Coconut Cream Party Cake by Jessica Battilana
Episode 6: Jessica Battilana
Coconut Cream Party Cake
From Jessica Battilana's Repertoire: "There’s a line from a Bonnie Raitt song that I love, when she sings that in her 'sweet dreams' she's in a bar on her birthday, 'drinking salty margaritas with Fernando.'
Well, I like salty margaritas, but in my sweet dreams it’s my birthday and someone has baked me this cake.
I have spent a lot of my life trying to develop a recipe for the ultimate yellow cake, one that tastes like it came from a mix. This is a strange goal, I realize, to attempt a homemade version that replicates something you can get out of a box, but I think a lot of us have nostalgia for cakes with that distinctive flavor and delicate crumb. It’s the taste of childhood birthday parties, the specific flavor of joy.
I’m happy to say that after years of fine-tuning, this is the recipe that I (and maybe you?) have been waiting for. It’s incredibly tender, rich but not dense, and tastes strongly of vanilla.
Coconut pastry cream is sandwiched between the layers and then the cake is frosted with a silky, lighter-than-average ganache that’s made with water instead of cream (an idea for which I must give the celebrated cookbook author David Lebovitz credit). It’s like a Mounds bar in cake form, and it makes people so happy when you trot this masterpiece out. Said one of my recipe testers, “I was blown away by this recipe. The tender crumb on the cake, the rich but light frosting, the easy pastry cream—I could not get enough.”
MAKES one eight-inch layer cake
FOR THE COCONUT PASTRY CREAM:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups finely shredded sweetened flaked coconut
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
FOR THE CAKE:
- 2 ¼ cups cake flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup milk, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
FOR THE GANACHE:
- 4 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, chopped
- 4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate (64 percent), chopped
- ⅓ cup water
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
- ¼ cup unsweetened large-flake coconut, lightly toasted, for garnish (optional)
Make the pastry cream:
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the milk and coconut. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the tip of a knife to scrape out the seeds; add both seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour. While whisking, drizzle about a third of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, then slowly whisk the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking, until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble, 4 to 5 minutes
Remove from heat, stir in butter, and remove and discard the vanilla bean. Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly, then cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap, pressing it down directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours. The pastry cream can be made ahead and kept, refrigerated, for 2 days.
Make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the center of the oven. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper, and grease and flour the parchment. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a bowl. In a second bowl, stir together the milk and sour cream.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until soft and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Mix in the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing between each addition, then add the egg yolks and mix just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Add a third of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add half the milk–sour cream mixture and mix. Add half the remaining dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Add the remaining milk–sour cream mixture and beat just until combined, then add the remaining dry ingredients
and mix just until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, with a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and give the batter one final stir.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans, transfer them to the oven, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden around the edges and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan; a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then gently turn the layers out, peel off the parchment, and let cool completely. The cakes can be made up to 1 day in advance. When the layers are cool, tightly wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. The cooled layers can also be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to a month.
While the cake bakes and cools, make the ganache:
- In a medium bowl, combine the chocolate and water. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water, and heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill, stirring occasionally, until the ganache has the texture of peanut butter, about 20 minutes (alternatively, you can let the ganache cool at room temperature until it reaches the desired consistency, about 1 hour; the refrigerator just speeds up the process). The ganache can be made ahead and refrigerated; let come to room temperature before using.
To assemble the cake:
- With a large serrated knife, cut each cake layer in half lengthwise to create 2 thin layers (Note: It can be easier to cut a chilled—or even frozen—cake.) Set a cake layer on a cake stand or large plate. Spoon a third of the chilled pastry cream onto the layer and, with an offset spatula, spread into a thin, even layer, stopping just short of the edges. Top with a second layer of cake, top the cake with half the remaining pastry cream, and spread it into an even layer. Repeat this layering until you’ve used all the pastry cream and all 4 cake layers, leaving the final layer of cake plain.
Spoon half of the ganache frosting on top of the cake and, with an offset spatula, spread over the top and sides of the cake in a thin layer. Spoon the remaining frosting on the top of the cake and spread evenly over the cake. Press the toasted coconut, if using, onto the sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake at least 15 minutes before serving; if you’re refrigerating the cake longer, allow some time for the frosting to come to room temperature before serving. With a sharp knife, cut the cake into thick wedges. Celebrate!
Excerpted from REPERTOIRE Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Battilana.
Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.