Friday, August 8, 2014

Coconut Sheet Cake

Over the weekend, I had a sudden desire for something fluffy and light and pretty.  I think it may have had something to do with my craving for an intense chocolate ice cream, a craving that I finally managed to satisfy more than I thought possible.  I knew that the answer to my fluffy dilemma could be easily resolved with cake, the only other thing that can even come close to matching my infatuation with ice cream.  

And when I say cake, you should know that I mean cakes of the simple kind, the kind that I can whip up, bake, and be eating as soon as it's cooled down.  I mean, I love assembling and attempting to beautifully frost a giant layer cake as much as the next person, but I'm typically much too impatient for that kind of behavior.  I like immediate rewards when it comes to baking, which is why I love a good, simple cake.  Easy yogurt cakes, bundt cakes, loaf cakes, snack cakes, cakes with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar- those are the cakes I crave.  So this past weekend, I figured it was high time to make another simple, easy cake.  As for flavor, I decided to borrow elements from a not-simple-layer-layer cake that I've been meaning to make for a long time but always end up choosing to make something a little less involved.  


Coconut is one of those polarizing ingredients that people either love with a passion (me) or hate with a passion (my sister).  I adore coconut in all forms, whether it's in curry, Colombian-style arroz con coco, coconut desserts, you name it.  If it has coconut, I'll more than likely eat it and enjoy it.  My sister on the other hand avoids all things coconut as much as she can, and since she is an important taster for things I make for the blog, I unfortunately tend to avoid baking too much with coconut.  When I set aside time to make my simple cake this past weekend, however, I decided to completely ignore her aversion to coconut and just make a damn coconut cake anyway.  As soon as the idea popped into my head, it just wasn't going to leave. 

I wanted to make a coconut sheet cake rather than a loaf cake or a Bundt.  There's something about sheet cakes that I just love.  They're super easy to make, require only minutes to frost, and can easily feed a crowd.  Sheet cakes have a kind of retro feel to them, and I wish they were made more often.  I thought a coconut sheet cake would work really nicely, and while this version wasn't actually made in a sheet pan, it still had the same crowd-feeding ability as a more traditional sheet cake.  Because it's made in a smaller pan, the cake bakes up taller, meaning you can get away with serving smaller squares of cake that are still filling portions. Rather than topping off the cake with buttercream, I decided to make a freshly whipped topping with a hint of coconut instead.  Heavy cream is whipped with a little cream of coconut for sweetness and flavor, and then slathered on top of the cooled cake.  A heavy sprinkling of toasted coconut and some fresh fruit finished off the cake, and this coconut sheet cake was ready to serve!  

This cake was a perfect success. It was light and fluffy and had a delicate crumb, and the simple fresh whipped cream topping was a great way to finish the cake.  Buttercream can sometimes feel a little heavy, which is why I thought a light and airy whipped cream would be the perfect way to complement the light cake beneath it, but if you like buttercream more, feel free to use it instead.  Additionally, you could also bake this cake in a half sheet pan to have a more traditional sheet cake; just be sure to adjust the baking time because the cake will come out much thinner.   Because the cake has whipped cream on top, keep the cake refrigerated if you plan on serving it later in the day, but remember to take the cake out a little while before serving it to allow it to come back to room temperature. This coconut sheet cake is a foolproof solution for those days that you need an easy dessert for summer gatherings.  Enjoy!

Coconut Sheet Cake
cake recipe from Baked Bree; cream recipe adapted slightly from Bon Appetit


For the Coconut Cake

3 cups cake flour (I used Softasilk)

1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/4 cups coconut milk

For the Whipped Topping

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2-3 tablespoons cream of coconut (to taste)

3/4 cup shredded coconut, lightly toasted
Fresh fruit of your choice for topping (optional)


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick spray and set aside.

Combine the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Sift twice, and set aside.  In a bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside (I used a hand mixer for this).

In the bowl of a standard electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (you can do this while you beat the egg whites).  Once the butter and sugar have been creamed, beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in both extracts to combine.  Gradually mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the coconut milk, to the mixer,  making sure to begin and end with the flour mixture.  Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Smooth out the top with an offset spatula. 

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top of the cake is golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the whipped topping.  In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream and the desired amount of cream of coconut.  Beat the mixture until medium peaks form.  Chill the mixer bowl in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes prior to whipping the cream; it'll whip up beautifully this way.  

Once the cake has cooled completely, spread the whipped cream on top in a thick layer and sprinkle with toasted coconut.  Enjoy!

Makes 1 9x13 inch cake


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