Diary of a Coconut Cake

Friday, 9:27 a.m.: A cake is in the oven as I type. It's my second attempt in less than 12 hours, and I'm crossing my fingers. A long night it has been in the KOD bakery, and I've got some humble pie crumbs on my face.

My mangled chocolate cake. (Kim O'Donnel)

Thursday evening:
After dinner and a glass of red wine, I think I'm clever. The plan: A chocolate layer cake without the layers. The reason: a What's Cooking reader request for a uni-layer coconut cake. The reader wants to know if he can avoid the fussiness of two layers, which, as a clumsy cake baker, I can appreciate.

For ideas and inspiration, I pour through a bunch of trusted cookbooks, and I reject any recipes that seem too fussy. Mr. Coconut Cake never specified a preference for yellow or chocolate cake, so I choose for him and go with chocolate (I love the black-and-white contrast).

Over the past few years, I have had great success with a recipe for a chocolate layer cake from "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Scott Peacock and the late Edna Lewis. Fudgy almost like a brownie yet maintaining a sturdy crumb, this cake is about the best I've ever tasted in the home-baked layered universe. Better still, it can be made without an electric mixer.

Surely, a batter of such superiority could withstand variations, I think in my head. And so I pull out my Bundt pan, greas, flour and fill her with a cake river.

While the cake rises, I entertain myself with "Sex and the City" reruns, trying to stay awake. Nearly an hour later (about 20 minutes longer than two layers in nine-inch pans), I pull the cake out of the oven, allowing it to cool for at least five minutes (as the recipe suggests) before inverting.

That's when things in cake heaven go bad. The very fudginess that I love about this cake is now a barrier to inversion. The cake is stuck -- like chocolate mud -- and when it finally does loosen, it emerges in big ugly, un-cakelike chunks.

I look at my mess and put the pan back on top, praying that perhaps in the morning, my cake would be in one beautiful piece.

Friday, 8:00 a.m.: The magic elves never show up and the cake is still butt ugly. I debate over photographing my disaster, but decide instead to give my uni-layer project a second chance. I put on my parka and walk up the road to the neighborhood Giant for more unsweetened chocolate and get to work shortly thereafter, this time using a springform pan that requires no inversion. I also line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, which would help in moving the cake for complete cooling.

Friday, 10:45 a.m.: Cake is out of the oven and responds well to the loosening of the springform ring. Using the parchment overhang, I gingerly move the cake off the pan to a cooler surface.
So far, so good. It is now time to make icing.

Friday, 11:42 a.m.: I am about to make a fluffy white icing, with egg whites and sugar, which I'll spread on top of the cooled cake and then top with a layer of coconut, just like Mr. Coconut Cake requested.

Stay tuned later this afternoon for the verdict, plus recipe details and a photo.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 26, 2007; 11:47 AM ET Desserts
Previous: Here Comes the Bride's Menu | Next: Coconut Cake Diary, Part 2


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Kim - I think you're overthinking this. People came up with the solution to non-layer-cake fussiness a long time ago...it's the sheet cake! Here's a much more pressing mystery for you to solve. Is there a cake recipe (yellow preferably) that has the nice fluffy moist texture of a box cake and comes together like a box cake recipe (you know, without all the fussiness of beating egg whites or butter til I'm blue in the face)? If you solve that mystery, you'll have my undying gratitude.

Posted by: Bea D. | January 26, 2007 3:12 PM

Kim, this looks really tasty (kind of like one of those chocolate donuts with coconut topping!) But it doesn't look like a coconut cake to me. I think of coconut cake as a white, coconut-flavored cake with fluffy white frosting, topped with coconut. Chocolate has nothing to do with it! And there is a great recipe for a coconut bundt cake on www.epicurious.com.

Posted by: Gretchen | January 26, 2007 3:29 PM

I think of coconut cake as a white or yellow layer deal, too. My grandmother used fresh grated coconut for her cakes, never packaged stuff. She'd have my grandfather pound a ten-penny nail into the coconut, drain it, then she'd grate it for the top and side frosting.

Couldn't you just do a rich devil's food cake and frost it with vanilla frosting and cover with coconut? My favorite candy bar is Peter Paul Mounds, and a chocolate cake with coconut frosting would be a close match.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 26, 2007 3:48 PM

There is a bakery in NYC on 2nd Ave. between 88th and 89th streets which specializes on cheesecake. However they have a chocolate cupcake (which I swear has coconut extraxt in the cake) that has a fluffy white coconut frosting on top. YUM! (at least when fresh, when not so fresh, they're not so good)

Posted by: BBnotes | January 30, 2007 5:16 PM

Bea D. -- Unfortunately, there is no homemade yellow cake that is ever the equivalent of a boxed yellow cake. I bake a lot. So much, in fact, that I only buy flour in 10- or 20-lb. bags. I must have tried 20 different yellow or white cake recipes in my life. Some made with butter. Some made with margarine. Some made with vegetable oil. Ones with cake flour. Ones with all-purpose flour. Ones with a little bit of cornstarch in them. And no matter what recipe I try, nothing ever comes up to the great crumbly, buttery texture of a boxed yellow cake.

Of course, this only holds true for yellow or white cake. Every other type of cake is far superior when made from scratch. No boxed chocolate, carrot, angel, etc. cake can hold a candle to homemade!

Posted by: Kay D. | January 31, 2007 4:10 PM

Kim, for fast and fab cakes, you have to try a few recipes from "Cakes from Scratch in Half the Time" by Linda West Eckhardt. There's a Coconut Marzipan Cake in there that'll make you think you died and went to heaven, if heaven has a splash of Bacardi rum. Bakes in 25 minutes, tops.

Posted by: sandra h. | February 8, 2007 12:24 PM

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