Christmas is upon us and we have yet to feature a Christmas cookbook, so allow us to rectify that oversight. Many years ago, we featured the Rebecca Rather's first cookbook, The Pastry Queen. She returned in 2007 with The Pastry Queen Christmas.
Rather owns the Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe in the land of Texas. Like much of Texas, everything is big. Her first cookbook, features on its cover, meringue tarts with meringue that towers over the actual tart. Because frankly, meringue should run about three or four times as high as the pie it is sitting on.
The book does try to skews toward Christmas, with recipes including peppermint, cranberries, pumpkin, spiced claret and the like, it is really a fine cold weather cookbook. Yes, Texas stays pretty warm, but go with us on this. It also leans toward the spirit of place, featuring such Tex/Mex faves as Frito pie, quesadillas, sopaipillas, and cowboy coffee. Combining two traditions offers up some fun ideas for holiday entertaining.
Every holiday season has its signature cake. That cake that gets baked only once a year. that cake that disappears in one sitting. That cake you crave all year long. For Rather it is a coconut cake. It is a long and somewhat involved recipe, but one that have heads turning. Like most of these cakes, Rather's comes from a recipe by her Great-Aunt Molly. Various cousins have changed the recipe a bit, but this is the one Rather is sticking with.
Christmas Coconut Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk (available canned in the Asian section of most grocery stores, or see Tip)
1/4 cup coconut cream (Coco Lopez)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 large egg whites at room temperature
Whipped Cream Filling
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons coconut cream (Coco Lopez)
1/2 cup grated fresh coconut (optional, see Tip)
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup mini marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups unsweetened flaked coconut for decorating
Place an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and another in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch cake pans, then line each with a parchment paper round. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour; knock out the excess.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, coconut milk, and coconut cream until smooth. Add the flour mixture in 3 increments, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 increments, starting and ending with the flour mixture. After each addition, mix at low speed just to combine the ingredients. Stir in the vanilla.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until evenly blended. Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Set two layers on the top rack and the third on the lower rack. Stagger the cake layers on the oven racks so no layer is directly under another. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Monitor the layers carefully for doneness; each one may be done at different times. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto wire racks to cool completely.
To make the whipped cream filling:
Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream on high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the coconut cream and the fresh coconut, if using.
To make the frosting:
Whisk the egg whites, sugar, water, cream of tartar, and salt in a large stainless-steel bowl until thoroughly combined. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of barely simmering water. Using a hand beater or handheld electric mixer, continue beating the egg white mixture for 4 minutes. Add the mini marshmallows in 2 increments while continuing to beat. Wait until the first batch of marshmallows has melted before adding the second. Continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes more, until stiff peaks form. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and continue beating until the frosting is thick enough to spread.
To assemble the cake:
Stack one cake layer on a serving plate and spread the top with half of the whipped cream filling. Repeat with a second layer. Stack the final cake layer on top of the first two and cover the cake’s top and sides with the frosting. Sprinkle the coconut on the top and sides of the cake.
Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and store for 1 day at room temperature or up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
It's challenging to press coconut into the sides of the cake. When pressing the coconut in, the icing invariably sticks to my fingers and mars the frosting's finish. I've discovered that throwing small handfuls of coconut toward the side of the cake makes it adhere quite well—a messy but effective technique for creating a gorgeous-looking cake.
For those who want to follow Aunt Molly's original recipe, here are her directions for extracting coconut meat and liquid from a fresh coconut: "First buy a fresh coconut. To select the best one, shake it to listen for a lot of milk inside. Prepare the coconut by first making a hole or two in one end with a hammer and ice pick. Stand the coconut up over a small bowl or glass measuring cup to catch the milk as it drains out. Next, crack the hard outer shell with a hammer, then pry off the pieces. The inner white coconut meat can then be grated [with a handheld microplane grater]. Refrigerate both the milk and grated coconut until ready to use."
If you are looking for s showstopping Christmas recipe, this one will do it!