coconut layer cake

A.K.A white coconut cake with orange-lemon curd and raspberry preserves covered with cream cheese icing and toasted coconut, but that would be less catchy and to the point.

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tis a very messy job

White cake is my sexuality. Just kidding, it’s chocolate, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t deliberately cut off more of the domed top than necessarily for a little (or a lot) taste test.

After the melty drama of my sister’s birthday cake, I decided to go a safer but no less delicious route this time. A coconut layer cake with not one, but two fruity surprises between the layers in the forms of lemon-orange curd and raspberry preserves.

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Actually, I’m not sure mum (the intended recipient and birthday gurl) likes coconut cake. It’s a bet, but a safe one I hope. She does cook with coconut cream quite a lot, and enjoys drinking right out of one, so maybe this’ll go well. I’ll report back.

(Update: I think it went down okay; we were all too engrossed in TV to pay much attention to the taste and before we knew it the whole thing was gone. My sister sang happy birthday while I played the recorder, for some reason.)

I’m preparing the components in advance because a) uni results are released tomorrow 6am and a depressed baker equals shit cake; b) I’ve just finished binge-watching 4 shows and need to return to normalcy.

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optional: sprinkle more desiccated coconut on top for a crunchy top

Like a lot of white cakes, this uses the reverse creaming method which is known for making the texture velvety and tender. In fact, with the addition of cake flour, this turned out so tender I had to be extra careful moving the layers around. Flavour-wise, I don’t have and therefore didn’t use coconut extract, but from what I sampled the cake had a pleasant mild coconut flavour, not too on-the-nose and artificial.

 

Coconut layer cake (makes a 5″ 3-layer cake)

For the coconut cake:
136g cake flour
136g granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
90g unsalted butter
95g unsweetened coconut milk, shaken
2 egg whites
45g milk
25g unsweetened desiccated coconut

For the cream cheese coconut frosting:
90g cream cheese
45g unsalted butter
150g icing sugar, sifted
~3 tbsp coconut milk

To assemble:
unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1/4 of the citrus curd recipe
raspberry preserves or jam

Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F, and prepare a 5″ tin. To make the cake, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together into the mixing bowl. Cut the room temperature butter into small chunks. With the mixer on low speed, drop in the butter chunk by chunk until the mixture is a fine crumble (no visible butter). Trickle in the coconut milk and mix on medium speed until the mixture is smooth.

Lightly whisk the egg whites until frothy, then add the milk. With the mixer on low, drizzle in this mixture until batter is smooth. Scrape the bowl and paddle if you need to, then mix the batter on medium-high for about 30 seconds. Fold in the coconut.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for about 40 minutes. At the same time you can toast the shredded coconut for about 10 minutes until golden. Check the cake at 30 minutes to see if the centre is done. Once done, cool in the tin until okay to handle, then remove from tin and cool on a rack. Slice into 3 even layers.

To make the frosting, beat the toom temperature cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add the sifted icing sugar in several additions, beating well in between. Depending on the consistency, add the coconut milk a teaspoon at a time so that it’s not too runny and still holds its shape.

To assemble the cake, make sure all components are cooled completely. I like to freeze the cake layers as they’re then less likely to break apart. I brushed the layers with a little more of the coconut milk, which is optional. I spread the frosting on top of the first two layers, followed by curd and preserves. Depending on the status/stability of the cake, you may want to give it a thin crumb coat first, or just slather the frosting all over. Press the toasted coconut onto the sides (and top if you like) to decorate.

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nutella birthday layer cake

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Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of a dear friend who finally turned 18 last month. It was a real testament of her trust (albeit blind) in me that she commissioned me to the honourable task of making her cake. I was flattered, excited, then scared. I’m still astounded that it wasn’t all a pile of goo by the time I got there, that it somehow survived in the 35°C heat and 1.5hrs of train ride. Many a times it could have gone south; the cake tearing, the frosting melting, me accidentally dropping it etc. but by some miracle it all went to plan.

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billowy glossy meringue is hard to come by

Because of the aforementioned insane temperatures, the stability of the buttercream was my #1 concern. It had to withstand the heat and be able to take on flavours well, so I opted for what is theoretically the more stable Italian meringue buttercream. It did take ages, though, for the heat from the boiling sugar syrup to dissipate before I could add the butter, which was threatening to puddle any moment.

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The cake layers consisted of hazelnut sponge cake, brushed with syrup of course to keep them from being sucked of moisture (just like my skin). This was where my powers of improvisation came into play. With no food processor and whole nuts, it’s amazing the blender didn’t start producing black smoke and explode, or that it didn’t turn into nut butter.

Was this challenging? Not really, as it would’ve been otherwise quite an enjoyable process if not for the damn heat. I felt accomplished, actually, as I’ve never had cause to feed more than 5 people, let alone a whole party. I thought I was going to burst from intense anxiety when people took their first bites, even though I already knew it tasted pretty good (no scraps went to waste), but thankfully my friend was very happy.

Happy birthday, you smol child.

 

Hazelnut layer cake (makes 3 8″ layers)

For the hazelnut sponge cake:
Follow this recipe

For the soaking syrup:
50g water
50g white granulated sugar
Hazelnut liqueur, optional

For the marbled Italian meringue buttercream:
3 large egg whites (~120g)
150g white granulated sugar
45g water
pinch of salt
170g unsalted butter, room temp.
dash of vanilla
~150g nutella
~150g dark chocolate

Ferrero Rochers, to decorate (optional but why wouldn’t you)

To make the sponge cake, I just followed these instructions. If like me, you can’t find ground hazelnut, you can grind your own. Roast the hazelnuts before grinding for maximum flavour, and rub off the husk by rolling in a tea towel. Pulse the nuts in a food processor, which would be preferable, but just a regular blender worked for me. Only pulse a little at a time and stop as soon as it turns into a meal, any longer and it’ll turn into nut butter. I added a couple spoons of the flour in the recipe as a precaution, as it helps absorb some of that oil from the nuts.

For the syrup, simply boil the sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved, then add the alcohol once it has cooled, if you like.

To make Italian meringue buttercream, start by placing the water in a deep saucepan with a candy thermometer, followed by the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil. In the meantime, start whisking the egg whites with the pinch of salt on medium speed. When the syrup has reached 116°C/240°F, take it off the heat and start streaming it very slowly into the egg whites while the mixer is on. Aim for the sides of the mixer bowl instead of the whisk as the hot syrup could splash back. Once the sugar has been poured in, turn the mixer on high speed and whip until the bowl returns to room temperature. Add the butter a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together/emulsifies, at which point I added the vanilla. I like to then beat it with the paddle attachment to aerate it a bit so that it’s fluffy and almost white.

Because I was going for a marbled effect, I roughly split the buttercream into 4 portions and added nutella to one, and cool melted dark chocolate to another. I then took the cake layers out of the freezer where they’ve been chilling, and brushed them with the syrup. The layers were then filled with some of the first portion of vanilla buttercream and some crushed Ferrero Rochers sprinkled on top. The entire cake was then covered with a thin layer of crumb coat, with the remaining vanilla buttercream from the same portion (so now there’s 1 equal portion of each flavour) and returned to the freezer for 10 minutes.

Once the crumb coating has firmed up, I swirled together the vanilla, nutella and chocolate buttercream, but barely so that the colours are still distinct from each other. I didn’t do this very well as you can barely see the white in the finished result. I then applied it onto the cake (just with an offset spatula) in a roughly even layer. I used a decorative comb to drag out patterns on the sides of the cake, and then the top. For the final touch I sprinkled on hazelnut bits in a feeble attempt to cover up my mistakes.

Then say a prayer and hope it doesn’t get smudged on the train on your way to the party.

hazelnut opera cake

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As the old saying goes, I’m passionate about cake. But I will steal your first born for a slice of Gâteau Opéra. Classically made with layers of almond joconde biscuit alternating with ganache and coffee buttercream, I put a little twist on mine. If I had to choose just one dessert to have for the rest of my life, this would probably be it. Having made this in the past exclusively with almond, I thought I’d switch it up a tiny bit and go for hazelnut this time. Which was a good decision.

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Not too sweet at all due to the dark chocolate ganache, complemented by the most decadent mocha buttercream (and why wouldn’t it be? It starts out exactly like an ice cream). It’s funny, like most things I’ve made, I haven’t tasted any other renditions other than my own. I can’t imagine what one crafted by an authentic French patisserie would be like – my taste buds would probably go to heaven and my head would explode.

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Today marks the first day of a 10-day mid-semester break which is waaaay overdue. I feel like I’m burning out and on the verge of giving up, so far am I behind with 11 hours worth of lecture content every single week. I literally cannot fathom what people who achieve higher than average grades do to keep up. They’re probably robots with microchip inserts and photographic memories. Even if I concentrate as hard as I can on what the lecturer’s saying (instead of typing up lecture notes as I usually do), I lose the train of logic about halfway through anyway. For someone who’s never missed a lecture unless absolutely unavoidable, I have to wonder whether my study methods are efficient at all.

The only plus side to this semester is that we only get one assignment across all the courses, which I suppose is pretty unheard of at uni. At least my law friends squint their eyes in envy when they count the number of assignments they have on two hands and I say we hardly have any. Still, having extra responsibilities at home for the time being doesn’t help at all trying to be organised. By the time I’ve come home from a full day of pracs and lectures and cooked dinner and cleaned up, all I can be bothered to do is kick off my boots and dive into bed.

So in the space of 10 9 days, I have to: start and finish the aforementioned written assignment, revise 2 years’ worth of clinical based content for the viva (fuck oral exams and my anxiety), re-learn and study 2 semesters’ worth of pros(thetics), somehow study 6 lectures per week’s worth of DENT2052 and revise for the anatomy prac exam which is straight after the break without any specimens to look at. Oh and freak out about the other prac exam which requires us to drill 2 cavity preps and restore one of them in 2 hours. I can barely do 1 prep and 1 restoration in one 3hr session. So yeah, I’m pretty much screwed. Every time I look at the repeating students I think about the likelihood that it could be me next year.

Rant over. Back to cake.

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Hazelnut opera cake (one 13cmx30cm cake)

For the hazelnut joconde biscuit:
100g hazelnut meal
100g pure icing sugar
32g plain flour
2 large eggs
16g butter
2 egg whites (save yolks for the buttercream)
20g granulated sugar

For the mocha crème au beurre:*
150g whole milk
30g roasted cocoa beans (optional but lends subtle undertaste)
50g sugar (1)
2 or 60g egg yolks
30g granulated sugar (2)
5g instant coffee granules
165g unsalted butter, at room temp.

*I made double of what is necessary to assemble the cake because the whisk of my stand mixer wouldn’t have been able to reach such small quantities. Feel free to cut in half, though you’ll miss out on licking on the equivalent of Olympian ambrosia on Earth while you’re assembling.

For the ganache:
60g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
44g heavy cream
30g nutella

For the soaking syrup:
75g water
33g sugar
5g instant coffee
splash of Frangelico (optional)

For the chocolate mirror glaze:
5g powdered gelatin
25g water (1)
55g water (2)
33g cocoa powder
33g heavy cream
25g dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line a sheet pan (approx. 40x30cm or similar capacity).

If you only have one mixer bowl and don’t want to wash it out, whip the egg whites and sugar together first. Otherwise, leave it till last. The meringue should be a medium peak for easy folding. Set aside.

Whip the whole eggs with the sifted icing sugar until very pale and barely drips from the whisk. Sift in the hazelnut meal and flour together and fold in carefully to incorporate. Melt the butter and cool it slightly, then add to it some of the batter until homogenous. Put the buttery batter back into the main batter and fold gently to mix. Finally fold in the meringue in 3 additions and take care to retain most of the air.

Spread the batter evenly on the pan and bake for about 15 minutes or until the middle springs back when touched lightly. Once slightly cooled, release the edges and flip upside down onto a lined surface to cool completely. Cut off the crispy edges (approx. 5mm) then into 3 equal pieces (cuts parallel to the short edge so you end up with three 13x30cm strips).

Make the buttercream. If you’d like to infuse with cocoa beans, bring the milk, 50g sugar and beans to a boil and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes. Otherwise, just bring milk and sugar to a simmer. In the meantime, whisk together the yolks and 30g sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Slowly stream the simmering mixture (bring it back to a simmer if you left it to infuse) into the yolks while whisking the yolk mixture constantly. Then pour everything (through a sieve if there are cocoa beans) back into the pot and cook on low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens enough to leave an open channel when you drag your finger through it on the back of a spoon.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of a mixer and turn it on low to release the heat. When it reaches room temperature, add in pieces of butter and increase the speed to emulsify and aerate. If it looks curdled, whip some more and it should come back to a silky smooth texture if the ingredients are all at room temp.

For the syrup, boil water and sugar together then add in the coffee and liqueur. Leave to cool.

For the ganache, heat the heavy cream until boiling and pour it on the chocolate. Leave for a minute then stir to combine. Mix in nutella and leave to cool to room temp. just so it’s spreadable.

For the glaze (finally, I know), bloom the gelatin in 25g water. Meanwhile, boil together everything but the chocolate, stirring to get rid of cocoa lumps. Turn off the heat and add the bloomed gelatin and chocolate. Stir to melt and set aside.

To assemble, take one of the biscuit strips and spread on 32g chocolate melted with 1/2 tsp neutral flavoured oil. This is just to prevent a soggy bottom. Flip it upside down so the chocolate side is down and chill briefly to set up. Brush the soaking syrup generously onto the first layer of cake. Spread on a thin layer (no more than 5mm) of half the buttercream evenly. At any point during assembly if something turns runny or feels too unstable to stack, just chill for a bit to firm up.

Layer on a second strip of cake, and brush with syrup. Spread on the ganache. Try to keep all the layers approximately the same thickness.

Place the third and final layer of cake on top, brush with syrup, spread with the rest of the buttercream as smoothly as you can as any unevenness will be visible through the glaze. Chill (not freeze) until the whole cake has firmed up all the way through.

When you’re reading to glaze, heat the glaze slightly to just warmer than body temperature. Place the cake on a wire rack on a tray and pour the glaze on top (through a sieve if it has bubbles in it), letting the excess drip off the sides. Chill until firm and cut off the uneven bits off the edges (and stuff straight into your mouth cos you bet you deserve it for all this effort).

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