Sunday, May 8, 2011

Coconut Layer Cake with a Swiss Buttercream Frosting

Coconut. Love it. (Or not.)  If you don't love coconut, please stick around. You can easily adapt this cake to be vanilla.  But if you do love coconut-- and I sure do-- this is the coconut cake to make.  I've posted Ina Garten's Coconut Cake, and it's one of my most viewed recipes.  It's a good cake-- but the folks at America's Test Kitchen have upped the ante. The difference in this cake, is that the recipe includes:

Cream of Coconut makes a mighty find Pina Colada or a Chi-Chi. But, that's for another time.  I had to search at a couple of places, but I finally found a can of this.  That was month ago, when I first caught the America's Test Kitchen television episode on how to make this cake.  I finally got around to making the cake, when I had leftover egg whites, using the yolks to make a fabulous Salted Caramel Ice Cream recipe.

NOTE:    I found the cake recipe in this cookbook (which I own, and love) uses a traditional buttercream frosting.  However, on the Season 10 DVD set that I also own, a Swiss Buttercream is what's used.  I've always wanted to make a Swiss Buttercream, which is a bit different than the more common butter + powdered sugar kind of frosting.

 I will post a printable recipe for you, at the bottom of this post.  Cake flour is important.  I'm a huge fan of King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour. You can buy it online, but it's also at places like Whole Foods.  The method for making the batter might seem a bit unconventional-- it's a method that America's Test Kitchen likes to use.  We start with dry ingredients, then add in butter, then add in the liquid.  You'll need both vanilla and coconut extract (buy mine online from LorAnn). You'll need egg whites and one egg yolk.  The batter uses 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces. If you own this cookbook, these directions are not included: "Beat egg whites and whole egg in large measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined."  You're welcome.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds).

Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.)  Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

While the cakes are cooling, spread 2 cups packed sweetened shredded coconut (about 8 ounces)
 on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.
 Cool to room temperature.
Let's make Swiss Buttercream (this was my first time):
Combine four large whites, 1 cup granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt in bowl of standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2-inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.
My therma-pen instant read thermometer is one of my most valued and used kitchen tools. I'm at 124F, but I decided to go for it anyway.  So, why do we heat the egg whites?  ATK explains that this gives the egg structure and helps to dissolve the sugar.  Since we're going for large doses of butter in our dessert, you need one pound unsalted butter (4 sticks), each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened, but still cool.  We also need vanilla and coconut extract and 1/4 cup of cream of coconut.

Here's where the fun began for me.  Transfer the bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. 

Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute.  I'm in-love with frosting!

There are a few tools that I've invested into my cake decorating repertoire.  They really help!  A rotating cake decorating stand makes frosting a piece of cake (sorry, couldn't resist).  A cake lifter helps, so that I no longer have a problem with my cake layers breaking in half, while transferring them.  Cardboard rounds helps me to frost and transfer a finished cake onto a cake plate. Here's a great technique on slicing layers in half-- using a serrated knife, begin by rotating the cake stand until you have slightly cut into the cake. This sets a nice "ruler". Continue rotating the cake stand and gently push the knife in with each rotation. Before you know, it, you have evenly sliced layers! The cake lifter helps you to set the layer aside.

You want to place a "blob" of icing on each layer-- don't use too much, as you want enough to frost the top and sides.  Here I show how I start to build the four layers of cake...

The nice thing is that I don't have to frost the cake perfectly, as the coconut will hide any imperfections.

Here's why I like to use a cardboard round. I can easily lift the cake and holding it in one hand, I begin to sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Then press the coconut into the sides, letting the excess fall back onto a baking sheet.

 The cake is pretty much ready!

Using the cake lifter, the cake is placed onto a cake stand.

Chilling the frosting is what I recommend. The frosting is very silky, and chilling it helps with cutting it much easier.

So, how was the cake?

TASTING NOTES:  This cake is a show stopper, no doubt.  I love the pretty colors of the toasted coconut.  Though one egg yolk was added to the egg whites, the cake has a pretty silver color to it. The flavor of the cake has just the right balance of coconut.  Okay, I'll be honest. The cake was a bit dry-- according to my standards.   I  think I should have under-baked the cake about 3-4 minutes.  However, the frosting was the star of this cake!  The Swiss Buttercream was silky.  The coconut flavor was not overpowering.  It was subtle, but you felt as though you were eating a coconut cake.

I plan to make this cake again, but I think I'm going to try adapting a King Arthur White Cake recipe that I've made (and have yet to post).  I'm on the fence about this cake recipe, only because it was  wee bit dry.  The frosting recipe will become a regular in my recipe file.  I plan to make this frosting, sans coconut and with a wee bit of almond extract, the next time I make a white cake.

In closing, I'm not saying that this isn't a good cake recipe. It's a fantastic recipe!  I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to America's Test Kitchen, and say that I might have over-mixed the batter.  Oh, and I gave away most of the cake that was left, after my family enjoyed their fair share.  I ate one slice. Good for me!

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Mary said...

What a beautiful cake! I'm not a big fan of coconut, but this is so gorgeous I'm tempted to try it. I love Swiss buttercream and can imagine the dimension this adds to the cake. I hope you've had a fabulous Mother's Day. Blessings...Mary

Allie said...

First off, Happy Mother's Day! And YAYYYYY I am seriously SOOO excited, you have no idea :) What an honor to have won! I can't wait to come up with something good! Also, did you know it is National Coconut Cream Pie Day?! Was this just a coincidence!? Thank you Debbie, you made my...month!

celebreatySarah said... buttercream is my only choice for buttercreams. great job on the post.

bellini said...

It looks like you have found another winner Debby. I hope your Mothers Day was pretty special!!

Cheryl said...

That is a beautiful cake, a bit too complicated for little old me, but I applaud you for making it!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I love a good coconut cake! This looks wonderful. I'm very curious about the frosting. I've never made Swiss buttercream. I'm Swiss. I should!

Joanne said...

If it were up to me, I would put coconut in just about everything I bake, but my roommate HATES it! That's okay...I can bake this. For myself. Looks amazing!

Kim said...

Debby - I hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day! Your cake is gorgeous and I love that it has the cream of coconut in it.

His Way or Her Way said...

I want to lick my screen when I see that cake!! OMGosh! Perfection!!! I am now a follower of your delicious blog and hope you will stop by ours soon!


Chris and Amy said...

What a gorgeous cake! Thank you so much for the recipe and all the tips!

Now Serving said...

Amazing cake - wish we'd know run into each other blog a month sooner .. I had a cake event going on! I am sure there will be other ones

Now Serving said...

and I am already following you dear!

Reeni said...

What a gorgeous and delectable coconut cake! I love it. The cream in there must really add moistness and richness.

Bev said...

oh my heavens that looks yummy. I am going to try this because I love coconut. Can I tell you what a wonderful site you have!

Monica H said...

Congrats to Allie on her win!

I didn't love Ina's coconut cake because it was so dense and seemed dry and wasn't coconutty enough for me. I was hoping this would be better, but perhaps as you said, if you adapt your favorite white cake to include coconut, that would be best! I do love swiss meringue frostings though because they're so creamy and they pipe beautifully!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I adore coconut cake but dare not make it because I'd eat the whole thing. Wish you lived nearby, I'd have taken a bit off your hands.

theUngourmet said...

I am a huge fan of coconut, especially when it's toasted. :) Your buttercream looks amazing!

liliy said...

The coconut cake recipe is awesome im a lover of cakes and now i know how to finish it with coconut.

foodie@home said...

I think the cake is dry because of unbleached cake flour. I've made Cook's Illustrated pound cake with the same King Arthur unbleached cake flour and the result was very dry. Perhaps just a regular cake flour from King Arthur. Please let me know what you think.

Debby Foodiewife said...

There's a possibility that cake flour would give this a more tender crumb. I might want to underbake it just a few minutes less, too. I'm still looking for the "ultimate" white cake. Somehow, sour cream might be the secret.We shall see.

Pat said...

Again it looks wonderful. I would like to try the recipe but I am not finding a list of ingredients. I am a first time cook and can't figure it out by the beautiful pictures. Do you have to be a chef and know by instinct how much to put in the recipe?

Debby Foodiewife said...

I guess, Pat, you'll never see my response since you felt it necessary to insult me. First, can you read? In BIG RED LETTERS, if you look, at the top right of my blog I say where to click if you can't see my recipes.
Second, can you read that all over my blog, including the comment box that I give you my email? I am very available to my readers. I hope you can work through your anger, and practice a little kindness. There is a recipe card, and you are the ONLY person who says you can't see them...and you don't have a profile so I can't contact you.