Toasted Coconut Cake

For Tanya and Chris’s wedding shower today, I gave myself a break from the endless search for the perfect wedding cake and tackled one that I knew would be entirely impossible as a wedding cake (and therefore a wasted effort, frankly, when I should be focused on the matter at hand), but one that I’ve always wanted to make: toasted coconut cake.

It was only recently that I had a decent slice of coconut cake. It’s the sort of cake that you can tell has such potential, such promise when an overly-sugared pile of fluff is plunked down in front of you. If only the artist had resisted some of the sugar. If only the coconut had been toasted. If only the cake was more moist. If only… If only I’d just done the damned thing myself.

But a few months ago, we were at Tupelo and when I saw it on the dessert menu, I knew this was going to be the one: the cake I’d been waiting for. Sure, the rest of the meal was wonderful. Blah blah blah. But then the cake came out. And it was so wonderful, exactly what I’d been looking for.

It’s not enough to merely admire perfection: you must endeavor to recreate it yourself!

I began with Bobby Flay. I made the cake per instructions precisely, then wrapped them up in plastic and put them in the fridge to relax. I skipped the coconut simple syrup and just used the jar of regular I make once a month or so and keep in the fridge for iced coffee. I whipped up the custard last night and put it in the fridge to cool. Finally, because the oven was still warm, I went ahead and toasted the coconut.

This morning I started assembling. I wasn’t thrilled by the thickness of the layers, but they sliced up just fine. When whipped with cream, the filling was terrific, but I didn’t like how the assembled cake looked: it had jagged edges. But into the fridge it went just the same.

Let me stop a moment and say a word about simple syrup and cakes. This is something most of us learned from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. You just brush a little on the layers before you stack them up, in particular if they’ve been sawed and don’t have their nice baked skins anymore. This is a step that might seem a little bit silly or unnecessary. But by now I am of the opinion that a little brush with simple syrup is the difference between a really lovely cake and something people suffer as a vehicle for frosting. Also: I don’t mean to be too ranty here, but if I ever come to your house and discover you are buying simple syrup, I will slap you, dump the bottle over your head, and leave. It’s sugar and water, people! Equal parts of each, put ’em in a little sauce pan, boil ’til the crystals are all gone. Cool it, put it in a jar in the fridge. The end.

Where was I? Ah, yes. The frosting.

I got to reading the comments on the Flay recipe and began to think buttercream was going to be a big mistake. Most of my audience had already seen this during the last cake test, and we’d all declared it too damned buttery. Given the heat, the custard, and the presence of toasted coconut, I was pretty sure this would be a disaster.

I turned, then, to the guiding light of Southern cooking, Alton Brown. I didn’t have coconut water, and all this was happening at 8am, so I decided to improvise with the rest of the Malibu and enough water to bring it to a third of a cup. The frosting never did get the nice crust a seven-minute frosting should, and for all I know the alcohol was the cause. Just the same, it was exactly the coconut flavor I wanted.

All of this is by way of saying: this is the greatest cake I have ever made. The cake itself was light and moist. The filling was exactly what it needed to go beyond mere cakeness. The frosting was sweet, it’s true, but only Lindsey (the coconut hater) left any on her plate. I will absolutely make this again. And you can hope for an invitation when I do.

Now for the photos.

Here’s the spread:

In addition to cake in the background, we served a pretty good sangria, excellent zucchini bread, cheese, olives cooked in wine (yum-o!), and a mushroom-leek quiche.

Lindsey (rightly) insisted that Chris and Tanya had to cut the cake with her (Lindsey’s) family wedding knife:

I really like what a sport Chris was, smiling in that last photo.

This is the best photo. As Chris prepared to accomplish his serving duties, just look how excited Tanya is! About the cake, no doubt. Not the fact that she’s marrying that cute boy next month.