I talk alot about the influence my grandmother has had on my cooking/baking. While my mom cooked alot (and quite well) as I was growing up, she never enjoyed it and avoided it when she could. My grandmother is now at the stage where she enjoys having other people cook for her, after years of cooking for others.
My grandfather, on the other hand, is starting to cook more and more, to take over for my grandmother. He's who I associate certain foods and stories with. Corn, coconut and banana cream pies are foods that remind me of him. I'm sure I've mentioned before that he brags of being in school and trading all this desserts for other people's bowls of cream corn. He once admitted to shoplifting a bag of shredded coconut so he could eat it straight from the bag. He's already a silly and colorful guy to begin with, something these kinds of stories highlight.
And he absolutely cannot seem to go without having dessert every night.
It's March break here now, the week my kids get to spend with their teenager uncle, while my mother goes off for her yearly trip. This year she talked my grandparents into going with her, so early, early (thank you cousin M for being the one to drive them to the airport at that ugh hour!) off they flew. Before they went, I send them off with a little treat, geared towards my grandfather, but shared among everyone. A rustic, decadent coconut cake.
For a change, I didn't go straight to Dorie for this one. She actually didn't have what I wanted in this cake. Ina (aka The Barefoot Contessa), however, did. A rich coconut cake that was both simple and decadent. Simple in that it uses simple ingredients, nothing fancy, yet decadent in that it uses alot of good ingredients. Butter, eggs, coconut, cream cheese and good vanilla.
The cake comes together fairly quickly, bakes to a dense, golden color, with flecks of coconut throughout it. Assembly can be fancy, but need not be. Slather the cake with the cream cheese icing - be generous, there is lots to work with!
Oh it is rich! And it makes alot of cake! I served 5 people slices on Friday night, and sent off a huge portion to my cousin, his wife and kids, and still had just under half a cake left (to be devoured by the rest of us the next day.)
While this cake is good cold, it really does taste much better if you give it time to come to room temperature.
I had already planned on a welcome back treat for the family (though after a week in Mexico, I really think I need the treat, not them!) A birthday cake is in the plans, for my step-father, but I can probably manage another grandpa-style treat.
After all, there are going to be alot of us to feed, and I'd hate to run out of desserts!
Coconut Cake from The Barefoot Contessa At Home (page 177)
3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more fro greasing the pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract (I didn't use this but doubled the vanilla instead)
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
For the Frosting
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.
Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.
For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!)
To assemble, place one layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.