I'd been pondering making a coconut cake of some sort for quite a while. Not necessarily the kind that's big and snowy white, blanketed with icing and lots of shredded sweetened coconut--though heaven knows I like that kind of cake and so, he tells me, does my husband. I will undoubtedly make that giant, furry-looking layer cake someday, but the recipe below is for a coconut cake of a different color, you might say.
Considerably different and, I must add, extremely delicious. The combination of the delicately sweet, subtly flavored, velvety cake with the fresh ripe strawberries is just absolutely perfect. Covered in sweetened whipped cream, with sliced almonds on the sides, you can't go wrong. If you're looking for something a little fancier than the usual strawberry shortcake but less sugary and heavy than a big, fat, fuzzy, traditional coconut cake, this recipe is worth your time. This cake does not include any shredded coconut at all, so you avoid that chewy aspect that some people don't care for. The rich authentic flavor comes from coconut milk, augmented by a very small amount of coconut "extract." And where, pray tell, does one find coconut "extract"? Uh . . . it seems one doesn't, because it more or less doesn't exist. What does exist is imitation coconut extract/flavoring, and/or flavored coconut oil, and sometimes you may find something called "coconut natural flavor blend," (though based on that stuff's ingredient list it doesn't sound very natural to me). Why is this true? Why no real coconut extract? Beats me. Maybe it has something to do with perishability? Mmm . . . I don't know. We do know that coconut milk is highly perishable, which pretty much explains why we only see it for sale in cans. (You can, of course, start hacking open your own fresh coconuts if you're a hardcore do-it-yourselfer, but I don't think I've ever met a single human, living or dead, who looks like they could competently penetrate a coconut. So that's out.) While typically I would not want to use an imitation extract for any baked good I make, in this case there seems no reasonable alternative, and the fake stuff appears to taste fine. One must make do . . . mustn't one?
The original recipe, from which my version derives, came from the California Strawberry Commission website. They call their version, "Coconut Strawberry Cake." (I happened upon it one day while searching under the term "strawberry cake." I didn't really want to make a garden variety strawberry cake, though, because every recipe I've found for that yields a ferociously pink cake! I didn't want a pink cake. Haven't wanted one in probably forty years. Though I confess that pink is still my favorite color.) My changes to the recipe included: usingonly one layer for my cake (one layer split in two) versus their use of two full layers; using regular versus lite coconut milk; not using their cooked icing recipe at all; and not putting coconut on the sides of the cake. And, finally, I revised the instructions somewhat, without leaving out anything important.
The recipe you see below still yields two full 8" layers, but I wrapped and froze the extra layer to use another time; you'll only need to use one layer to assemble one cake, as I prepared it. That is, of course, unless you want a big, tall, bonafide two-layer cake. My advice, though, is that the use of one layer, split in half, is just right. Especially "just right" if you use full fat coconut milk; the added richness in that milk, in combo with two big cake layers, would put this dessert over the top as far as richness goes.
Coconut Cake with Fresh Strawberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8" cake pans with baking spray, or grease them. Cut out two 8" circles from parchment paper; fit them into the pans. Spray/grease the paper as well and then dust the pans with All Purpose flour.
For the cake:
2 cups sifted cake flour 2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. salt 3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar 3 large eggs, separated 1 cup coconut milk (canned type) 1/2 tsp. coconut extract (imitation's okay!)
In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixer bowl, with paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until light colored and soft.
Slowly pour the sugar in with the butter, at medium speed, and mix for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add in the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition until mixed.
At low speed, alternately add the flour and coconut milk; three additions of flour and two additions of coconut milk, beginning and ending with the flour.
Add in the coconut extract at low speed until well combined.
In a small, clean mixer bowl, using the whisk attachment at high speed, beat the three egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold about one third of the whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remainder, being careful not to overmix and deflate the whites.
Divide the batter between the two cake pans and smooth the tops. Place the pans on the middle shelf of your oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a rack for five minutes, then turn the cakes out carefully onto the racks to finish cooling completely. When they're cooled, wrap one and set it aside/freeze it; you won't need it to assemble this cake.
Put the cake layer that you're using on an 8" cardboard cake circle, if at all possible. (It's by far the easiest way to pick up and move a cake like this; you can buy them at Michael's or JoAnn's in the cake decorating aisle--invest in some!) Using a sharp bread knife, carefully slice horizontally through the middle of the remaining cake layer. Separate the top layer and set it aside.
For the strawberry filling and top-of-the-cake garnish:
2 lbs. of medium to medium-large strawberries, fully ripe 1/2 cup good strawberry preserves with all the large fruit chunks removed (you need it to be easily spreadable)
Rinse, and completely remove the stems from, the strawberries. Dry them on a paper towel. Separate out the prettiest and most uniformly sized/shaped berries for use on the top of your cake. You'll probably need at least 20 nice berries for the top; set them aside. With the remaining berries, slice them vertically, about 1/4 inch thick. Have ready at least one cup sliced, more or less; set them aside until you're ready to assemble the cake.
For the sweetened whipped cream (aka Chantilly cream or, if you prefer to say it the French way, Creme Chantilly!):
1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream 1/3 cup sifted confectioners' sugar 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Beat the cream on high speed until soft peaks start to form. Add in the confectioner's sugar and the extract. Continue beating until medium-firm peaks form. Put the finished whipped cream in the fridge, covered, until everything you need to assemble the cake is ready.
To assemble the cake:
Take the cake layer that's still sitting on the cardboard cake circle, and spread it evenly with half of the strawberry preserves.
On top of that, spread out the strawberry slices, overlapping a bit, in concentric circles. It doesn't need to look perfectly uniform, it just needs to be about the same thickness all over.
Take the other layer and spread it evenly on one side with the remaining preserves. Now, as carefully as possible (because this cake is soft and floppy), gently lay it jam-side-down onto the sliced strawberries. Best to flip it on there quickly, like you'd flip over a cooking pancake.
Now cover the cake with the whipped cream. Put a big scoop of it on the top of the cake, and spread it evenly and thickly (with an offset spatula, if you've got one). Smooth it all over the top and sides, but don't worry about making it real smooth. It will be mostly covered up.
For the garnish on the sides and top of the cake:
3/4 cup sliced almonds, untoasted (or, if you prefer, you can use toasted coconut instead)
To apply the sliced almonds, hold the bottom of the cake with your left hand (see why it's good to have it sitting on a cake board?), over something like a baking sheet with sides to catch the falling almonds. Grabbing a handful of the almonds in your right hand, gently press them into the sides of the cake as you turn it with your left hand. Do this until the sides seem sufficiently covered all around. Try not to let the almonds get onto the top of the cake.
Now, arrange your strawberries as you prefer on the top of the cake, pressing them just lightly, tips pointing up, into the whipped cream.
If you can manage to work it out that the cake is served within a few hours of being assembled, without it having to be refrigerated for very long at all, that would be best. The cake part itself is beautifully soft and nice at room temperature, and it contrasts pleasingly with the cold berries and whipped cream. Do whatever you need to do, though, as far as keeping it cool/cold. In any case, just don't let the whipped cream get warm.
Voila! Put your cake on a cute serving plate and you're good to go!
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
If you'd like to know a bit about me please click here, or look for the tiny photo of a pink cupcake topped by a strawberry, further down, in the "About me"section. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . . .
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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