Holy coconuts, Batman. I have gotten a hell of a coconut education in the past couple of weeks, thanks in part to this Easter Coconut Sheet Cake from Baked Occasions. Although I am not an Easter celebrator, I do love bunnies (sniffy noses!) and spring, so I was excited for this recipe. We took on this Easter cake for Baked Sunday Mornings this week, and I was surprised to count four –yes, four— types of coconut products in here! Coconut is one of those foods that I grew up thinking I didn’t like, though I’m not sure where that actually came from. It wasn’t something we ate at home when I was kid, so I was probably just wary of this unfamiliar, exotic thing that grows on tropical palm trees. I don’t recall when I had my coconut epiphany, but I am SO glad I did! I love it as an adult, and it combines so well with other flavors like chocolate, caramel, and banana. I haven’t baked with it much because Baked Elements doesn’t have a chapter for coconut recipes (which BSM had been baking from for the past 2+ years until October), so I was thrilled to see this recipe in the new book.
With mounting evidence that Monsanto is, in fact, willfully and knowingly trying to poison all of us, I’m trying to buy minimally processed foods whenever possible. Therefore, when I saw that Trader Joe’s now makes sweetened shredded coconut, I bought that instead of the usual supermarket brands. It turned out to be much drier compared to the more processed kind (which contains chemicals/preservatives to keep the coconut moist), and I was worried that the cake would be dry, but it wasn’t a significant issue– maybe the shreds were a touch chewier, but no biggie.
In addition to the sweetened shredded coconut, the cake also contains coconut oil, coconut extract, and cream of coconut. The oil was no problem to find, though I had never noticed that there’s regular coconut oil and virgin coconut oil; apparently, the latter is of higher quality and better flavor. Virgin coconut oil is the least refined type of coconut oil– it is extracted from coconut meat from fresh coconuts and is not subjected to any heat during extraction and processing. It retains greater nutritional value and has a fresher coconut taste. One more thing– coconut oil is solid at room temperature; make sure to melt it before adding to cake batter and most baked goods. It melts into a perfectly clear oil– can’t even see it in the measuring cup in the photo above!
Pure coconut extract was surprisingly difficult to locate– it is not typically on the grocery store shelf alongside the vanilla and almond extracts; the closest I could find was coconut “flavoring” at a natural foods store (ironically), so I ended up ordering it on Amazon. You can also make your own, as a few people in the group did.
After making the cake, I discovered another coconut surprise. It turns out that “cream of coconut” is different than “coconut cream”; I had assumed they were the same thing and used the latter, which is located right near the coconut milk at the store. However, cream of coconut is a cream made from coconut meat sweetened with sugar, while coconut cream is similar to coconut milk, but with a thicker, richer consistency (due to less water) and it is unsweetened. Fortunately my unintended substitution caused no problems whatsoever; there was no flavor compromise, nor a lack of sugar. I would say that you can easily use either one successfully, and in fact, I’d probably continue to opt for the less sweet option in the future.
The cake batter is not hard to make, but does involve a lot of ingredients and a LOT of dirty dishes. You’ll start by sifting together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar, then add the coconut oil. Next go in an egg, egg yolk, and both coconut and vanilla extracts.
In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut cream (or cream of coconut) and milk. You’ll add the sifted dry ingredients and coconut/milk mixture in alternating additions.
Then there are two final additions, to be folded in by hand: shredded coconut and whipped egg whites. Like I said, lots of bowls and utensils to wash! BUT, you’ll end up with a beautiful, thick, chunky batter, and I promise it’s worth all the dishwashing.
The recipe recommends baking the cake for 42-48 minutes; my cake was quite done in 33 minutes!
While it’s cooling, make the dreamy coconut Swiss buttercream. This is a proper buttercream, not like the confectioners’ sugar American stuff. The Swiss method dictates that you whisk together egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixtures turns a milky white. Then transfer the bowl back to the mixer and whip on medium-high to a bright white, sticky meringue.
You’ll then start adding butter a little at a time; as you add the butter, you see it turning into a looser, satiny mixture, then it starts looking a touch grainy… I got distracted for a few seconds, then looked up in horror to see that my beating frosting had broken in a matter of seconds, but it quickly came back together when I cranked up the mixer. Finally, you’ll add coconut cream/cream of coconut, coconut extract, and salt, and mix for a few seconds to incorporate. Voilà, a gorgeous, silky cloud of coconut buttercream!
In the book, the frosting is divided into four bowls and dyed in pastel colors, which are piped into little “eggs” all over the cake. I elected to stick with white, though I did attempt the prescribed piping pattern with a star tip for a little variation. I also decided to toast some coconut flakes and scatter them on top for a pretty garnish.
I was fighting the clock to finish the cake with a shred of daylight left for photography, so I ended up cutting the cake before it had had time to set in the fridge. Therefore, it fell apart a bit when I cut it, but I can assure you that this did not deter the utter devouring of my scrumptious cake! If I had to describe it in one word: FLUFF-TASTIC! The cake is so very fluffy and light– it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite BAKED cakes, the Aunt Sassy Cake (pistachio chiffon). The wonderful coconut flavor is laced throughout both the cake and buttercream, and because of my snafu with the coconut cream, it was not overly sweet. This is definitely a new favorite, and I’d love to try a 3-layer version!
Whether for Easter or any other spring celebration (or a tropical luau?), if you are a coconut fan, you will adore this cake. Visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the Easter Coconut Sheet Cake recipe and please take a peek at my fellow coconut enthusiasts’ pretty cakes! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.