Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ann's September Cake: Birthday Cakes!

Hooray for September because it's the official birthday month of Year of Cake! Or rather the sisters of Year of Cake. Although Listle didn't choose to highlight her birth through cake (rather surprising since she's all about birthdays), I thought that my birthday party would be a perfect time to make a high-impact cake.

My sister-in-law Charna sent me a blog post about one woman's birthday cake for herself - she made the infamous Alton Brown coconut cake. It was funny when I read the post because I knew exactly the recipe she was talking about - he makes the cake completely from scratch, including processing fresh coconut . I had kind of had this cake in the back of my mind from the beginning of the year, as some kind of elusive pipe dream, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make it. It would be a birthday gift to myself! Because of course an extremely labor-intensive cake is a great gift (did you see in the original post? It took five hours to break down two coconuts!).

Alton Brown gives detailed instructions on how to easily remove the coconut husks. After a trip to the hardware store for a really long nail, I was ready.


I started out by draining out the coconut water, I baked the coconuts for a little while and then allowed them to cool. This was supposed to cause the husks to crack and separate from the flesh with a little prying...but nothing happened. So I baked them again and waited. Again, nothing. I tried prying at the shells, tapping them with a hammer to crack them...nothing. After my boyfriend Ol' Blue Eyes worked me through a little bit of a meltdown, I took the hammer and pounded them into tiny pieces.


I should note that I started this process several days before the party, and more than once I determined that it wasn't worth the effort and that I would just use store-bought coconut. Each time I decided that was lame and that I love making a cooking project into an adventure, so I would continue on. And then I tried peeling the skin off the flesh.


The recipe said to use a vegetable peeler to get the skin off, but it was wretched. It took forever, and it peeled in a really awkward way, almost pilling like an old sweater on the peeled surface as I tried to handle it. It was grossing me out, and after one piece, I realized that although I had a full day to make the cake in preparation for the party, I would not have a happy birthday if I spent all of it messing with this dang coconut. Sometimes it's good to know when to let go.

Thus I moved to Plan B, which involved using a recipe from a book I'd checked out called Southern Cakes, which features an entire chapter on only coconut cakes. The author includes a recipe similar to Alton Brown's, starting from the raw coconut, but also had several other promising options with store-bought coconut. I picked a simple, standard cake and went to work.

From this point, everything went pretty easily. I bake the coconut cakes on Friday and assembled a layer cake just before the party. The only mishap at this point was that my attempt at a meringue frosting failed, but I blame that more on the fact that I was running around to get things set up for my birthday party at the same time as trying to make frosting. It was bound to fail. My dear friend Cheriiiil stepped in and did a 7-minute frosting instead, as per the suggestion of the author, and the day was saved.

At some point, I decided to make a second cake, but I really can't remember if there was a specific reason or if it was just because I wanted to make sure we had enough for the multitudes that were coming for my party. I maybe had wanted a chocolate feature. Or I was trying to use up some ingredient I had in my fridge. In any case, I made a banana cake with chocolate frosting. Again, I made the cakes Saturday morning and then frosted them as the party was starting. The frosting ended up being pretty thin, so I threw the cake into the freezer to help it set up faster so we could serve it. When I retrieved it, this had happened:

Can you see it? The cake had slid whilst in the freezer and then set with the top layer hanging off the side of the first. Everyone got a good laugh over my terraced cake.

Both cakes were really, really good. I wish I hadn't been rushing so much at the end so I could have really taken my time to make them look great, but the cakes themselves were moist (sorry, Maria), had a great texture and were really flavorful. I confess that I didn't get much of either because of the antics of my party (it was a massive karaoke party), but I would definitely make both again. The coconut cake used coconut water as its liquid, which gave a lovely flavor to the entire cake, instead of just using it as a garnish to the frosting. The banana cake reminded me of a similar loaf cake that my host mom used to make, or when I used to eat bananas with Nutella - banana and chocolate is always a great combination (when it's real banana, of course). I would maybe have liked a bit fluffier frosting, but that can easily be fixed for next time.


These cakes, along with the red velvet cake and lemon pie courtesy of Melyngoch, made for a very, very good party.

Happy Birthday to MEEEEE!!!!!!!!


Classic Coconut Cake
from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations by Nancie McDermott

Cake:
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk, or water from a fresh coconut plus enough milk added to make 1 cup
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans, line bottoms with parchment, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and use a fork to mix together well. Stir the vanilla into the milk.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with a mixer at medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating, until the mixture is light and evenly combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well each time, until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Add one third of the flour mixture to the batter and beat well at low speed. Add half the milk to the batter, beating well. Continue beating as you add another third of the flour, followed by the remaining milk, and then the remaining flour, beating well each time until the batter is very thick and smooth.

Quickly scrape the batter into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly, and place them in the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched lightly in the center, and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Remove from the oven, and cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks, turn the cakes top side up, and cool completely.

Seven-Minute Frosting and garnish:
1 cup sugar
1/4 light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Flaked or shredded sweetened coconut (or both)

Bring about 3 inches of water to an active simmer in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl that will fit snugly over the saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Beat with a mixer at low speed for 1 minute, until the mixture is pale yellow and very foamy.

Place the bowl over the simmering water, and beat at high speed for 7 to 14 minutes or more, until the frosting becomes white, thick, and shiny, and triples in volume. Continue beating until the frosting forms firm peaks and loses some of its shine. Remove the frosting from the heat, add the vanilla, and continue beating for 2 minutes more.

Place 1 cooled cake on cake plate, top side up, and spread frosting on top, taking it to the edges, and then sprinkle with shredded coconut. Place second cake on top, and mound frosting on top and spread on sides, spreading and smoothing to completely cover the cake. Sprinkle and pat flaked and shredded coconut all over the cake.


Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting
from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations by Nancie McDermott

Cake:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to combine well.

In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar, and beat well, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, and then the vanilla. Beat well for 2 to 3 minutes more, until you have a smooth batter.

Using a large spoon or spatula, stir in half the flour until it just disappears into the batter. Stir in the buttermilk, and then the remaining flour the same way. Quickly and gently fold in the mashed bananas, and then divide the batter between the 2 cake pans.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched lightly in the center, and begin to pull away from the sides of the pans.

Remove from the oven, and cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks, turn the cakes top side up, and cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/3 cup cocoa
1/3 cup evaporated milk or half-and-half
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa, and evaporated milk. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the cocoa dissolves into a dark, shiny essence. Remove from the heat and stir in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat with a mixer at low speed until you have a smooth, thick frosting.

Place 1 cooled cake on cake plate, top side down, and spread frosting on top, taking it to the edges. Place second cake on top, and mound frosting on top and spread on sides, spreading and smoothing to completely cover the cake.

5 comments:

SeƱora H-B said...

gack! moist!

but seriously, that coconut cake looks freakin' delicious!

Julie said...

I think Drew should pretend to be you for a night and make these cakes for me, just to help make up for the fact that I missed the cakes and the party.

1998 said...
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DeskSet said...

The coconut cake looks lovely! I'm sorry you had to go through so much trouble about it though.

Also, looking at these pictures makes me realize how much the branch changed a mere month after I left it.

Elizabeth said...

Those cakes look so totally yummy!

I love the last picture in this post. I love when you're that happy.