Thursday, February 13, 2014

Molly's Coconut Cake

You can never go wrong with coconut cake.

I sort of lied in my last post about February not having much to get excited about or celebrate, because today is my dad's birthday! While my mom is usually my biggest helper in getting food on the table, my dad has also been a huge supporter and help, and so I enthusiastically jumped on the chance to cook up something fun to help celebrate the day. My dad is a big fan of both coconut and spice cakes, and once I found an interesting sounding recipe for coconut cake in the comfort food cookbook I mentioned a while ago, I knew I had to give it a shot.

I'm going to say right off the bat that this isn't an authentic World War II recipe. I know I keep saying that, and I know I keep promising that we'll get to that eventually. We will! I promise! I'd actually really like to try and recreate the cake Molly gets for her birthday, but we're going to have to wait until spring to do that. I was definitely willing to take a risk on this cake, but not quite authentic rations level risk just yet!

So, what made me choose Molly to host this post?

As AG enthusiasts will know, in Meet Molly, Molly and her two best friends decide to dress up as hula dancers for Halloween. This is a much more practical costume than the crazy princess dress Molly wanted her mother to make, and was almost entirely home made. Because of this, and because Hawaii is often associated with the 1940's and 50's for what I hope to be obvious reasons to people, Molly's cookbooks and party books often include suggestions for Hawaiian themed parties and recipe ideas, and since my dad has an affinity for all things tropical, this seemed like a good combination.

Plus, after getting eight inches of snow dumped on us last night, my feelings about needing winter to be over definitely haven't changed at all, and a dessert that reminds me of sunny beaches and beautiful weather is always welcome.

That's saying a lot, coming from me. I don't even like beaches or the ocean for a number of reasons, but most of them involve a pathological fear of sharks. Don't judge me, I don't want to be afraid of sharks either, but I am and the suggestions people have given me to try and solve the problem have unfortunately only made it worse.

Anyway, this recipe started off pretty much like any other cake recipe. Dry ingredients go in one bowl, wet stuff + sugar goes in the other.

After beating the sugar fluffy, the recipe called for something a little strange. Or at least strange in the sense of I've never encountered it in a cake recipe before. There was a lot of that in this one, if I'm being honest. You add in the yolks of three eggs one at a time, and then add the dry ingredients plus coconut milk in alternating batches: mix in one third of the dry ingredients, half the coconut milk, and so on until everything's incorporated.

It gave the cake batter a weird, almost doughy texture. It wasn't as sturdy as a cookie dough, but it was definitely pretty solid. The next step was allegedly supposed to help out with this.

On another note, I now have a huge carton of coconut milk in my refrigerator because that's all that was for sale at the grocery store. Anyone have any suggestions on how to use it before it expires? While I love coconuts, I've never loved what gets passed off as coconut milk - it's been explained to me by someone who really knows his stuff that the stuff most people know as coconut milk is actually coconut water, milk is what you get when you shred the meat and wring out the liquid, and it's much thicker and sweeter than coconut milk - and so I'm not sure I really just want to be drinking it straight. Maybe it'd make an interesting addition to a smoothie?

The egg whites are supposed to be whipped up in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. I was very pleased that I didn't over whip them.

These are then folded into the batter so that "some egg whites are still visible". I was kind of not sure how visible they should be? Or how bad it would be if they kind of got crushed in the folding process? And overall, I really would have appreciated some in progress pictures or just better guidance in general, because I worry I didn't actually do this the right way.

A cup of coconut is then dumped into the batter and carefully folded in.

Split the batter between two cake pans, and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes. Mine were nice and evenly cooked after 25 even, so I was pleased. I hate when projected cooking times turn out to be way off, because I get anxious that if I leave things in for too long, they'll burn.

It doesn't produce a lot of batter, and the cake didn't rise a lot in the oven. Not that I really expected it to, and it's not like this was a bad cake? I just think my mom had a point when she said she wonders if it would have been a moister cake if we had just baked it in one pan. Oh well, sometimes following the recipe doesn't get you exactly what you want.

For example: the original recipe calls for cream cheese frosting. I hate cream cheese frosting. I don't hate cream cheese, but I just really can't stand cream cheese icing, no matter what it's on or how well it's made. I can always tell when it's cream cheese, and the dessert always ends up tasting like a weird bagel to me, and I just can't get behind why you would defile a delicious cake with cream cheese frosting. I can't.

Sorry if I've offended any die hard fans out there, but it's just not my thing.

I decided to use a variation on the frosting we made last night for the brownies, in that it was the same recipe, but with coconut milk instead of milk to help loosen it up and give it some flavor. It was kind of subtle coconut flavor, but I thought it was a nice addition and was pleased to find a way to use more coconut milk.

Then I dumped a load of coconut on top, and we had a cake.

So, how did it taste?

Well, the cake was definitely on the dense side, which isn't a favorite texture of cake for most of the people available for taste testing today. I almost want to call it spongy, and it was maybe a little dry, but I think my mom made a good point about splitting it between the two pans might have contributed to that. That being said, I definitely thought it was tasty. Most coconut cakes are either yellow cakes with coconut on top (which I'm definitely not complaining about, I like yellow cake too), or kind of weird, overly complicated cakes that still don't taste super coconutty, but this was a good combination. I really liked the addition of putting coconut milk in the frosting, and would definitely recommend doing the same if you're making a similar cake. It gave it a nice extra layer of coconut flavor without being too over the top, and definitely didn't taste artificial like an extract might. I don't think this is my favorite dessert I've ever made, but I liked it a lot, and I think it was a hit. My dad definitely said he'd eat it again!

So, happy birthday, Dad! I hope it was a good one despite being snowed in all day. I really appreciate everything you've done for all of us, and - if you'll forgive me for being sappy - I'm glad you're my dad.

Now to resist the urge to gobble down the rest of the cake like Cookie Monster...


  1. It looks pretty good! Happy birthday to your dad!

    I like to make coconut milk ice cream in the summer? I usually puree peaches in to it and add a little vanilla and then put it in my single serve ice cream maker!

    1. Man, that sounds delicious! I've been meaning to invest in an ice cream maker at some point, but all the ones I seem to stumble across are super pricey so I always chicken out even if they're on sale, ahaha. But that definitely sounds like another argument to get my hands on one. c: