Friday, January 13, 2012

Kids Make Coconut Cake

It tastes as good as it looks

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

Coconut cake is a tradition in southern parts of the United States, but it also reminds us that somewhere in the world it's warmer, even when the snow flies here.

Traditional coconut cake calls for at least two layers. That presented a bit of a problem for our baking classes, since a whole cake made according to the original recipe would have been far more than we could have eaten. I talked about this with my wife, the baking expert in our family, and we decided to cut the recipe in half, but use a smaller, taller cake pan so that we could cut the finished cake in half and still end up with two layers. So instead of baking in two standard 9-inch pans, we chose a single 6-inch pan that's 3 inches tall.

The only problem with this approach is that it throws the cooking time off a bit. The taller cake takes somewhat longer to cook all the way through the middle. After a bit of experimentation, we came up with an ideal cooking time of 58 minutes in a 350-degree oven. I also placed a sheet of aluminum foil over the cake when there was about 10 minutes left on the clock to prevent the top from browning too much.

The result is just a teensy bit of crustiness around the edges of this cake. But no one notices when the cake is finally frosted. And the finished cake is just the right size for a class of 12 kids, and more than enough for the typical family. Otherwise, you can simply double this recipe and go back to making two layers in separate 9-inch pans.

Start by creaming together 1 1/2 sticks butter (16 tablespoons) and 1 cup sugar. Most people would do this in an electric mixer, but we do everything by hand. I make it easier by allowing the butter to come to room temperature and soften overnight. After incorporating the sugar into the butter, beat at least five minutes with the back of a wooden spoon or a firm rubber spatula until the mix is fluffy and lighter in color. Then, beat in 3 eggs, one at a time, as well as 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and 3/4 teaspoon almond extract. At this point, the mix will look like scrambled eggs but smell more like marzipan.

Creaming butter and sugar

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, sift together 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour along with 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Fold about 1/2 cup of the flour mix into the batter, followed by 1/4 cup milk, then another 1/2 cup flour mix and another 1/4 cup milk. Finally, fold in the remaining flour mix until it is just incorporated. Stir in 2 ounces shredded, sweetened coconut.

Prepare your can pan (or pans) by greasing well with butter or oil spray. We also cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of the pan and gave it a spray of oil as well. Scoop the batter into the pan and tap it hard on your work surface to smooth it out. Place in the middle of a 350-degree oven and bake 58 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes in the pan. Then use a sharp knife to trace around the edge of the pan. Invert the pan to remove the cake and place it on a wire rack at least an hour to cool. If making a smaller, taller cake as we did, slice the cake cross-wise to create two layers.

Cutting parchment paper

For the frosting, cream together 1 stick butter and 1 8-ounce package cream cheese. As I did for the cake, I left the butter and cream cheese out overnight to soften. Creaming them together with a rubber spatula is easy at that point. Add 3/8 teaspoon vanilla extract and a dash of almost extract. Stir well, then work 1/2 pound sifted confectioner's sugar into the mix and stir until very smooth.

Spread frosting over one of the cake layers, top with the second layer and spread the frosting all over the top and sides. Sprinkle the top of the cake liberally with shredded coconut and pat more coconut along the sides.

Hard as this may be to believe, some kids don't like coconut. But the ones who do will love you for making this cake. (So will your adult friends.)

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