Monday, June 13, 2016

the most gorgeous coconut cake

Perhaps you've seen the posts of this gorgeous cake of mine.  I mean......the cake that is to date the very best cake I have ever baked and I don't think it's just because I served it on a sunny winter morning at the beach with champagne and raspberries although those are a fantastically good circumstances.  Cheers to one of my best swimming friends, Dee and to her husband Peter's brilliant suggestion of a coconut cake with some fruit flavor for her birthday celebration.  The big day is also World Ocean Day which brings the whole thing rather full circle.

I have never baked a coconut cake, but have tried many so I knew what I wanted to happen but had no idea I'd pull it off on my first attempt.  I combined at least three recipes for this one.  The cake batter was fairly easy and would be good on it's own or with some other icing arrangement.  The lemon curd is standard and easy as long as you do not get distracted (you can focus on one thing for 10 minutes, I assure you, or you'll have to zest and juice again plus who keeps that many lemons around unless you have a tree like many people do here and I am jealous).  The real buttercream is worth the effort and a little counterintuitive.  More butter than sugar unlike quick buttercream with powdered/confectioner's/icing sugar, but here it is absolutely a good measure of the success of this recipe.  I did bake this cake and make the curd in the afternoon and then returned to the buttercream and assembly in the evening post pre-birthday bubbles and it still turned out beautifully.   Allow a good 40 minutes or so for the buttercream making and cake assembly, you may not need it but not being rushed would help.

Since I baked this on a dreary day and finished it at night in my already dark kitchen, there are no process photos.  I could bake another one this week just for the pictures, and I might.  But we are just one week past a huge storm that left the ocean unfit for swimming and if I'm not swimming a mile every day, I possibly do not need a gorgeous cake in the house.  Possibly.  It's very chilly here this morning so there is a high probability that baking will happen if for no other reason than to warm up the house.  Or I will do what I'm doing now, snuggled up to an outdoor heater at my cafe home writing and not being cold.  Such a different life I have right now.  Kind of like it if you haven't heard.

Coconut Cake
6 egg whites at room temperature (reserve two of the egg yolks for the lemon curd)
1 1/3 C coconut milk (basically a can's measure)
2 tsp vanilla
4 C flour (all purpose is fine, cake flour works too)
2 C sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
16 T (228g) unsalted butter, room temperature
Lemon Curd
Sweetened flake coconut to decorate (at least 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350F or 180C.  Prepare two round cake pans (8 or 9-inch, whatever you have) lining the bottoms with parchment and then spraying bottom and sides with non-stick spray.
In a medium bowl whisk together the egg whites, coconut milk and vanilla until combined.  Set aside.  In a stand mixer (oh, how I miss my KitchenAid) or in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer (current state of affairs), combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt at low speed.  Add in the butter at low speed increasing to medium.  Note:  this did not work for me with my hand mixer, but maybe my butter was too cold so I had to add a little of the liquid mixture to get everything working.  Add in the liquid mixture in three parts, scraping down sides and beating for 30 seconds after each addition.  Scrape batter into prepared pans and smooth the tops.  Bake cakes for 30-40 minutes or until a tester in the center comes out clean.  Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes and then invert onto baking racks to cool completely.  

Lemon Curd
2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
3/4 C sugar (caster sugar in Australian terms)
1/3 C (80g) cold unsalted butter
zest and juice of 2 lemons

Whisk eggs, yolk and sugar in a small saucepan until smooth then turn the heat to low.  Add in the butter, juice and zest and stir to melt butter.  Keep whisking continuously over low heat until thickened, maybe 5-10 minutes.  Curd will thicken a bit more upon chilling but get it good and thick over the heat first.  Strain through a sieve into a bowl or jar.  Cover and refrigerate until needed.


1 1/2 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1 1/2 C milk (I used skim because that is what I had)
1/3 C heavy cream
1 1/2 C (340g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour and sugar.  Add the milk and cream and whisk frequently over medium heat until mixture comes to boil and thickens or about 10 minutes.  Transfer the hot mixture to a stand mixer bowl (or mixing bowl with hand mixer) and beat on high until cool, about 8-10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add in the butter a few pieces at a time until fully incorporated.  Add in vanilla.  Turn up the speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy.  Note:  I actually had to add in 1/2 C or powdered sugar to get the consistency I wanted but that could have just been me and my hand mixer problems.

Place one cake layer on serving plate.  Thickly cover with lemon curd stopping before the edges to allow for the second layer to spread the curd a bit.  Top with the second layer.  Frost with buttercream and a spreader thickly coating the top and sides of the cake.  Press on coconut.  This is messy business, keep at it and clean up the cake plate at the very end.  Keep refrigerated.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

winter baking: pumpkin olive oil cake with browned butter glaze

So very blustery, so very dark on an early winter's night along the Tasman Sea with an East Coast Low angrily rolling through this weekend.  Finally settling in for the evening after spending much of the day securing our property because our patio furniture is menacingly moving every which way, the party lights are swinging off the tree and the wind and rain are blowing right through our big sliding glass doors.  Here's something you don't think about when you move around the planet:  you have no old towels to use as rags.  No ratty t-shirts when you get into something messy.  No old shoes to slog through a muddy trail.  Now, we've been abroad 20 months and thanks to a brutal old washing machine and countless hikes we've got some things we can sacrifice.  But not heaps.  It's too dark to worry about it.  As Greg said (from summery Shanghai), it's a good night to live in a concrete bunker on a cliff.  That is a fairly accurate assessment right now of our apartment that on summer days would be really offended by that description.  In other words, I'm hunkered down (praying for daylight, as the family saying goes) with time and inclination to finish this post I started last week. 

Last week when I was winding down autumn and you were most likely welcoming summer heat.  Let me review, seasons here do not officially change with the sun and the moon, but rather with the first of a month on a quarterly basis, hence the very practical start of winter in Australia is June first  instead of the more traditional (to Americans) June twenty-first (you know, the one based on actual science of the earth's tilt and rotation).  So it's chilly and it's pumpkin season, but pureed pumpkin is not sold in cans (or tins) here so to bake anything pumpkin you first need to roast a whole pumpkin and then puree it yourself.  It's not hard, but it's certainly not as easy as opening a can or tin, as they are called here.  So far every tin I have encountered has a pull top so you wouldn't even need a can opener for your pumpkin puree if it could be bought, which it can not so never mind how easy that would be.   

So I bought a pumpkin, cut it in half, scraped out the seeds, brushed it with a little bit of canola oil and roasted it face up in a medium hot oven (400 F or 200 F) for about half an hour (until tender when the flesh was poked with a fork).  After about 10 minutes, the flesh could be scooped out and then pureed with a stick blender (or stand mixer or blender or whatever you have).  Pumpkin baking crisis averted.  

The whole baking with browned butter thing is still a very strong trend at my house.  The single-layer cake gets all trendy with olive oil in the batter and browned butter in the icing.  Slice by slice, it's disappearing rapidly being delicious with breakfast, tea of as a dessert.  If it's just about summer where you are, file this one away and bake it up in a few months.  Enjoy your summer and all the fresh fruit desserts.  Have something with luscious ripe peaches for me.  


1/2 C white sugar (I know white sugar is the devil, substitute if you must)
1/4 C light or dark brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 C pumpkin puree
2 T milk
1/2 C nice fruity olive oil
1 C flour (also the devil, substitute away)
1 C whole wheat flour 
1 T baking powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cardamon (optional)
1/2 tsp salt

3 T unsalted butter
1-2 C powdered/icing sugar
2 T milk
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 F or 180 C.  Line an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan with parchment and spray with nonstick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamon (if using).  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, using a stand or hand mixer on medium high speed beat sugars and eggs together until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in pumpkin puree and milk until combined.  Lower the speed of your mixer to avoid a big splashy mess, and slowly add in the olive oil.  Scrape down the sides and slowly mix in half of the flour mixture.  Scrape again and add the other half of the flour mixture until well-combined.  Pour batter into prepared cake tin (see, I've been here a while automatically typing tin instead of pan).  Bake 25-30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean from the center of the cake.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully invert the cake onto the wire rack to finish cooling.

Prepare glaze by melting butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring a bit and watching it carefully until it just starts to smell nutty and turn chestnut brown (this might happen in just one part of the pan, that's good enough).  Turn off heat and take pan off burner to avoid scorching the butter.  Cool slightly.  Whisk together powdered sugar, browned butter and pinch of salt (just a little one to bring it all together and cut the sweetness) adding milk a tablespoon at a time until the glaze is pourable or spreadable (however you like it).  Pour or spread over cooled cake.  Can be stored at room temperature.  

Try not to eat the whole thing in one day.  I think it took us two days with some help from lovely guests and great restraint on the part of all four of us.  Sorry for the lack of photos, it's very dark in my kitchen this time of year and well, we ate the cake so quickly I only got a good photo of the very last piece.