Sunday, March 25, 2012

Coconut Layer Cake

I love all things coconut, but for some reason had never made a coconut layer cake.  It seems like every cookbook I own has some version of a coconut cake, so I had some trouble deciding on a recipe.  I went with America's Test Kitchen's (Cook's Country) recipe, and damn was it good.

The frosting is a Swiss meringue, super fluffy and decadent.  The cake itself was made using the reverse cream method, which kicks all kinds of ass if you want a mile high super moist cake.  This cake is monstrous, so make it for a crowd.  I had my parents and sister over (5 adults, 2 kids), and we still could just eat half of it.  Enjoy!

Coconut Layer Cake
from America's Test Kitchen

For the cake:
1 large egg
5 large egg whites
¾ cup cream of coconut
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 ¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 12 pieces softened

For the frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch table salt
1 lb unsalted butter , each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened
¼ cup cream of coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment, grease parchment and dust with flour.  Whisk egg whites, whole egg, cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract in a large measuring cup (this makes it easier to add to the batter later).

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.).

Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans with paring knife, invert cakes onto racks and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.

While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

For the Buttercream: Combine whites, sugar, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2-inches of simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.  If you're using pasteurized egg whites you can stop as soon as the sugar is dissolved, but 160 is the temp needed to kill bacteria, so I always go to this temp.  I have had good luck with Trader Joes pasteurized egg whites, they always whip up so you can certainly try these instead of plain whites.

Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute.

To Assemble the Cake:

With a long serrated knife, cut both cakes in half horizontally so that each cake forms two layers.
Put a dab of icing on a cardboard round cut just larger than the cake. Center one cake layer on the round.  Place a large blob of icing in the center of the layer and spread it to the edges with an icing spatula.  Hold the spatula at a 45-degree angle to the cake and drag it across the surface to level the icing. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining cake layers.  To ice the sides of the cake, scoop up a large dab of icing with the tip of the spatula and spread it on the sides with short side-to-side strokes.  Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Then press the coconut into the sides, letting the excess fall back onto a baking sheet.

Linked to:
Sweet Indulgences Sunday 
Melt in Your Mouth Monday

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Pink and Green Owl Birthday

My darling little girl is two!  How did that happen??  It seems like only yesterday I was holding her in my arms for the first time.  Now she is a walking, talking, gorgeous little thing full of opinions and ideas about how the world should work.  She is full of life, love, and I adore her.

I thew her a small birthday party with an owl theme in mind.  Everything came together and she had a wonderful time.   I bought one of those paper packs from Michaels that has coordinating sheets (I think about 120?) and it made all the crafting super easy.  Here are the details, thanks for looking!

The dessert table:

Strawberry Marshmallow mousse cups (I bought the cute little jars from World Market and the taster spoons from Etsy):

 Strawberry and Pistachio Macarons:

 Owl Cookies: 

The cake (vanilla and chocolate layers, strawberry mousse filling, chocolate buttercream frosting, and covered in marshmallow fondant):

I also made chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla frosting:


I decorated with coordinating lanterns:

I covered plain party hats with pretty paper and added a fringe made with crepe paper streamers:

These pinwheels were super easy to make, but not exactly something you would want kids playing with.  The pins came out really easily so I just put a few in the ground outside and the rest in a vase on the dessert table.

I made these water bottle labels with paper and an owl stamp, just cut to fit and attach with a glue gun:

I decorated with these paper fans:

The party favors were little mylar kites, all wrapped up:

Me and my birthday girl:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lemon Curd Meringue Tartlets

I have a real thing for meringues lately.  There is something so gorgeous about whipped up egg whites.  I remember as a child watching my mom whip up egg whites with fascination, they looked just like fluffy clouds.   When I saw this recipe I couldn't resist the mounds of toasted meringue piled on top of lemon curd and a nutty shortbread crust. 

I actually modified the original recipe, I have a serious bounty of meyer lemons right now, thanks to friends, farmers markets, and our own lovely little tree which is bearing fruit for the first time.  I also used a faster method to making the lemon curd, rather than using a double boiler which takes eons, just whisk constantly and somewhat vigorously over a med-low heat until the curd coats a wooden spoon, about 12-15 minutes.  Also be sure to pour your curd through a sieve before chilling, it gets rid of any errant egg white that may have scrambled and other undesirables in your curd.  :)

Texas Big Hairs Lemon-Lime Meringue Tarts
adapted from  Rebecca Rather, the Pastry Queen
1 ½ cups pecans or sliced almonds
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
    Lemon Curd:
    10 extra-large egg yolks (reserve the egg whites for the meringue)
    1 ½ cups sugar
    1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    Zest of 2 lemons
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
      10 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
      3 cups sugar
        To make the crusts:
        Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in the oven for 7-9 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic. (If using almond slices, toast for 5-7 minutes). Coarsely chop the pecans.
        With your fingers, butter eight 4 3/8 inch, 1-cup capacity tartlet pans.
        Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then gradually add the flour and salt and combine on low speed until incorporated. Add the nuts and mix on low speed just until they are incorporated. Form the dough into a ball – it will be sticky – and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
        Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, divide into 8 equal portions and press into the prepared pans, making sure it comes up to the top edge of the pans. If the dough sticks to your hands, dust them with flour as often as necessary.
        Bake the crust about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 30 minutes before filling with lemon-lime curd.
        To make the curd:
        Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lime juice and zest in a large heavy sauce pan.  Whisk constantly over med-low heat until the curd thickens, and will coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 12-15 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in the two tablespoons of butter until smooth.  Let cool slightly and then pour through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap directly on the curd (to prevent a skin from forming).  Refrigerate the curd for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days. For express cooling, freeze it for at least 1 hour.
        To make the meringue:
        Set a large, perfectly clean metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Pour in the egg whites and sugar. Heat the egg whites and sugar while whisking constantly until the sugar melts and there are no visible grains in the meringue. Take a little meringue mixture and rub it between your fingers to make sure all sugar grains have melted. Remove the meringue from over the simmering water and whip it with a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on low speed for 5 minutes; increase the speed to high and beat 5 minutes longer, until the meringue is stiff and shiny.
        Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the broiler. To assemble the tarts, spoon the chilled lemon-lime curd into the crusts, filling them about three-quarters of the way to the top. Pile the meringue on top of the curd. Style the meringue with your fingers by plucking at it to tease the meringue into jagged spikes.
        Set the tarts on the middle rack of the oven and broil until the meringue topping turns golden brown, about 1 minute. Watch the tarts closely, as they can turn from browned to burnt in a matter of seconds. (If you are using a kitchen torch {like I did!}, hold it 2 to 3 inches away from the meringue and move the flame slowly around the meringue until it is browned all over.)

        The recipe says the tarts should be served the day they are made, but we found they were much tastier the next day, the crust had softened a bit from the curd and the flavors seemed to mingle better.  Just keep the tartlets in the fridge and they should be good for several days.  
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