Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Week of Coconut: Fresh Coconut Cake

I saved the best coconut recipe for last. The most decadent, satisfying, yet challenging recipe for last. When I first received my April issue of Cooking Light, this is the one thing that jumped out at me immediately from its pages. I saw that this was a cake that they had taken, in all its full-fat, unhealthy glory, and made it over to be lighter and healthier. This was right up my alley; I love lightening up recipes, or figuring out ways to do so, and here the work was already done for me. The use of the fresh coconut was at once daunting and intriguing. If I could actually pull off using the coconut, I knew it would be a spectacular cake.

But first, I had to convince Andy to have a coconut cake for his birthday. He likes coconut just fine, but I know it's not his favorite, and normally people like something that they really crave for their birthday. Fortunately, he agreed to me making this right away; he liked the idea of making something so adventurous. The one caveat: I would alter the recipe just slightly, and make the frosting different from the one in the magazine. The lightened-up version calls for an Italian meringue frosting, which contains no fat. I decided to take this a step further and make an Italian meringue buttercream frosting, thus loading it down with lots and lots of yummy fat. It's a birthday cake; we needed to live a little!

I originally intended to take some pictures of the cake-baking process, and maybe some shots of the frosting in its various stages. In the end, I found that I was way too wrapped up in the actual baking and making to think about it. I need to get better at that! So anyway, instead we just have pictures of the cake as a finished product. It was pretty! This was my first layer cake made completely from scratch, and I was proud of myself, but I still have to beat up on my work a bit. If you look closely at the above picture, you can see that my layers are not even. There is a blank space in the top left half where the frosting did not quite meet the cake. This wouldn't have happened if I had taken the time to even out the layers. To be honest, I am still scared to level a cake. I've never done so, and I am almost positive I would mess it up if I did. I think when I finally do work up the nerve, it'll be because I've broken down and bought a special tool that leaves no room for error.

The cake layers came together just fine, although it really was a lot of work. To keep it lighter, you cut down on the use of butter and utilize egg whites instead of whole eggs. The wet ingredients were beaten in my stand mixer, and then in a separate bowl the 6 egg whites were whipped with a hand mixer to stiff peaks. After adding in the dry ingredients with the wet, and blending in coconut water (extracted from the fresh coconut!), you fold in the beaten egg whites gently to maintain volume.

Thanks to my kitchen scale, I was able to make each of the three cake layers the exact same volume, and then in the oven they went. I made the layers the night before, and then fretted about how I should store them overnight. After a long debate, Andy convinced me that it would be fine to leave them out on the counter on cooling racks. For the most part, that worked out okay, although the edges did seem a bit too stiff in the morning. I put them under my cake dome and they softened back up.

Now, it was time for the frosting! It was my first time making Italian meringue buttercream, and I was nervous. I watched a tutorial on YouTube by Warren Brown, whose recipe I intended to use for the frosting. I found it on Recipezaar (where else?) and then discovered that he had a video, which I was very excited about. I guess I'm a visual learner, because I definitely do better with something if I've seen it demonstrated for me first. I had never heard of Warren Brown before, but now I know he's the owner of a bakery called CakeLove, and that his recipe is awesome! He's got several locations, the newest one being in the mall we used to live by when we lived in Virginia. I was upset when I found this out; I would love to live right near this guy's bakery! Oh, well. I can still visit when we go back and see family in that area. Anyway, check out his website for more info on him.

Okay, I'm back on track now. Seriously, this frosting is unreal. You use an entire pound of butter, which of course I think goes against all laws of civilization. It is essential, I guess, to achieve the desired outcome, but it felt so wrong dumping all that butter into the mixer!

I'll back up just a bit here though. To achieve this buttercream, you cook a sugar/water mixture on the stove until a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees. While this is coming to temperature, you whip 5 egg whites in a stand mixer until they reach stiff peaks. Once the sugar is ready, you take it immediately from the heat and pour it in a slow, steady stream into the egg whites. Then, you whip it like crazy until the mixture is room temperature.

Now, it's time for all that butter! You dice the butter, making sure it is soft but still cool, and drop it in a bit at a time. Whip, whip, whip, and then you have buttercream! I added just a smidge (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) of coconut extract to the frosting, as well as about 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Even with the added flavorings, this buttercream is still very, well, buttery. I suppose it's right there in the title, huh? I should have anticipated it! It's the perfect frosting for those who do not like an overly sweet frosting, and the smooth texture just can't be beat. Honestly, I was just so giddy that I pulled it off without messing anything up, and on my first try!

After frosting the whole cake, the final touch is fresh shredded coconut, which has been toasted and cooled. That's it! It was an adventure, and it took me the better part of two days, but I am so happy that I accomplished the whole thing. The outcome was pretty awesome, we thought, and Andy was pleased with it, which was really the whole point. Success!

The recipe for the fresh coconut cake can be found here.

The recipe for Warren Brown's Italian meringue buttercream was found here.

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