Birthday Coconut Cake

coconut cake

My birthday passed without a birthday cake to celebrate it and that is not an acceptable situation for someone like me who truly loves a good cake.  Kelly was passing through on Saturday so I baked my own birthday cake Friday night (just a week late) intending to send a majority of it back to Purdue with her for her Theta sisters to enjoy.  Unfortunately for the Thetas the cake was so delicious Greg vetoed that idea.  Don't worry, he did let Kelly have a piece or two.  Fortunately for my waistline, Greg has been working from home (and nibbling on cake) and Sara's Quinn had a couple of pieces too.   This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour with the biggest changes being I made mine in a 9x13x2 sheet pan so I could easily share and store it and I frosted my cake with buttercream icing and organic unsweetened coconut.  

If you've been following me for a while you know that I am a big fan of King Arthur Flour.  Peruse one of their catalogs and I guarantee you will want to bake something, anything, right now....  I regularly order from them:  SAF instant yeast, perfect pizza flour blend, pizza dough flavor, baker's special powdered milk, cake enhancer, pie filling enhancer and Vietnamese cinnamon.  To meet a minimum amount for free shipping I've thrown in some pretty wild things and one of those was powdered coconut milk.  Good thing, because this is a key ingredient for this cake.  You can order it online from King Arthur Flour or it's possibly available at a natural foods store or Asian market near you (think Thai and curry).  The KAF bakers added it to this recipe to replace a little of the fat and to make an "incredibly tender and moist crumb".  Indeed.  The texture of this coconut cake was divine.  

An Easter tradition at my Grandma Bayer's that I carried on was the "lamb cake".  A little vanilla cake lamb with buttercream icing and a furry coconut coat laying on a bed of icing with green food coloring enhanced coconut.  As soon as I had kids I bought the Wilton mold and have made the cake almost every Easter.  Some years I go super "fancy" and use my decorating tips for the entire lamb-scape, but most often I make a buttercream icing and pile on the coconut for the coat and add jelly beans for the nose and eyes.  Some memorable Easter lambs include the ones where I went all Martha Stewart and made the cake from scratch.  After at least two lambs needing wooden skewers to hold up their little heads and one falling flat on his little face, I concluded that the box mix was more consistent and honestly, a jacked up lamb isn't pretty.  Funny, but not pretty.  The point of the lamb cake story, is that this is where my love of coconut, buttercream and cake began.  And truly, the memories are fun to evoke and to share.  
lamb cake circa 1991(the cows, pottery and geese should give that vintage away)

My Grandma Bayer also bought an angel food cake and served it with whipping cream with thawed frozen sweetened strawberries folded in for every one of my birthdays as a child.  Chilly pink goodness.  I am closing my eyes, smelling the gas stove smell of her kitchen and seeing her serving the cake on her pretty dining room table and hearing everyone sing "Happy Birthday".  Grandma and Grandpa made it to 91 and 94, but I miss them still.  

Okay, you've made it this far so here's the cake I made for myself because my baker child is in college, my husband never thinks of cake and everyone surely thought the two desserts I had on my birthday at the Seasons 52 preview dinner would suffice.  Ha!

Coconut Cake

3 C cake flour
2/3 C coconut milk powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
10 T unsalted butter (one stick plus 2 T)
1 1/2 C sugar
5 egg whites
1 1/2 C milk, at room temperature (I used 2 %, but the original recipe calls for whole milk)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 drops coconut flavoring (oops, forgot to mention that KAF purchase)

vanilla buttercream icing (I actually used the KAF mix, made half the bag never cheated like that before, but it was yummy)

1 to 1 1/2 C  coconut (I used organic unsweetened and it was perfect since the icing is super sweet, but you can use sweetened coconut and I bet toasted coconut would be lovely too)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13x2 baking pan with cooking spray and dust with flour shaking off excess.  You can make this in two 8-inch round pans, but I like to cover my cake pan and keep the cake at room temperature or chilled and it's so easy to just make a single layer).

Whisk together the cake flour, coconut milk powder, salt and baking powder.

In your mixing bowl of your stand mixer (or in your mixing bowl with a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture if very light and fluffy, scraping down the sides and the bottom of your bowl after about 2 minutes and then beating at least 3 minutes more.  Do not sample all of the butter and sugar (have I ever told you my babysitter when I was very small made me butter and sugar sandwiches on white bread for a snack?). 

Combine the egg whites, milk and flavorings.  Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture ending with the flour mixture and beating until everything is incorporated nicely.  Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl one last time and beat for another minute.  

Either pour the entire mixture into your prepared 9x13x2 pan or divide it equally between two 8-inch round pans.   Bake the large pan for 35-40 minutes and the round pans for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched in the center and the edges are just pulling away from the sides of the pan.  I always use a cake tester too because more than once I've had to discard the center of a cake and that always makes me sad.  

Cool the cake in the large pan on a wire rack until completely cool or if using rounds, cool in the pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes and then flip the cake rounds onto the wire rack to finish cooling completely.  

Frost with icing and generously top with coconut.

coconut cake ingredients

butter and cream all light and fluffy

alternating additions of flour mixture and milk/egg/flavoring mixture

prepared pan (cooking spray and dusting of flour)

batter in baking pan

cooling cake

frosting cake

unsweetened organic coconut finishing touch


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