Yeah, that’s a word now. At this point, you’ve gathered that I love to bake. Naturally, the outcome of this love is that my friends get to eat delicious sweets and treats and I get to, well, bake. Everybody wins! Trust me, I have one happy roommate. She is quite content to be my taste tester.
This need to bake, however, is not entirely benevolent. I often don’t bake to please others, but to please myself. Selfish, no? I guess it is, but when the product of your selfishness is cake, no one seems to mind. When a special occasion arises my first thought is “What can I bake?!?” It’s not always “What would this person want me to bake?” I often want to try out new recipes just for the sake of the challenge or to attempt to emulate the pretty picture that accompanies the instructions. Every now and then I do pay attention to the desires and tastes of others and try to give them exactly what they want. Case in point: this extravagantly decadent coconut cake for my friend Mark’s birthday.
I had stored in the back of my mind Mark’s love of coconut cake and thought this recipe would be absolutely perfect for his birthday. I was crazy excited to make it, which is a big deal considering I detest coconut. That might be irrationally negative, but I am just not a fan of the flavor, texture, general concept of coconut. What is it? A nut? A fruit? A coco? I don’t get it. And it tastes like sunscreen. But it is fluffy, white, delicate, and lovely, which are all things that make a cake extraordinary. I can pretty much get behind any dessert that ends up looking like a big puffy cloud of pillowy goodness.
Some challenges arose in my attempt to bake this cake. The party was a weekend beach getaway (awesome, I know). This meant I needed to either make the cakes ahead of time or spend a gorgeous sunny Saturday at the Shore baking away in an unfamiliar kitchen while my friends boozed on the beach. No thank you. I figured every bakery out there makes their cakes in advance and freezes them. After several internet searches and verification from Ina and Martha, I decided the bake-ahead-freeze plan was the best method. So the Sunday before the party I baked my cakes with a week to go before they would be served. Some cardboard cake rounds, an ingenious use of saran wrap and plastic bags, and sheer dumb luck led to two perfectly baked, cooled, and sealed coconut cakes.
After a road trip to the Garden State, these golden beauties came to room temperature in the warm seaside breeze. They were soon soft, spongey, and ready for a heaping dollop of cream cheese frosting. Fortunately, Nicole’s beach house no shack and came complete with a well-equipped kitchen. I set up my transported-from-Brooklyn ingredients, grasped the borrowed hand mixer, and went to town on the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until it resembled the soft, white fluffiness of the residue left behind by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
Making a two layer cake is ridiculously fun and extremely satisfying. If you’re into that sort of thing…which I am. It’s just so classic. A thick, rich layer of frosting is sandwiched between two identical rounds of dense cake, which are in turn covered in swirly heaps of even more luscious, buttery frosting. If that doesn’t scream birthday party, I don’t know what does. Well, maybe a pinata and a rousing game of Mad Gab, but that’s a story for a different day.
You’ll notice I used the tried and true parchment paper technique to keep my serving platter clean. An unnecessarily fussy step, some might say. But said unnecessary fussiness results in a perfectly frosted cake atop a pristine serving platter. Once the cake is complete, you simply slide out the sheets of protective parchment and poof, mess is gone. It really comes in handy when you have to cover the frosted cake with handfuls of shredded coconut.
Slowly but surely, every last inch of the cake gets covered in gobs of frosting. A quick smooth with an offset spatula and a generous sprinkling of shredded coconut and this confection is
ready for its birthday close up.
Once adorned with a crown of vibrant candles that give off a soft, celebratory glow, the cake makes its debut to the birthday boy. At this point, even I’m tempted to blow out the candles and stick my face in it, that’s how good it looks. Regardless of the fact that it’s completely covered in coconut.