It bears repeating that Rose Levy Beranbaum taught me a lot about cake-baking. I own several of her books, including the ultimate instructional baking book “The Cake Bible”. When you bake from that book, it’s like having Rose right beside you in the kitchen. The instructions are clear and concise, the science behind all the formulas is explained, and almost every recipe includes “pointers for success”; extra hints and suggestions to ensure a perfect outcome every time. I’ll say it again (even though you’ve all heard it before), the “Cake Bible” made it possible for me to make my sister’s multi-tiered wedding cake, many years before I had any formal culinary training. This past week I made a recipe that included a small amount of coconut milk. Now, there are many ways to use leftover coconut milk, but I think coconut cake is one of the best. I’m not making many big, multi-layered cakes these days, so this one was just the ticket. It’s a single layer of light-as-a-feather coconut cake, heaped with softly whipped cream, and sprinkled with toasted coconut ribbons. As Rose describes it: “Although the cake still has a wonderful, albeit denser, texture when made ahead, it is at its most ethereal when prepared a la minute. In other words: Bake it, cool it, top it with whipped cream and coconut, call the neighbors, and eat it.” And that’s exactly what I did!
Rose’s Heavenly Coconut Cake
(makes one 9-inch layer, to serve 8-10)
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened, full fat, coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or pure vanilla bean paste)
3/4 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup dessicated unsweetened grated coconut
2 cups cake flour (sifted into the cup and leveled off)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (65 to 75F)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut (or coconut ribbons, lightly toasted*)
Grease the bottom of a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan, top with a parchment round, and spray with baking spray with flour. Wrap with a cake strip, if you have one**. Set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites, 3 tablespoons of the coconut milk, the vanilla and coconut extract just until lightly combined. In a food processor, process the sugar and coconut until the coconut is powder fine. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the coconut mixture, flour, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining coconut milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg white mixture in two parts, beating for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small offset spatula. Bake the cake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake just starts to come away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then unmold and let cool completely. To make the topping, whip the chilled cream only until it mounds softly when dropped from a spoon. Mound it on top of the cake and sprinkle with the sweetened coconut. Serve immediately.
*I used coconut ribbons which are wide, flat shards of coconut. Because they are unsweetened I added a little confectioner’s sugar to the cream. I also toasted the coconut before I topped the cake.
**If you don’t have a cake strip, the wrapper that insulates the side of the cake pan to prevent a domed top, you can try this little trick: once the batter is in the pan, grasp the edge of the pan farthest away from you, and with a flick of your wrist, spin the pan on the counter top. The motion is similar to what you might use to throw a frisbee. This will force the edges of the batter higher up in the pan, and minimize a domed top on the cake. Not quite as effective as a cake strip, but pretty good.
(from “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes” by Rose Levy Beranbaum)