It is funny how we hold dear the traditions of our families. Often to the extreme that we decry any other version other than ours as less than adequate. I recall my own prejudice for my mom’s stuffed shells made with cream cheese rather than ricotta. No one could or can make it better. I am like my picky child refusing to concede on principle.
This is where my head was as I was searching for homemade recipes to recreate my mom’s coconut cake. I snubbed my nose up at Martha. Tisked at Paula Dean. The perfect coconut cake must be a white cake with a coconut custard filling and meringue frosting. How dare one even consider spreading this holy decadent white goddess with cream cheese or seven minute frosting. The nerve.
Admittedly, there have been instances I have veered from tradition. Yes, I felt guilty for abandoning my roots; especially because I am a huge diehard fan for recipes of yore. Chefs today tend to over complicate things. However, when it comes to coconut cake my roots are firm and steadfast. I just could not justify the shift. The cake must be white, the filling must be pudding with coconut bits mixed in, and without question a meringue frosting coated with coconut.
I have a great white cake recipe that I use for birthday cakes I think would have worked well in this instance. It has a tender soft crumb and delicate flavor. Yet, there was an itch to try something new. The thought of trying another white cake recipe was a stress I fully did not want to commit to. The biggest problem when making from scratch cakes is moisture. Homemade cakes tend to be thick dry masses. Nothing compared to the spongy light cakes from the box produced by Betty Crocker. I did not have the time to test multiple cake recipes, nor did I want a slew of sweet cake around with the holidays advancing. My ancestors must have been present urging me to explore. If we are going all out from scratch this had better be worth all the effort, right? I went with my gut and choose this version of a white cake that was sensational. It is made with coconut milk a perfect compliment for the coconut cake as a whole. The crumb was tender and moist. Should I mention that the cake even impressed my niece who went to culinary school?
Source: The Cookbook Chronicles
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup full fat sour cream
½ cup olive oil
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the coconut milk and sour cream. Set aside. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the vegetable oil and the butter, until creamy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture becomes light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes on medium-high speed. Beat in the egg yolks, and vanilla.
On low speed, beat in about 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Then, beat in 1/2 of the coconut milk and sour cream mixture. Repeat, ending with the last 1/3 of the dry ingredients.
In a clean mixing bowl with clean beaters, whip the reserved egg whites until medium-stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter.
Line and grease three 9-inch light colored cake pans. Divide the batter evenly amongst the pans, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are light golden and spring back when lightly pressed. Cool, and remove from cake pans.
Bake cake and make custard according to directions.
Once pastry cream is set, mix in 2 cups shredded coconut.
Place one round of cake on a plate. Spread with coconut pastry cream. Repeat with second layer. Top with last cake round. Place cake in the refrigerator.
Make meringue frosting. Spread frosting over the cake. Lightly press shredded coconut around the sides, sprinkle on top, covering the entire cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
**Note** this cake recipe made thin flat cake rounds. If using another cake recipe or a box and the cake rounds are thicker try slicing each round into twos to make 6 thinner cake discs.
— Substitute 1 teaspoon of orange extract in the place of the vanilla in the meringue frostin.
— Dot the top of the cake with marchino cherries, drained and dried.
— 4-layer cake use two 9-inch cake rounds. Pour remaining batter into greased muffin pan.
Whenever my mom made her famous cream puffs or coconut cake she would make this incredible pudding filling. For her cream puffs she folded decadent whipped cream into the pudding. Her coconut cake was stacked 6 layers high with a filling of coconut pudding in between. I confess the pudding was the best part. It was so rich and creamy. I would sneak a finger full from the bowl of pudding. Maybe she knew it was me. If she did she never said anything, that I remember.
Weeks ago I was on a mission to recreate a box free version of my moms coconut pudding. The dilemma I ran into was, do I use a pudding recipe or a pastry cream. I noticed in my prior attempts when making vanilla pudding for cream puffs that the pudding was too soft and unstable.
Pudding by definition is a type of custard or soft dessert. There are two types of custards, stirred and baked. Puddings and pastry creams are stirred custards, with the exception of desserts such as bread pudding. Baked custards, like flan, are firmer and not as smooth. You would never use a baked custard or pudding to fill a cake. You would, however, use pastry cream.
I decided to use pastry cream. Pastry cream is thicker than pudding. It is meant to be used as a filling in pastries and cakes because the constant stirring enables the custard to thicken making it perfect to pipe with. Cook and serve Jello brand pudding is a easy substitute for pastry cream because of the additives that help thicken it.
Since I was using fat free milk I let the custard thicken a little longer. I was worried the custard would not set enough. I made coconut cake for my dad’s birthday once, when I was in college. I do not think I let the pudding thicken enough because the layers of the cake started to slide off. We ended up dumping the whole lot into a bowl and called it coconut punch bowl cake. It was still good.
Source: King Arthur Flour
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, or rice flour
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together 2 1/2 cups of the milk, the sugar, salt, and the vanilla bean. (If you’re using vanilla extract, add it at the end.) Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup milk.
Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the egg yolks to temper them. This keeps the yolks from turning to scrambled eggs when you add them to the simmering milk.
Pastry cream will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days. After that it may start to weep.
If you want the pastry cream to be sliceable, as for a cream pie, don’t fold in the whipped cream. The recipe will yield 3 cups of pastry cream in that case.
Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining simmering milk. [Doing this through a strainer will help prevent lumps later.] Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture thickens.
Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract (if you’re using it). If you’re going to flavor the pastry cream with chocolate or some other flavor, this is the time to do it (see variations below).
Rub a piece of butter over the surface of the cream, top with a piece of plastic wrap (make sure it touches the top of the pastry cream so it doesn’t develop a skin), then refrigerate until cool.
To complete, fold the whipped cream into the cooled pastry cream.
For coconut cream fold in two cups shredded coconut.
— Butterscotch Pastry Cream: Add 1/4 teaspoon butter-rum flavor and/or 1 cup (6 ounces) butterscotch chips to the pastry cream after straining, stirring until the chips have melted.
— Caramel Pastry Cream: Add 3/4 cup chopped caramel (7 1/2 ounces, or 21 to 23 unwrapped individual caramels) to the hot, strained pastry cream, stirring until melted and the mixture is smooth.
— Chocolate Pastry Cream: Add 1 cup (6 ounces) chopped chocolate to the hot, strained pastry cream, stirring until melted and the mixture is smooth.
— Hazelnut Pastry Cream: Omit the butter and increase the sugar to 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces). Add 3/4 cup (8 1/4 ounces) praline paste to the hot, strained pastry cream, stirring until combined.
— Orange Pastry Cream: Increase the sugar to 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces). Add 1 teaspoon orange extract; 1/4 teaspoon orange oil; or 3 tablespoons orange zest to the hot, strained pastry cream.
— Peanut Butter Pastry Cream: Add 3/4 cup (7 1/4 ounces) smooth peanut butter to the hot pastry cream, stirring until melted and the mixture is smooth. If you’re using a natural or freshly-made peanut butter, omit the butter from the recipe, or the pastry cream will be greasy.
— Pistachio Pastry Cream: Omit the butter and increase the sugar to 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces). Add 3/4 cup (8 1/4 ounces) pistachio paste, or blanched pureed pistachio meats.