 29, 2012

Tropical Paradise

I’m baaaack!  There are multiple reasons why I dropped off the “Never Trust a Skinny Cook” radar screen for awhile but I won’t bore you with details, other than the fact that I am now cooking out of a closet (well, a hallway actually) these days.  I have also landed in a restaurant kitchen again, but that’s a subject for another post!

My lovely temporary kitchen.  Saber and Annie don't seem to mind it!

I am also sad to report that I lost two of my beloved dogs within the last month.  I realize this has nothing to do with recipes, but since so many of you who read this blog are friends, I figured I could share this with you.  They were my old ladies and they lived long and happy lives, but I miss them terribly.  Rest in peace, sweet Lucy and Roxy.



Alright, in the words of my mother-in-law, “enough with the pity party.”  Instead, let’s talk about her!  That’s because she recently had a 90th birthday and the entire family threw her a big birthday party.  Do I even need to tell you what my contribution was?

That’s the easy part.  The hard part is that I had to travel to God’s Waiting Room Delray Beach to make the damn thing.  Of course, I am talking about a birthday cake!

Now the good news is that my dear friends Stephen and Mark happen to live about five minutes away from Mom.  They lucked out and found a fabulous 40’s ranch house that is in a spectacular location just across from the ocean.  The house is quintessential “old Florida”, complete with terrazzo floors and an outdoor lanai.  I’ll bet that someday it gets torn down to make way for a mansion (like the one across the street, see photo below), but for now it is just a charming place to live and it reminds me of growing up in Orlando.  It also has a more-than-adequate kitchen, which Stephen and Mark graciously allowed me to use for this cake marathon.

The house across the street.  Yep, this really is a single-family home.  

Lanai with a terrazzo floor.  Old Florida!

Let me guess – you’re wondering what kind of cake we were making.  I wondered too, when Mom mentioned that she liked carrot cake – but could it also include coconut?  Huh?  Then I remembered the Tropical Carrot Cake that a friend of mine made a few years ago.  She gave me the recipe, but just try finding anything around here these days, what with everything being packed away in cardboard boxes.  Luckily, a Google search did the trick.

This a moist and delicious cake and it only gets better the longer it sits.  The original recipe called for a cream cheese frosting made with cream of coconut and coconut extract.  I tested it that way and didn’t like it at all – it tasted like fake coconut to me.  Instead I opted for a simple cream frosting flavored only with pure vanilla extract and I covered the outside of the cake with shaved coconut.  Much, much better.

TROPICAL CARROT CAKE  (adapted from Epicurious)

For the cake:
2 1/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
1 cup dry-roasted macadamia nuts, optional
1 cup chopped, crystallized ginger
3 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated (peeled) carrots
16-oz. crushed pineapple in juice, drained

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and line bottom and sides with parchment paper.  Grease or butter again.  Set aside.

Place 1/3 cup of the flour, coconut, macadamias (if using) and ginger in a food processor.  Process until ingredients are finely chopped.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 cups of flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and oil until well-blended.  Ad eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla, then add flour mixture and mix on low speed only to blend.  Stir in carrots and pineapple.

Divide batter among prepared pans.  Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 25 – 30 minutes.  Cool in pans on a rack for 1 hour, then run knife around edge of pans to loosen.  Turn cakes out on racks and cool completely.

For the frosting:
24 oz. cream cheese (3 packages), softened
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
16 oz. shaved coconut, for decorating cake

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth and no lumps remain.  Beat in confectioner’s sugar and salt, then vanilla extract.

Place one cooled cake layer, flat side up, on a platter or cake plate.  Spread ¾ cup of frosting over top of cake.  Top with second cake layer, flat side up and spread ¾ cup frosting over.  Top with third cake layer, rounded side up, pressing slightly to adhere.  Spread a thin layer of frosting over top and sides of cake (crumb coat), then place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake and press shaved coconut over the entire cake.

Serves 8 - 10

Sorry for all of the pictures.  Be patient with me .. I'm about to add a few more.  In the meantime, don't be daunted by the ingredient list for this cake.  Apart from grating the carrots (do it in a food processor) and chopping the crystallized ginger, it's a piece of cake (no pun intended).

You can certainly use grated coconut to garnish the cake, but I much prefer the shaved variety.  It shouldn't be hard to find - I can get it here in Atlanta at my local Kroger.

I managed to take pictures of the frosting process on my iPhone - but then I got a new one (hello, Siri!) and lost the photos.  Oh well.

And just in case you're up for a few more photos......

Frantically lighting all of those candles as Mom approaches!

She did it.  Blew 'em all out!

Quick, Liz - get rid of those candles!

Jana, Mom and Andy.  This picture makes me happy!


  1. So sorry to hear about Roxy and Lucy.They were adorable dogs.

    The cake looks and sounds great.

    Best wishes to the Lorber clan.


  2. Looks like a fantastic celebration for Ruth (and of course a beautiful cake)! Miss you guys! xoxo