Friday, February 26, 2016

Coconut Birthday Cake

It's difficult to improve upon a coconut cake for birthday celebrations.  Over the years I've made many coconut cakes, some of which have had white cake layers, yellow cake layers and even angel food cake layers with or without coconut flakes in the batter.  In terms of frostings, I have used boiled icings, seven minute frostings and buttercreams, all of which have been showered with sweetened, flaked coconut.   Delicious!

When I was recently asked to make a birthday cake with coconut as the main ingredient, I decided to keep it simple, so I went with the all-too-familiar 1-2-3-4 cake.  This butter cake makes excellent cake layers, but it also makes great cupcakes and sheet cakes if you scale down or scale up the proportions.  With a few ingredient changes and additions, I baked scrumptious cake layers without having to add flaked coconut to the batter.

For the icing, I turned to my Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe and left out the butter.  Swiss meringue by itself is very much like a marshmallowy seven minute frosting, but there is no need to boil a sugar syrup to the soft-thread stage or beat the meringue for 7 minutes.  It's ready in under 5 minutes. 

Note:  I didn't measure out the flaked coconut that was used to garnish the sides of the cake, so use it at your discretion.  The more the merrier! 

Coconut Cake Ingredients
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup coconut milk, room temperature
Equipment: two 8x2" round cake pans, parchment paper rounds, nonstick baking spray.

Ahead of baking, spray both cake pans with nonstick baking spray (the type with flour added) and add parchment paper rounds to the bottoms of the cake pans.  Set them aside.

Center Oven Racks
Preheat to 350° F (177°C)
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a handheld mixer), cream the unsalted butter on medium speed for 30 seconds, just until lightened.  
  2. Gradually add the granulated sugar & fine sea salt in a steady stream and continue to beat on medium speed for about 4 minutes.  The mixture should be thick, fluffy & pale.  Stop and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once during this process.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on medium speed and beat until fully emulsified, about 30 seconds per egg.  Stop and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once.
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract & coconut extract.
  5. In a medium bowl, sift the all-purpose flour & baking powder.  Lower the speed to low on your mixer and add 1/3 of the dry ingredients
  6. Add half of the coconut milk.
  7. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients and then add the last of the milk.  Beat in the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients.

  8. Remove the bowl and paddle from the mixer and give the cake batter a few turns with a large spatula just to make sure everything is incorporated.  You don’t want any stray bits of butter on the bottom of the bowl or any flecks of flour.
  9. Evenly divide the batter among the prepared cake pans.
  10. Bake the cake layers for 45-50 minutes.
  11. A toothpick inserted in the middle of the layers should come out clean.  The tops should feel springy.
  12. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes.  Gently remove them onto racks and cool completely before frosting.

 Swiss Meringue Frosting Ingredients

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (optional, but recommended for this coconut cake)
  • pinch of fine sea salt

Equipment: stand mixer with whisk attachment, instant read thermometer, balloon whisk.

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, set over a pot of simmering water, whisk the sugar and egg whites.  The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the simmering water in the pot.  
  2. Whisk the sugar/egg white mixture until thickened and milky white.  
  3. Keep whisking at all times; you want the sugar to completely dissolve
  4. Using an instant read thermometer, check to see when the mixture reaches 120F.
  5. It's ready to transfer to the stand mixer when it comes to that temperature.
  6. Attach the whisk beater on the stand mixer and beat the mixture on high speed for approximately 4 minutes.  Beat in the extracts and pinch of salt. 
  7. The Swiss Meringue should be thick, white and billowy.
  8. Frost the cake layers without a moment to lose.

It's important to use the instant read thermometer to make sure the sugar/egg white mixture is ready for beating with the mixer.

A good Swiss Meringue should be thick and billowy when done.  This is now ready to use for frosting cake layers.  Work quickly before it begins to set.

Do you see how it holds a stiff peak?  It's perfect!

Lay one of the cake layers on your cake turntable (use a cardboard cake round underneath the cakes to support the layers).  Add some of the meringue frosting with an offset spatula and smooth it out to the edges of the layer.  Sprinkle it with sweetened flaked coconut.  Gently layer the other cake (center it well) and add a large dollop of frosting on it.  Smooth it out and bring it down the sides of the cake to cover completely.  Continue doing this with more frosting, turning the cake table so that you have even sides.    

Gently add sweetened, flaked coconut to the sides of the cake, packing it on so that it sticks to the Swiss meringue frosting. 

For this cake I was instructed to write out a Happy Birthday message which presented a slight problem.  How to do it on a cake with flaked coconut?  Well, the answer was to leave the top of the cake bare.  Using a wide offset spatula (or the back of a large spoon), and working from the edge of the cake toward the center, turn the cake turntable while holding the spoon on top of the frosting.  Begin to snail it toward the center until you have the desired effect. 

With a small amount of stiff royal icing tinted in any shade you want, add the birthday message along the top. 



Special shout to to Martha Stewart and her design team at Macy's for having come up with this gigantic cake spatula.  At almost 10" in diameter, it makes the transferring of layer cakes onto cake boxes or cake stands a very easy task.  I can't thank Martha enough for this ingenious tool! 

Since this cake was flying out the door, I had to package it up in a nice bakery-style cake box.  

A Coconut Birthday Cake like this is bound to be devoured by everyone.  Even if there are leftovers, make sure that you don't leave it around for too long.  

Bookmark this cake the next time you want to surprise someone with a coconut cake.  You can even make it this Easter and set the pretty cake on top of a jadeite or pink cake stand.  Colored coconut can enhance it even more this spring, but so could a few decorated sugar cookies along the sides and on top of the cake.  

Happy Baking!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Martha by Mail: Cookie Decorating Party

This wonderful idea comes from a cookie decorating kit which was once sold through Martha by Mail.  The tips, recipes and concept can be adapted for any present-day party.  Once you go through these ideas and the list of tools needed, you will be inspired to create your very own cookie decorating party at home or at school for the kids.

"The best kind of party favor is one you can take home and eat.  Beautifully decorated cookies are delicious, and even better when you and your guests have decorated them together.  Cookie decorating can be an entertaining activity at a party, particularly for children.  Adults, too, can enjoy decorating cookie favors together at a baby or wedding shower or at an afternoon party.

We've collected everything you need to host your own cookie-decorating party; disposable supplies make the cleanup easy.  Simply bake the cookies in advance, then set up a decorating table with colorful royal icing in pastry bags.    The meringue powder replaces raw egg whites in the icing recipe, so it's safe for anyone to eat, and eight paste food colorings in the kit provide lots of color options.  Your guests can carry their creations home in the cellophane bags.  There are enough supplies in this kit for up to 18 party guests."

Contents of Kit
  • 18 reusable plastic decorating tips (6 ea. of #2, #3 and #4 round)
  • 18 reusable plastic couplers
  • 50 disposable plastic pastry bags
  • 50 rubber bands for pastry bags
  • 4 oz. meringue powder
  • eight 1/2oz. pots paste food color
  • fifty 9-1/2" x 16" cellophane bags
  • 100 wire ties for cellophane gift bags
You'll also need:
  • baked cookies
  • colored royal icing
  • toothpicks
  • tall, clear glasses to hold pastry bags
  • rubber spatula to help fill pastry bags
  • offset spatula for spreading icing (optional)
  • sanding sugar (optional)

Setting up the Party

First, bake the cookies.  They can be made up to three months in advance and stored, frozen, in an airtight container.  Store them plain or flooded with a base coat of icing that has dried overnight, like the cookies shown in this booklet.  Royal icing that isn't frozen can be made up to three days in advance.

If the cookies are large, plan on about two to three per guest; if they are smaller, plan on about four or five.  

On the day of the party, cover a large table with craft paper or a washable tablecloth.  Set a place card for each guest, or write the guest's name right on the craft paper.  Put a cookie at each spot, and have a variety of extra cookies ready on plates nearby.  Place pastry bags filled with royal icing tip-side down in tall glasses;  a moistened paper towel in the bottom of the glass helps prevent the icing from drying and clogging the tip.  Be sure to have multiples of the same icing colors and cookie shapes available to make sharing easy.  

Cookie decorating should be the first activity at the party so the royal icing has time to dry (about 2 hours).  The table should be set off to the side so cookies dry undisturbed.  Be sure to label them so they go home with the right guests.

Decorating Techniques

To prepare an icing base for your cookies, you should "flood" them. Depending on the skill level of your guests, you can try other techniques such as "flocking" and "drawing out".  These techniques should be done only on cooled cookies.

Flooding:  Outline half of a cookie with icing using a pastry bag fitted with a #2 tip.  Turn the cookie 180 degrees, and outline the other half.  Let the icing set, 5 to 10 minutes.  Using a pastry bag fitted with a #4 tip, draw icing zigzags cross the cookie's surface.  Spread the icing evenly over the entire cookie with an offset spatula.  Let each iced cookie dry overnight before wrapping individually in plastic and storing in an airtight container.

Flocking:  Sanding sugar sprinkled on wet icing creates an effect like flocked velvet.  Have bowls of colored sanding sugar ready.  Draw designs in icing, then sprinkle sanding sugar on top.  Let stand for 1/2 hour before shaking off excess sugar, and several hours before brushing away stray crystals.

Drawing Out:  This is a wet-on-wet method.  Flood a cookie with icing, then pipe on a different color in one area.  Working quickly, use a toothpick to draw out icing in back-and-forth lines or swirled loops for a marbleized look.

Cookie Yields

Assembling Pastry Bags

The disposable plastic pastry bags in this kit make cleaning up easy, and they area also easy to use.  To begin, cut off the tip of the pastry bag so that the bag will fit snugly around the threaded part of the coupler.  
  1. Unscrew the coupler ring.  Push the coupler tip into the pastry bag, forcing it through the end far enough to expose the two bottom coupler threads.
  2. Position the decorating tip over the end of the pastry bag and coupler tip.  Screw the coupler ring into place over the bag and coupler to secure.
  3. Fill the pastry bag with royal icing:  "cuff" the top of the pastry bag over one hand, or place the bag, tip down, in a tall glass, and food the cuff over the rim.  Using your other hand and an offset spatula, fill the bag with royal icing.  Note:  Do not fill the pastry bag more than halfway or icing might squeeze out the wrong end while decorating.
  4. Unfold the cuff.  Gather the top with one hand and drag the thumb and index finger of your other hand downward to release any air from the bag, and force the icing through the bag and into the decorating tip.  Wish the top to close the end of the bag, and secure it with a wire tie.
Hint:  To remove air bubbles before decorating, hold the filled pastry bag over the bowl of icing and squeeze until air is released.  As bag empties, retwist top of bag to force icing down toward the tip.

Martha by Mail
Martha by Mail Cookie Decorating Party

Friday, February 12, 2016

Spring Cookies for Entertaining: Bunnies, Chicks, Butterflies and Eggs

Decorated cookies for spring-themed celebrations can be elegant and charming without being too difficult to make.  With a few shapes, and a handful of colors of royal icing and sprinkles, an entire set of cookies can be iced and ready for gift giving this spring.  Think of these if you plan on having a baby shower, an Easter luncheon or if you want to surprise the kids with cookies in their Easter baskets.

The cookies you'll see here were made for a dear friend in Dallas, Texas, who absolutely adored every single one.     

Sugar Cookies: Chick, Bunny, Butterfly & Egg

What I truly love about decorating sugar cookies is that I can express a theme or a color palette with only several cookie decorating embellishments.  As you can see, those round cookies (above) are nothing more than plainly iced cookies that have silhouettes in whimsical shapes which evoke the spring season.

Martha by Mail Baby Shower Cookie Cutters 
Easter Marshmallow Treat Cutter Set

In fact, those particular silhouettes are classic Martha by Mail.  You may recall that several years ago I was gifted some sets of cookie cutters by a generous individual.  When I saw the Easter Marshmallow Treat Cutter Set (on the right), I knew that they were going to be used a lot for making cookies. True to my word, I have made numerous cookies with them for my niece and nephews, as well as for friends.  

I can't thank Aurelia enough for her generosity!

This table set for tea is enticing with its pastel-colored sugar cookies.  Some of the cookies set on that Wedgwood platter are cut out in their original shapes, while others are bas-relief silhouettes set against square sugar cookies tinted light green.    

I think I've said it here before, but as a cookie decorator, it's always nice to keep a few cookies to myself to enjoy in the afternoons if I have a free moment. You don't need me to tell you how nice they are if served on Fire King restaurant ware jadeite.  Actually, they're good on any type of jadeite.    

Whether you're making those cookies with a sugar cookie base or a delicious chocolate cookie recipe, use something that is tasty.  Your decorated cookies will only be as good as they look if you use quality ingredients that are fresh and full of flavor.

To make these beauties, either on a plain round, scalloped round or square cookie, trace the outline of the shape (bunny, chick, butterfly or egg) with the cookie cutter, using a food-safe marker.  I like using either Wilton or Ateco pens.  Make sure the shape is centered when tracing.  

Using tinted royal icing, outline and flood the traced shape.  While wet, add eyes or dots as you see fit.  Immediately outline the entire cookie (the negative) with white or colored royal icing, and flood it.  If you're adding sprinkles, such as those pastel eggs, carefully do so while the icing is wet.  Let the cookie dry.

You can leave the cookie as is or you can enhance it even further by piping colored dots.  Alternating colored dots (egg & butterfly above) is adorable, but even shimmery pearl candies are a good way to frame the cookie.

Here is an overview of some of the cookies.  As you can see, pastel blues, pinks and yellows are nice for a baby shower, Easter celebration or even a kid's birthday party.  Tucking one into a clear cellophane bag and adding it to an Easter basket is a sure way to make the recipient feel extra special.  In fact, why not make an Easter basket with nothing but iced cookies?

Marshmallow peeps have nothing on these cookies.  Baby chicks and small Easter bunnies are festive if left plain.  A simple royal icing treatment and a dot for an eye will suffice.  

If you tint your sugar cookie base in a light green or even a pink, it can serve as the canvas for your icing design.  These cookies take the same concept of the rounds, but lack the flooded negative.  Made this way, the shapes seem to float from the cookie.  In art this is known as bas-relief or 'low relief'.    Just look at the chocolate-colored chick standing on the green grass surrounded by spring flowers.  Adorable!

Spring cookies for entertaining can be made over the course of a few hours and can be enjoyed whenever you have a gathering.  As I said, one or two of these placed in a clear cellophane bag, tied with a colorful ribbon, make gift giving an easy thing.  You can also set one at each place setting for your Easter luncheon (a perfect party favor) or you can place a few dozen of them on platters for dessert.  However you want to serve or gift them, make sure there are plenty because everyone is going to want one.  


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Colin Eastland ~ Dandy Goods

My friend Colin Eastland, who happens to be a reader of the blog, recently told me about a cookie venture of his which is extremely exciting.  The idea of baking cookies, decorating cookies and selling them to customers is something I enjoy doing on a regular basis, so when someone with creativity and superb skills in this arena catches my attention, I want to share that talent with individuals.  Colin's cookies are truly beautiful.

Heart & Heart in Hand Cookies

After seeing a few photos and a link to Colin's website, I couldn't wait to have it here on Good Things by David.  What made it even more special and really flattering to me was that Colin said he was inspired by what I do here on the blog.  

Colin lives in a historic home along the Connecticut coast line and bakes his small batch, limited-edition cookies from his kitchen.  Using collectible copper cookie cutters from Martha by Mail, as well as others he's collected over the years, Colin has set out to create tasty treats for customers in Madison, Connecticut.  

I love the packaging and the logo.

Take a look at his newly-constructed website and see what he's up to.  He promises to be making seasonal cookies for clients in the future, and I, for one, can't wait to see what he comes up with.  

Inspired by Good Things by David!

I hope these images of Colin's sweet cookies inspire you to bake and decorate some treats for your loved ones this Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Lemon cakes are by far my favorite cakes to bake and eat.  If you love lemons just as much as I do, then you don't need me to tell you about that sweet/tart element that is so enticing in lemon desserts.  It is what it is!

The combination of lemons and poppy seeds is classic.  Layer cakes covered in rich buttercream are great and festive, but when you want something simple that is sure to be a crowd pleaser, then only a bundt cake will do.  Bundt cakes are great to have on hand when company comes around, because they don't feel overly indulgent to enjoy with a cup of coffee for brunch or with some tea in the afternoon after a light luncheon.  The cake portions can be as generous or as slender as one desires.

Whether or not you choose to ice a bundt cake, sprinkle it with confectioners sugar or leave it plain, it's bound to be a welcomed ending to any meal.

This special Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is baked with the basics of butter, flour, sugar, fresh eggs and lots of fresh lemon zest.  It's up to you as to what type of lemons you use, but if you happen to have meyers, then by all means use them.  Your poppy seeds, however, must be absolutely fresh and not at all stale.  If you're unsure about the ones in your pantry, go to the supermarket and pick up a new batch.

With the many shapes and sizes of bundt pans from which to choose at baking supply stores, it's fun using the more unusual ones for special occasions.  I recently added a square bundt pan from Nordic Ware to my baking pans, and thought: why not use it for that tasty lemon poppy seed cake I've been making for the past several weeks?

Let's bake a cake that every lemon connoisseur is going to enjoy.  With a handful of ingredients and a few minutes of preparation, you can have a cake worthy of your best cake stand and cake dome.

This is what I did for my family.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Equipment: 10-12 cup bundt pan, buttered and floured or sprayed with nonstick baking spray.

NOTE: A smaller bundt pan, such as the square Nordic Ware pan, should only be filled ⅔ full of batter (you will have leftover batter if using this cake pan; if using the larger ones, like the 'Anniversary Pan', you can use the entire batch of batter).  Leftover batter can be baked into cupcakes. Bake cupcakes 18-20 minutes.

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350° F (177°C)
  1. In a bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Keep it ready. 
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until lightened, about 30 seconds.  Add the salt, sugar & lemon zest, and cream on medium speed until light and creamy 4-5 minutes.  Stop and scrape down the bowl and paddle at least once during this process.  
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until fully incorporated and emulsified.
  4. Beat in the lemon and vanilla extracts.  
  5. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and paddle attachment.  
  6. On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients with the sour cream; add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/2 of the sour cream, and so on. Begin and end with the dry ingredients.  
  7. Add the poppy seeds and blend well.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake the cake for 50 minutes to one hour.  The cake should feel springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean when it’s completely baked.
  9. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes;  gently flip and remove the cake from the pan and cool completley. 
  10. Frost as desired. 

Simple Lemon Icing
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons strained lemon juice
  • poppy seeds
Mix confectioners sugar with 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and begin to thin it out by the 1/4 teaspoon with more lemon juice until you have a very thick, yet pourable icing.  Sprinkle with poppy seeds while the icing is wet.  Let set.

If you can manage to resist slicing up the cake before company arrives, keep it in a cool environment so that the icing doesn't run into problems.  For this occasion I remembered that I had a large 19th century blown glass cake dome, so I used it to cover the cake while it waited.  Believe me, it was so hard to resist. 

When we finally did slice into it, I was pleased with how light the crumb was (sifting is very important as is not overmixing) and what a great flavor it had. Anything made with sour cream or even buttermilk comes out quite tender and delicious.  

There you have it.  A very good lemon bundt cake with the added bonus of having tasty poppy seeds in both the batter and the icing, will have people asking for seconds.  Whether you choose to enjoy a slice with a cup of coffee, some tea or even some milk, be sure to eat every last crumb.  A cake like this will keep for a couple of days under a cake dome or tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, but why not share it with people so that you have no leftovers.  Have fun baking this cake and do let me know what you think!