When I read that The Domestic Goddess was bringing Sugar High Friday back to its beginning (so to speak), I was happy. It’s only right, after all, that the person who created such a popular event should get to host it every now and then. But I was even happier when I read that the theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday was The Sweetest Thing – our favourite desserts.
To be sure there have been SHFs that have been interesting, challenging and even a bit out there. But it’s nice, every once and awhile, to get back to the very foundations of your love for something – in this case dessert.
To say that one particular dessert is my very favourite is a bit difficult for me. I am a Cream Puff after all and I believe in supporting all of my family members, be they muffin, cake, pie, tart, custard or cookie. There is, however, most definitely one particular dessert that makes my heart swell with happiness as soon as I hear it mentioned: my Coconut Cream Cake.
Now to be fair, it isn’t really “my” Coconut Cream Cake. It is in fact a cake that belongs to Caprial Pence of Caprial’s Desserts (written with Melissa Carey). If you’ve ever seen the book or have the good fortune to own it, it’s the cake pictured on the front cover. I don’t often buy cookbooks without looking at them. But I bought this one as soon as I laid eyes on that cover.
I didn’t know what kind of cake it was, but I didn’t really care. I wanted it and so the cookbook had to be mine. As it turns out, it’s an incredible cookbook. I guard my copy jealously and I cherish every batter-stained page.
There’s no question, though, that were you to pick up my copy, it would almost definitely open of its own volition to page 236 and the recipe for Coconut Cream Cake.
As layer cakes go, it’s very straightforward. You begin with a sturdy cake with a soft and moist crumb that has been augmented by coconut milk. You add to it a delicious pastry cream made partly with more coconut milk and boosted by shredded coconut. And you finish with a lovely and simple buttercream, covered in toasted shredded coconut.
Really, on the surface there’s nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about this layer cake at all.
For me, it’s the coconut. My endless love.
I would crawl to the ends of the earth for coconut. I will eat it fresh or dried. I will eat it in sweet food or savoury food. I will drink anything even remotely associated with coconut flavour.
I remember the first time I tasted coconut like it was yesterday. I was a child, visiting my grandparents in Italy, and some friends of the family came to visit and they brought along some fresh coconut. After opening the coconut and cutting it into pieces, they plunged a plate of the stuff deep into the basin of the town’s fountain. And there it stayed for some time while the water turned the coconut icy cold. My first taste of it was a revelation! It was crunchy and sweet. But there was this hint of a nutty creaminess that I was immediately addicted to.
This cake makes me think of that first bite of coconut every single time I bake it. While I mostly bake for others, this is a dessert that I bake strictly for myself.
But of course this time around, I’m baking it for you too.
Cream Puff’s Very Favourite Coconut Cream Cake
From Caprial’s Desserts by Caprial Pence and Melissa Carey.
Note: It’s best to make the pastry cream and the cakes the day before assembling the cake. I usually make them the night before. I make the buttercream just before I’m ready to begin assembling the cake. Once I begin assembling, I like to refrigerate the cake after each step. To frost the cake, I find that a cake stand is invaluable. If you want to read an amazing post about what it takes to bake and decorate cakes, read Anita’s post all about it on her blog Dessert First. This cake will easily serve 12 people.
For the coconut cake:
1 cup butter (2 sticks), cold and cut into small cubes
1-3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
3 cups sifted cake flour
1-1/2 cups coconut milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and grease two 9-inch pans. Line the bottoms of the pan with parchment paper and then grease the parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar at high speed. Mix until the butter is light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes).
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the eggs one at a time, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
Add the vanilla extract and mix well.
Combine the dry ingredients (salt, baking powder and flour) and add to the butter/egg mixture in two additions, alternating with the coconut milk. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 25 minutes to 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the centre of the cake.
Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before unmolding them and peeling off the parchment paper. Let the cakes cool completely before filling them. If you make the cakes the day before assembling the cake, wrap them in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.
For the coconut pastry cream:
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1-1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
2 cups heavy cream
In a saucepan, combine the half-and-half and the coconut milk and heat on high until the mixture is just about to boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, the cornstarch and the sugar. Whisk until well combined and the eggs are pale yellow (about 3 or 4 minutes).
Dribble in a few drops of the milk mixture and whisk. Continue dribbling in a bit of milk (don’t add it all at once or you may cook the egg yolks) and whisking. Once you’ve added about half of the milk, you can then add the rest in a steady stream, whisking all the time.
Return the milk/egg mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat (whisking constantly) until the mixture becomes very thick. This should take about 5 minutes or so. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture bubbles and you can see the bottom of the pan as you drag the whisk through it. Remove from the heat and stir in the shredded coconut.
Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (the plastic wrap should touch the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming). Refrigerate overnight.
When you’re ready to fill the cakes, whip two cups of heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the cream into the cold pastry cream until combined.
For the buttercream:
2 cups half-and-half
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 pound unsalted butter (2 cups), at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
Combine the half-and-half, the egg yolk and the cornstarch in a saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to ensure that it’s smooth. When it comes to a boil it will thicken considerably. Remove from the heat and pass it through a sieve. Refrigerate for two hours.
After two hours, combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed for 10 minutes, stopping every once and awhile to scrape down the sides of the bowl. After 10 minutes, the mixture will be almost white in colour and very light and fluffy.
Add the salt and mix.
With the speed on low, add the cold half-and-half mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure it’s well incorporated.
Add the vanilla extract and mix.
Use the buttercream right away.
To assemble the cake:
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
Split the two 9-inch cakes in half so that you have four layers.
Place one layer, cut side up, on a cake plate or cake cardboard. Spread about half a cup of coconut pastry cream on the cake layer. Leave about half an inch border all the way around to ensure the pastry cream doesn’t leak out.
Top with a second layer of cake, and once again spread about half a cup of pastry cream on the layer.
Top with a third layer and repeat with the pastry cream.
Top with the final layer and press down to ensure that the cake is firmly in place. At this point I like to refrigerate the cake for about half an hour to give the pastry cream a chance to settle and firm up a bit. I usually make the buttercream while the cake is in the refrigerator.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator and begin icing. There are many different opinions on how to ice a cake. The way I like to do it is to spread a thin layer of icing on the top and the sides of the cake. Don’t worry if you pick up cake crumbs. Once you’ve done this, put the cake back into the refrigerator for about half an hour to firm up the buttercream.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator and this time, add a nice thick layer of buttercream all around. Begin by putting a cup or so of icing on the top of the cake. Spread it evenly across pushing the buttercream all the way to the edges. Once it’s even on top, begin pushing the buttercream at the edges down the sides of the cake, adding more buttercream as needed. Once you’re done, smooth the sides of the cake as best you can. Even out the edges of the cake by placing your icing spatula flat on the edge and smoothly sliding it towards the centre of the cake. This should give you a nice edge all the way around.
Place the cake in the refrigerator for about ten minutes. Remove the cake and carefully apply the toasted shredded coconut all around the sides of the cake and on the top of the cake if you wish. If you have any extra buttercream, feel free to pipe a decorative design on the cake.
Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 or 4 hours before serving.