Monday, July 28, 2014

Fresh Coconut Lemon Custard Sponge Cake

Today is my mother in law's birthday and I'm always puzzled what kind of cake to make in the middle of summer. While this summer isn't a scorcher (so happy about that) it is still summer and I'm thinking light foods, not heavy. Plus, I like to make cakes that pair well with dinner. For her birthday I'm making grilled lime salmon with coconut crisps and mango avocado salad. What better than a coconut lemon cake to go with it? Plus, she's had this cake before and really loved it.

This is one of the few recipes I designed myself. Like most recipes, its base is similar to other recipes, but I tweaked it to make it my own.  When I made it and it turned out the first time I wrote the recipe down on a scratch piece of paper. I've made it since and added notes on the sides, arrows pointing here and there, so last night I decided to type it up and put it in my recipes digitally.

Fresh Coconut and Lemon Sponge Cake

Most cakes in Europe are made without the aid of baking powder. They use eggs for leavening instead. For Americans this is akin to a sponge cake  - very light and fluffy. European cakes also, typically, use a custard for filling and icing,  not the butter/sugar frosting that most Americans are used to eating. Because of the custard filling/icing, it must be refrigerated until served.

Fresh coconut makes this cake. You will not get the same flavor or texture if using pre-packaged sweetened coconut or desiccated coconut. You want to wow? USE FRESH COCONUT!

This is my recipe and since I hate wasting ingredients, I made sure I used everything up! A full can of coconut milk, a full dozen eggs - whites and yolks, the zest and juice of lemons, and even the full coconut, including the water!

  • Shredded and Toasted Coconut:
  • 1 Large coconut where we will use:
              Flesh of coconut
              Water of coconut
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 can of coconut milk (12 ozs.)
  • juice of two lemons (keep zest for sponge)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of cake flour (perhaps slightly less)
  • 1/2 cup grated toasted coconut (see above)
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 8 eggs (separated)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • scant 1/2 cup cake flour
  • zest of two lemons (reserved from lemons used for custard)
*optional, decorate with raspberries along the bottom perimeter.

How to prepare the coconut:

When buying a coconut, lift the coconut and give it a good shake; there should be plenty of liquid sloshing around inside. (Note that the liquid isn’t coconut milk; it’s coconut water. Coconut milk is made by blending water with the meat.) Also make sure there is no mold on the outside, where the eyes are. I usually buy coconuts in an international market as they tend not to sit around as long as they do in traditional grocery stores. Who wants a moldy, rotting coconut?

To drain the coconut, take a phillips screwdriver and with a hammer, poke through the 3 eyes on top. Drain and reserve the coconut water. (Photos show two coconuts as I am using more coconut for a dinner dish. You only need one for this cake recipe.)

See the drain holes at the top?

To crack open the coconut,  (I do this outside on the sidewalk) place the coconut on a towel and pound with a hammer along the perimeter of the coconut, turning it around and around between strikes until it breaks in half. Grate with a coconut grater if you have one.

 It grates very finely though and might not be what everyone likes aesthetically. I found it for under $20 at a small international market.

 When using a coconut grater versus peeling the coconut, be very careful not to start shredding the peel. No one wants unsightly flecks of brown in their coconut.

If you don't have a coconut grater, no problem. Put the coconut halves on a rack in a preheated 400ºF (200ºC) for 20 minutes, which will help separate the meat from the shell. When the coconut halves are cool, use a flat-head screwdriver wedged in between the meat and shell to pry them apart. Take a vegetable peeler and remove the skin of the meat, then grate or grind the coconut meat, as you wish with a vegetable peeler to make thin strips, or grate the coconut with a metal grater into shreds. I've done this method too and it works fine once you actually pry the coconut out of the hard shell.

 To toast the coconut, in a large pan pour the coconut water and add the sugar. Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the grated coconut and cook down the liquids over high heat.  The picture below shows the coconut with the water mostly evaporated.

When most of the liquid has evaporated, turn down the heat to medium for toasting. Toast until it just starts to turn brown. Turn off the heat and continue stirring as it finishes toasting in the hot pan.  Measure out 1/2 cup for the custard. Reserve the rest for covering the cake.

How to prepare the custard:

In a mixing bowl beat the whole eggs until well mixed. Add the sugar, cake flour, and lemon juice (grate the lemon first to get the zest for the sponge, then squeeze it for juice for the custard),  and place over a double boiler, add the coconut. Heat and stir constantly until it thickens; until it reaches the consistency of  pudding. Don't worry if it sort of looks lumpy as it thickens, this is normal. Once it has thichened, emove from the heat and cool in the refrigerator. You can do this a day ahead if you prefer.

When completely cool, thoroughly beat in the room temperature butter. It’s now ready to use to fill and ice the cake. Do not chill after adding the butter until you have filled and iced the cake  as it will be too firm to spread if you do.

How to prepare the sponge:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8” round cake pans.

Separate eggs into 2 separate mixing bowls; whites in one, yolks in the other. Add 1/4 cup sugar to the egg whites and then beat until stiff peaks.

In the 2nd mixing bowl, add 1/4 cup sugar and lemon zest to the egg yolks and beat until light in color and fluffy.

Add the beaten egg whites and cake flour to the egg yolk mixture and combine carefully. Mix until just combined. You want to keep as much of the air bubbles in the batter as possible.

Divide batter between the two cake pans.

Bake until golden or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (This is much quicker than standard cake. Check in 15 minutes.)

Let cool in the pans. It will shrink/shrivel. Don't be alarmed. It's supposed to do that. The photo below is just from the oven. It shrank about a third after cooling.

Assemble the cake:

Cut each of the cake layers in half to create a total of four cake layers. First, on your cake plate, put a small dollop of filling on the bottom. Put the first layer on the cake plate over the dollop of filling. This will hold your cake in place to prevent slipping while you assemble the rest of the cake. Spread the top layer with custard.  It is OK if the filling spills from the sides as you will be icing it with the same filling.

Repeat with the three remaining layers. Reserve enough custard to ice the sides of the cake.  See how it's not all pretty and even? That's OK. Sponge cake does not behave as prettily as traditional cake, but with with some smoothing of cream and adding of coconut, it will look great in the end.

Use the remaining filling to ice the outside of the cake. Don't worry about crumbs or getting it absolutely smooth.  Nothing will show through the coconut topping.

After the cake is assembled and iced, do not chill it yet. Sprinkle the reserved toasted coconut over the cake and try to catch the sides. A lot will drop off the sides onto a plate,. Use a small decorating spatula to help lift it and press it in place.

All of that fallen coconut you see in the above picture has been carefully lifted up and lightly pressed into the side of the cakes. Press evenly around the cake to make a smooth surface to finish.

Clean up extra coconut off the serving plate with a damp paper towel. For decoration and complimentary flavor, decorate the bottom perimeter of the cake with fresh (washed and dried) raspberries.

To cover, stick toothpicks around the top around the perimeter and one in the center. Then lightly wrap it in cling wrap. and chill the cake overnight.

To serve, remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving, unwrap it and remove the toothpicks. Holes won't be visible because of the shredded coconut.


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