Tasty Morsels: A lovely bunch of coconut makes this cake sing

By: Susie Iventosch
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As a coconut lover, I was not at all disappointed when my friend Lynn MacDonald of Weimar asked me to come over because the coconut cake she and her cousin just baked had not risen properly. Cousin Pam Case was visiting from the Bay Area specifically so they could try some favorite recipes to put in a family cookbook they plan to compile. “Do you have a minute?” Lynn inquired. “Could you come over to see what went wrong?” Lynn, who is an excellent cook, said the last time she and Pam had baked this fabulous cake they’d discovered in Chocolatier Magazine sometime in the ’90s, it was so tall they cut it into four layers and filled in between. Upon seeing the cake, I must admit, it looked more like a giant-size cookie than a four-layer cake, and, in fact, had not risen properly. Still, we weren’t too sure if it was because these two cousins and lifelong friends had been laughing and giggling all morning as they worked together in the kitchen, or if the baking powder Lynn had in her cupboard was too old. One thing was for certain, this cake didn’t rise to their expectations. But, by the time they added filling, frosting and coconut, it surely rose to mine! Even if it was a little shorter than they might have remembered, it was fabulously delicious. And, they graciously sent a couple of pieces home with me — allegedly for my family, but you know who actually ate them! In researching possible problems with baked goods not rising properly, we did discover that old baking powder is most often the culprit. So be sure to check the date on the bottom of your baking powder can before trusting your cake to it! Lynn and Pam’s Halekulani Coconut Cake Cake ingredients 2/3 cup sifted cake flour ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder Pinch of salt ¼ cup vegetable oil 1 large egg, at room temperature 4 large egg whites, at room temperature (save yolks for pastry cream filling) 1 teaspoon vanilla Pinch of cream of tartar Directions Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch spring form pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment or waxed paper. Dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out excess. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, ¼ cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk. Sift this mixture onto a large piece of waxed paper. In a large bowl, whisk the oil, whole egg and vanilla until blended. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the oil mixture and whisk until smooth. In a grease-free medium bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy with an electric mixer. Add cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium-high. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks start to form. Beat in the remaining sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the egg white mixture forms a stiff, shiny meringue. With a rubber spatula, fold one third of the egg white mixture into the oil-flour mixture. Then pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly with the spatula. Bake the cake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean from the center of the cake. Cool cake on a wire rack for five minutes. Then run the blade of a knife around the cake to loosen it from the pan. Invert cake onto a wire rack and carefully peel paper off the cake, but leave it loosely around it. By holding the loose paper flip cake once again back to being right-side up. Cool completely. Can be made ahead and refrigerated, or even frozen in plastic wrap. Coconut pastry cream Ingredients ¼ cup cornstarch 1½ cups milk 4 large egg yolks ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar Pinch of salt 1 vanilla bean 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes ¾ cup sweetened angel flake coconut 1 tablespoon Amaretto Directions In a medium bowl, whisk the cornstarch and ½ cup of the milk until smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks until blended. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup of milk, sugar and salt. Using a small, sharp knife split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape the tiny black seeds into the saucepan and add the bean, too. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until small bubbles form around the side of the pan. Gradually whisk about ½ cup of the hot milk into the cornstarch-egg mixture until well blended. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the hot mixture. Continue cooking over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat and discard vanilla bean shell. Blend in the butter until smooth. (Here it calls to strain the custard through a sieve. I wouldn’t bother — too much trouble and you’ll never notice anyway!) Stir in coconut and Amaretto. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes. Can make one day in advance. Whipped Cream Frosting Ingredients 1 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (or powdered sugar — even better) 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 ½ cups sweetened angel flake coconut for sides and tops of cake Directions Whip cream with an electric beater until it forms stiff peaks. Fold in sugar and vanilla. Fold ¾ cup of this whipped cream into the coconut pastry cream for the cake filling, and reserve the rest for the frosting. To assemble cake Using a serrated bread knife, cut the cake horizontally into three layers. Put the bottom layer on a cake plate and spread half of the coconut filling over the layer. Add the second layer of cake and cover with remaining filling. Finally, place the third layer on top and frost the entire cake, top and sides, with the whipped cream reserved for frosting. With your hands, press the coconut flakes on the top and all around the sides of the cake so the entire cake is snow-white with coconut. Refrigerate cake for at least two hours before serving. Serve with chocolate sauce or fresh berries. Susie Iventosch can be reached at