Deep South Coconut Cake

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I have a huge dilemma when it comes to coconut cake: I have two really awesome recipes. I just finished my 40-day absence of sweets for Lent, and I wanted both. So, I thought of an easy solution. Why not fuse the best of both into an even better coconut cake? And that’s exactly what I did.

Sweets are a pretty big part of my life. I often feel the need to have a sweet fix after a meal. With no dessert on hand, during the last month or so, I had to resort to what my mom calls “nature’s candy” – dates and dried fruit. While I do love dates and dried cranberries, these could only help fill the void by so much. On one particularly bad night, I woke up and found that I had chewed up an orange wax earplug, that must have been lying in my bed, like it was a gum drop (I actually had no idea what it was at the time, but discovered its origin when I spit out its shreds into a trashcan that night). While I lasted the 40 days, I can’t say that I felt any better, thought about food any less, or had less cravings for sweets (last week I had a nightmare that I ate a whole pan of brownies three days before Easter). Needless to say, I’m glad to have dessert back in my life, and this coconut cake felt like a sweet welcome home.

The Bite: Sugar alone doesn’t cause cavities. You also need bacteria. Bacteria breaks down and ferments the sugar and other complex carbohydrates in your food, and uses them as a fuel source. In this process, the bacteria releases byproducts which lowers the pH in your mouth. This acidic environment then contributes to tooth decay. Streptoccocus mutans is the number one cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria in your mouth. This bacteria latches onto your tooth and anchors itself to the tooth surface by producing a slime layer called a biofilm. Once sugar (or other carbohydrates) come along, it begins to metabolize it for its own purposes. Dental caries is now the most common infectious disease in the U.S., and is more than four times as common as asthma. It’s estimated that at least 90% of adults have some sort of tooth decay, and it’s mostly due to this tiny organism.

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Deep South Coconut Cake

Yield: 1 large cake

Note: Before you start this recipe, know that the coconut pudding must be made in advance so that it can cool. Save making the meringue frosting until your cake is assembled. It’s easier to spread once it’s immediately made. The frosting is also easier to make if you have a standing mixer. However, I’ve made it without one before, just place the ingredients in a heat proof bowl and use a hand mixer.

Ingredients

Coconut Pudding
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup milk, preferably whole milk
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes

Cake
7 ounces (~1 3/4 cups) cake flour
7 ounces (~ 1 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick (1/4 pound) butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons whole milk, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Meringue Frosting
3 egg whites (left over from the pudding)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes (to cover the cake)

Directions

Coconut Pudding
Combine the milks in a saucepan and heat over medium high heat until small foamy bubbles appear at the edges of the pan. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly stream 1/3 of the heated milk into the bowl, whisking all the while. Slowly pour the contents of the bowl back into the sauce pan and continue to whisk. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens (continue to vigorously whisk). Once it thickens, reduce the heat and wait until you see bubbles and hear popping sounds. Continue to cook for one more minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the saucepan’s contents into a bowl and cover the surface directly with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge until cool or overnight. When the pudding is cool, add 2 cups of flaked coconut, and stir to combine.

Cake
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Combine 1/2 cup of whole milk and the apple cider vinegar in a small bowl. Let rest while you complete the next few steps. Add the dry ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer; mix to combine. Add the butter cubes, one at a time, while beating on low, until the mixture looks like wet sand. Add the milk and vinegar mixture, increase the speed to medium, and mix for 90 seconds. Make sure to scrape down the sides as you go. Whisk the yolks, 3 tablespoons of milk, and vanilla together and add to the standing mixer. Mix for one more minute. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks have formed. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Fold in the coconut. Pour the batter into a well greased 9-inch round cake pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and a tooth pick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.

Meringue Frosting
Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place over a sinner pot of water and whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the mixture is very hot, remove the bowl from the heat, and beat on high (with a whisk attachment) until stiff peaks form.

Assembly
Once cool, cut the cake layer into thirds. Divide the coconut pudding between the first and second layers of the cake. Top the last pudding layer with the third layer of cake. When the frosting is ready, immediately spread it over the top and sides of the cake. Cover the cake with the remaining coconut flakes and serve.

Note: The pudding can be made up to 2 days in advance. Store the pudding in the refrigerator. The cake can be made up to one day in advance. Leave at room temperature, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Source: adapted from Baker’s Notes Issue No. 2: Sweets and Bon Appetit

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