Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chocolate Coconut Surprise Cake

Given any choice of what he'd like for dessert, my husband can be relied upon to choose chocolate cake above all other options every time. This makes it easy to decide what to make each year when his birthday rolls around: some variation on chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is required.

This year I wanted to try the "Devilishly Moist Chocolate Cake" on page 121 of The Cake Book. The final result has been rated "best birthday cake ever," although some improvising took place along the way.

I was a little hesitant about a recipe that calls for pouring an entire cup of boiling water into the batter as the last step, but the author appears to know her cakes so I gave it a go. I even followed the recipe exactly, which I hardly ever do, even with baked goods.

The batter, after that cup of boiling water was mixed in, was so runny I thought surely there was some horrible typo in the recipe. I used a 9" springform pan and took the precaution of wrapping it in aluminum foil, because I thought for sure the batter would leak out (it didn't).

This bakes for quite some time: close to an hour at 325. And for most of that time it did not look promising. And then, at the end, suddenly it puffed up and looked like cake. Yay.

Well, almost like cake. Here's what the top looked like when it came out of the oven:
That rumpled bit in the center appears to have formed from convection currents in the batter as it warmed at the sides and drifted toward the center. You can see where I flicked a bit off with a fingernail: it's crisp and strange. Didn't matter, as I flipped the cake onto the plate top-side down in order to remove the pan bottom and peel off the parchment paper circle.

The bottom is fine. Mmmmmm, so moist and dark and it smells scrumptious...
The problem with this cake is it only makes one (generous) layer. Which I'd planned to split into two layers, but it really is devilishly moist. So moist that there's no way layer-splitting was going to happen in my kitchen. A professional pastry chef could probably handle it, but I know my limits.

A one-layer birthday cake, though, didn't seem sufficiently grand. I was inspired by another recipe in the book (Chocolate Almond Coconut Cake, p. 206). Here's the photo that got me thinking (red circle):
(Yes, I want to make the luscious Creamy Coconut Cake on the right, too. Another time.)

Anyway, the coconut topping for the Choc-Almond cake calls for light corn syrup, which isn't the kind of thing I keep around. So I browsed some more and came across Whipped White Chocolate Ganache (p. 318). Hmmm, cream and white chocolate melted together, cooled, and whipped. Why not add some coconut to that? Organic unsweetened shredded coconut is the kind of thing that lurks in my larder.

The Whipped White Coconut Ganache was another potential uhoh. Even chilled for almost six hours, it did not firm up the way a dark chocolate ganache does. And whipping it, even with chilled beaters, did not seem to work. (I would have chilled the bowl, too, but there wasn't room in my freezer after a recent Costco stock-up.) I almost tossed it as a dud, because the recipe warns against over-whipping, and I'd let the mixer run for a while. Then, just as I was about to give up on it, it suddenly came together and firmed up, just like whipped cream only more abruptly:
So, yippee for that. I folded in 1/2 cup of finely shredded coconut and topped my single chocolate cake layer with it.

The coconut topping is only about 1/4 inch thick, but that's plenty, as it's very rich. And exceedingly delicious:

It went into the fridge to chill up while I made a frosting.

Rich and Creamy Chocolate Frosting
This is my basic chocolate frosting method. It makes plenty for a two-layer cake, but extra freezes beautifully so I always make a large batch even when I only need a little. To make a darker choc version, use twice as much ganache or half as much butter frosting. It's very flexible. I usually don't even measure quantities, I just eyeball it. It always turns out fine: butter, sugar, cream, chocolate. How can you go wrong?

Step 1:

Make a dark chocolate ganache.Place 8 oz. of dark chocolate chips (preferably bittersweet; 70% cacao content or higher) in a small stainless steel mixing bowl. Heat 1 cup heavy cream over medium heat until just at a simmer. Pour it over the chocolate chips and let sit for 30-60 seconds. Stir it all up vigorously with a whisk until the chocolate melts and it all comes together into a smooth dark satiny deliciousness. Set aside to cool to room temp. It will firm up a bit.

Step 2:

Make a basic butter frosting.Put 2 sticks soft unsalted butter in the bowl of your stand mixer. Use paddle to beat in 3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (about a cup at a time) and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Step 3:

Mix 'em together. Add the cooled ganache to the mixer bowl and beat well until chocolate and butter mixes are thoroughly combined and a uniform light brown color.

I used this to frost my coconut-topped cake layer. I then melted about 4 oz. more of dark choc chips and blended them into about a cup and a half of the frosting to make a slightly darker, more chocolately variation that I used to pipe decorative rosettes around the edge of the cake. I didn't do a fabulous job with that, 'cause I'm not an expert piper plus it was a warm afternoon and everything was on the verge of goopy and I was in a rush to get it done and into the fridge.

The result: not the most spectacular cake ever, but fine for a family birthday. And delicious. Really, really delicious. The white choc-coconut topping is heavenly with the rich, dark, moist choc cake. I love how the coconut layer is a surprise reveal when you cut into the cake. (See first photo, up top.)

Let me say again that this combo is wonderful. Like a cake version of a Mounds candy bar. I did wonder, when I was done, if I should have used just a straight dark choc ganache glaze instead of frosting. But the cake is so dark and so rich and so moist that my lighter frosting is a perfect counterpart.

We enjoyed our cake with Roselani "Haupia" (coconut pudding flavor) ice cream. Creamy and subtle and perfect. A bit like vanilla, but not vanilla. If you are ever in Hawaii be sure to seek out some Roselani ice cream while you're here. Especially if you can find haupia flavor and some dark chocolate coconut cake to go with it.

I'm already thinking of other things I might use that coconut topping on. Sweet Potato Cheesecake, anyone? I've never made it, but have enjoyed the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel's version, for which the Queen's Court restaurant is justly famous. I bet it would be even better with coconut topping.

First, though, we need to eat up leftovers of the b'day extravaganza. Then we'll need to go on a diet for a month.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pear Coffee Cake

It's been a busy 2009 so far. I've had little time for baking, and even less for blogging. Here's the first of what I hope will be several catch-up installments: the Pear Coffee Cake I made for Christmas breakfast. It admirably met my requirement for a delicious treat that would function equally well as both breakfast and dessert.

I adapted this from the recipe for "Buttermilk Peach Coffee Cake" I found in this delightful book:

The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle

The Hilo Public Library has closed for three months for roof repair and renovations, so any books borrowed the last week in December aren't due back until the end of March, which is cool, so I grabbed some cookbooks while I was stocking up. The Coffee Cake is the only thing I've made from this book so far, but I've been browsing (and drooling) a lot, and hubbie has a birthday coming up, so stay tuned.

You'll find the original coffee cake recipe on page 108. Here's how I made my pear version. As usual, I used some WW flour, yogurt instead of buttermilk, used a little brown sugar, added some cinnamon and cardamom (so good with pears), and so on. I used some rolled oats and spices in the topping, too, and pecans instead of almonds 'cause that's what I had lying around.

The original peach version (probably also delicious) calls for a drizzle of white sugar glaze, which I skipped because at that point I was tired of being in the kitchen and this looked like it was going to be sweet and fattening enough without it. Which it was.

Pear Coffee Cake

2 bartlett pears
3 tsp lemon juice (divided)
1 C all purpose flour
1 C whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 C unsalted butter (12 T; 1.5 sticks), soft
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 C whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter and flour a 9" round baking pan or springform pan.

Peel, core, and dice the pears, and toss in a small bowl with 2 tsp of the lemon juice. Set aside.

Sift together the flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
Mix the yogurt and milk with the remaining tsp of lemon juice (it will curdle; that's okay). Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend in.

Beat in half the flour mixture at low speed, then the yogurt mixture, then the rest of the flour mixture.

Spoon half the batter into the baking pan and smooth the top. Top with the pears (scattered evenly over the batter) and half of the crumble topping (below). Cover with the rest of the batter and then the rest of the crumb topping.

Bake 50 minutes or until done. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. If using a springform pan, remove the sides after cake has cooled for 20 minutes.

Crumble Topping/Filling

1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch nutmeg
2/3 cup pecans
4 T butter (soft)
1/4 C milk

Put all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well blended and the nuts are chopped. This will be thick and sticky, not dry Use a fork to drop clumbs of it all over the top of the coffee cake before baking.


I followed the recipe's instructions to place 1/2 the batter in the pan, then add the fruit, sprinkle with half the crumble topping (that's what the odd-looking dark bits in the middle are, in the photo, above), then top with the rest of the batter and the rest of the crumble. Next time:

1) I'll use a little more pear (some of mine was mushy and had to be tossed, so I ended up with less than expected) and fold it into the batter rather than putting it all in the middle.

2) I'll make less crumble topping and only use it on top.

3) I'll use a metal baking pan. I used my large, glass, deep-dish pie pan for this, 'cause something else was in the metal pan I should have used (don't remember what, but the glass pan was option #2). This meant it baked longer, even at a slightly higher temp, and the bottom and top got darker than they probably should be by the time the middle was done.

This coffee cake was delicious, though. I ate way too much of it, without a single regret. I'll definitely consider making it again, when a year or so has passed and I've forgotten the damage it contributed to my end-of-year weigh-in.