Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Look at February 2012

February was a month filled with delicious Good Things.  I kicked off the month of February with a most beautiful cookie.  Hearts were shaped out of meringue & flooded with sweet cherry jam, making them perfect for any sweetheart on Valentine's Day.  Although I'm not one to celebrate this holiday in a big way for my special one, I still like to mark it by making something delicious.  These meringue hearts certainly fit the bill & were eaten rather quickly at our house (I also shared them!). 

My collection of copper cutters from Martha by Mail was wonderfully displayed on Martha Moments at the beginning of the month.  Not only was it was fun sharing those images with you, it also gave me the opportunity to take stock of what I have.  I hope the next generation of bakers in my family appreciate this cherished collection in the future. 

After decorating several dozen cookies for a private birthday party, it occurred to me that I hadn't shown you the tools I use for royal icing.  It's important to be organized when making & creating cookies for a crowd, because it keeps the process streamlined and stress free.  I know some of you have profited from that posting, so go to it if you plan on creating cookies for your next gathering.

By the middle of the month, I had already marked my calendar for aunt Marg's birthday luncheon.  The meal itself, which was very good, should have been photographed, but it was the cake I especially wanted to capture.  Aunt Marg loves the Lemon Curd Cake I make every year because it's so good.  This year, however, I thought I would change things just a tad for her.  Knowing how much she loves curd, I decided on trying an orange one instead and I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it came out.  I then went through the many types of cakes that would complement this type of filling.  I was craving a coconut cake, so I quickly turned to those types of recipes among the dozens of cookbooks I own; I ended up making my own though.  A fluffy seven minute frosting was the natural choice for the birthday cake.  Adding orange juice & zest certainly perked up the flavor and made it perfect for this cake.  

Let's look back at February!

These little jewels are deliciously simple to make & so beautiful.

Don't wait for next Valentine's Day to make a batch.  I encourage you to bake these the next time you want someone in your life to feel loved & special. 
In February, we were graced with a bit of snow.  This was only a slight dusting, but nevertheless, the wintry landscape was beautiful this particular morning.  Looking from my front porch onto the top of the hill, you can see the snow covered trees and winding driveway.

I love this evergreen next to our home.  Do you see the large trunk resting next to it?  That maple tree came down in one hard crash onto the house awhile back!

This so called mystery tree (at the time of my post, I hadn't investigated it closely) is a beautiful holly.  Very nice.

I just love being under snow as it falls off the trees.
I thought I'd show you this shot.  In order to prop up these giant copper cookie cutters (some are at least 8"), I used plastic couplers from my Royal Icing Kit!  They worked, without being detected in the photographs.

Aren't the cutters gorgeous?  I've had many emails regarding the worth of these cutters.  A pair in good condition, with all of the original print material will command a price in the hundreds (many start at around $300).  Do you notice how not one plastic coupler is showing?  Go read Andrew's blog entry regarding my cutters.  It's very well written. 
This Royal Icing Kit is a must-have for those who decorate cookies year round. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I prefer using clear piping bags for royal icing.  No squeeze bottles for me!
I love citrus curds & this one is especially good.  Buy a few navel oranges at your supermarket (don't forget a lemon or two!) and make this recipe.  Any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week. 

Don't tell anyone that I sometimes enjoy it by the spoonful.  Actually, it's very scrumptious if you add some to plain, non fat Greek yogurt
Billowy, foamy, light, yet wonderfully sweet.  That's what Seven Minute Frosting is all about.  I know, this is one of those types of icings that don't keep well, so make it when you know people will eat the cake (good on cupcakes too!) that same day or the next at the latest.

I just LOVE this batter.  I can still remember exactly how fragrant it was. 

Glossy egg whites for folding into cake batters should hold a good, strong peak.  They should not be stiff & dry.  Overbeating will cause the whites to break down, so make sure you test them before you reach this point. 

When baking cakes or cookies, your mixing bowl should look like this before putting the item into your oven.  There shouldn't be ANY batter leftover.  Using a rubber/silicone spatula to scrape out every last bit should help you along quite nicely. 

Golden on the bottom, but tender and white on the inside is what you'll expect from these layers.  If you look closely at this photograph, you can see a few of my Great Big Mixing Bowls in the dish drainer. 

One word: Yummy!

Look closely.  You can see flecks of fragrant orange zest in the icing.

I had placed the cake at the end of a table before proceeding with the rest of my photography.  I showed great restraint during the photo shoot.  I didn't once take a bit of coconut or any of the frosting.

Uh oh!  Ms. Kitty decided to investigate.  When kitty cat thinks this might be something she'll eat, it has to be good!  Don't worry, I quickly removed her from the area & didn't let her get any.

One last sniff from the other side...just to be sure it meets with her exacting standards.
A closeup of the milk glass cake stand (that's Martha by Mail & I'll be sure to blog about them in the future) and the large flakes of natural coconut. 

Care for a slice?  Make this cake soon.  You're going to love it.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Coconut Cake with Orange Curd

Coconut cakes are among my favorite layer cakes for birthdays or other special occasions.  The contrast in textures between the cake, filling, frosting & grated coconut can be varied depending on your tastes.  Many of us like uncomplicated coconut cakes with nothing but the flavor of this fruit (or nut, or seed, depending on how you classify it) shining through.  There are times when only this type of cake will do.  I love them.  I love making them.  I also love enhancing cakes with complementary flavors whenever possible, because it can be fun and unexpected for the lucky recipient.

Orange pairs beautifully with coconut and this particular cake gets plenty of it in the filling and icing.  A silky Orange Curd is sandwiched between two scrumptious Coconut Cake Layers ,which are then swathed in fluffy, Orange Seven Minute Frosting.  Generously sprinkled with thick shavings of unsweetened coconut, the cake is every bit as delicious as it looks.  It's very easy to assemble and is perfect for a birthday, a dinner party or a weekend luncheon. 

Coconut Cake with Orange Curd

~ This cake was made for aunt Marg's birthday. ~

Coconut Cake: The Components
3/4 cups Orange Curd
3 cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes

Before icing the cake, place 4 strips of wax paper or parchment paper on your cake stand, pedestal or plate to keep it free of frosting while decorating.  Arrange 1 Coconut Cake Layer centered on the stand, either face up or face down.  If your layers are slightly domed, you can trim them to make them level. 

Place 1 cup of the Orange Seven Minute Frosting all around the perimeter of the first layer; you're building a damn.  I gather a bit of icing with a metal offset spatula and release it along the edge.  The icing behaves beautifully, so it won't slide off.

Fill the layer with the 3/4 cups of Orange Curd and smooth it out. 

Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of the coconut flakes over the layer.  This step is completely optional, but I like the contrast in texture & flavor.

Carefully arrange the second cake layer over the first & center it.  The orange curd will anchor the layers, while the seven minute frosting will keep the curd itself from spilling down the sides.

Quickly frost the layers with the remaining seven minute frosting.  You don't need to be too careful or professional at this point, because the coconut flakes are going to cover everything.

Place the cake stand over a rimmed baking sheet.

Carefully begin packing in the coconut flakes all around the top & sides of the cake.  If you encounter any big clumps of coconut, simply break them apart before adding them to the icing.  The rimmed baking sheet will keep any stray flakes from going all over your countertop. 

Let the frosting set for about 10 minutes before removing the strips of waxed paper.  What you'll end up with is a perfectly iced cake and a perfectly clean cake stand. 

The cake will keep on your counter for several hours. 

Slicing into the cake reveals all that sweet goodness. 


Although I think this cake is best eaten the day it's assembled, leftovers will keep for a day in the refrigerator, tightly covered.  The cake layers themselves can be made a day in advance or even frozen (well-wrapped) for up to a month.  The orange curd can also be made a few days ahead, leaving only the simple Seven Minute Frosting to make the day of your celebration.  Assembling the cake, as you just saw, is quick and easy.  Make my Coconut Cake with Orange Curd, the next time you want to mark a special occasion with something sweet & delicious.  Bon Appetit!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Coconut Cake Layers

A tender and delicious white butter cake enhanced with thick, unsweetened coconut milk best describes these fragrant layers.  Using a good quality, unsalted butter (I love Plugra) and a bit of pure vanilla & almond extracts, helps round out the flavors of my recipe.  Stiffly beaten egg whites lighten up the batter and give it volume, while keeping the cake as white as snow after baking.

My Coconut Cake Layers can be iced with an array of frostings & be sandwiched with your choice of fillings.  Imagine using a traditional crème pâtissière in between the cakes and covering them in a rich buttercream.  Perhaps you enjoy the flavors of coconut and chocolate.  In that case try enrobing the layers in a  delicious chocolate frosting  while filling them with a simple, but delicious whipped cream flavored with a bit of Kahlua.  If you want to keep it simple, however, a homey seven minute frosting sprinkled with coconut is the way to go.  Whatever you decide to use, I can almost guarantee that you're going to fall in love with this recipe.  Although the cake I baked is long gone,  I still dream of these layers.  I hope you make them soon! 

Fragrant Coconut Cake Layers.

The Ingredients
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups + 1/4 cup granulated sugar (keep the measurements divided)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
Baking Pans: two 8x2" round cake pans, buttered & floured and lined with parchment.

With racks centered, preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a medium sized bowl, sift the all-purpose flour, baking powder & salt; keep this ready.  In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the 2 sticks of unsalted butter for one minute, on medium speed, until lightened.  I always like creaming & making my butter malleable before adding the sugar.  Stop the mixer & scrape down the bowl with a silicone spatula.

Gradually add the 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar on medium speed until incorporated.  Beat the mixture until very light & creamy, a good 5 minutes.  It's very important to cream this well, for this amount of time, because you want to give the layers a light, tender crumb.  Stop the mixer at least once or twice to scrape down the bowl during this process.

On low speed alternately add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, along with the unsweetened coconut milk in 2 batches; begin and end with the dry ingredients.  Add the vanilla extract & almond extract.  Mix the batter just until combined.  Stop your machine and set the batter aside. 

In a clean bowl, add the egg whites and begin whipping them with a whisk attachment on medium speed.

Beating on medium speed will allow the eggs whites to break down slowly.  Let the eggs get foamy before adding the 1/4 cup reserved sugar.

As soon as the whites are foamy, raise the speed to high & begin adding the sugar in a steady stream.  You don't want to overwhelm the egg whites, so do this gradually and let them trap as much air as possible.  Having your egg whites at room temperature will also allow them to whip to their fullest.  Beat to stiff, glossy peaks.  Be careful (!), this should only take about 2 minutes.     

Stop your machine and remove the attachment.  Do the eggs keep a stiff peak like this?  If the peak droops, beat a little more and check again.  If the egg whites are stiff, they are ready.

With a large spatula, fold in 1/4 of the egg whites to lighten the batter.  Again you don't want to overwhelm the butter mixture or deflate the egg whites too much, so add them in stages.  Place a large dollop of egg whites into the bowl & cut them into the batter from the middle.  Take the spatula and scoop the batter to the left & around the entire bowl, while giving the entire bowl a 1/4 turn.  Repeat this process until only a few streaks of egg whites are visible.

Do you see how the batter has lightened in texture, while remaining voluminous?  This is good folding.  Continue folding the remainder of the egg whites in the same manner.  Do this in 3 more batches.  Mix just until the egg whites get incorporated into the batter. 

The finished cake batter will be light & perfectly smooth.  Folding the egg whites carefully keeps them from breaking down too much.  This is what's going to give your cake layers lift & structure as they bake. 

Without a moment to lose, quickly divide the batter among the 2 prepared pans and smooth out the tops with your spatula.  Promptly place the pans into the preheated oven.

Bake the layers for approximately 27-30 minutes.

The layers will take on just a bit of color on top, they won't get golden.  A fully baked layer will be springy & spongy in the middle (there should be no wobbling).  If inserting a bamboo skewer or cake tester, it should come out clean.  Another indicator of doneness is having the layers pull away from the sides of the pan (picture above).  Leave the cakes in their pans to cool over racks for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, flip the pans & remove the layers.  Peel away the parchment paper and reinvert the layers onto another rack.  Let cool completely.  Fill & frost as desired.