Saturday, June 4, 2011

Coconut Cake with Candied Pansies

After first tasting this really moist, delicious cake at my friend Rick's house, I decided I needed to make it myself.  The recipe, taken from Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) who once used it for cupcakes in her restaurant, is not complex and makes a wonderful, rich dessert even for those that don't care for coconut.  In fact, the coconut flavor is quite overshadowed by the almond flavor and the silky cream cheese frosting.

Following Rick's advice I used the Rose Levy Beranbaum silicon cake strips for more even baking.  These help the cake to stay moist around the edges.  Without these, or some other similar wrap, the edges cook too quickly causing the cake layer to dome and dry out toward the edges.  The wraps I purchased were for 9" round pans, but I decided on three 8" layers instead.  So I used binder clips to make them fit.  If you do much cake baking, these easy-to-care-for silicon wraps should be on your wish list.

I baked the cake and frosted early the morning of my dinner party, then refrigerated it.  Approximately four hours before serving, I removed it from the refrigerator and decorated it with candied pansies and violas, then let it sit at room temperature so the frosting would once again be creamy by serving time.

For a memorable Spring or Summer cake, decorate your cake with candied flowers, as I did here.  I used pansies and violas, but any edible flower will suffice.  While it is not particularly hard to candy flowers (which simply means coating them in sugar), it is a bit tedious.

In short, you simply soak the freshly picked flowers for a minute or two in cold water to remove any dirt.  Let them dry on a paper towel at room temperature.  Then cut off the entire stem.  Then, holding the pansy by the stem nub with tweezers, use a a small paint brush to coat the flower with egg white (or dissolved gelatin or liquefied meringue powder.)  Lay each coated pansy in the bowl of superfine sugar and pour more sugar over the side facing up. Pick up each of the flower heads and gently shake the excess sugar off.  Set on a cookie sheet to dry turning every hour until crisp, about 6-8 hours.  Do not refrigerate.  Store at room temperature until ready to use.  If this is too tedious for you, candied flowers can be purchased.  Sara Parrilli, a fellow blogger has some lovely images and comments about candied flowers and cakes, which you may also like to view. 

Now, on to baking and frosting the cake.  As I've stated in other cake recipes on the blog, it is essential that ALL ingredients be added when they are at room temperature.  Here is Ina's recipe.

3/4 pound unsalted butter,  plus more for greasing the pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extra
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

1 pound cream cheese
1/2 pound unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extra
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

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Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease two 9-inch round cake pans (or three 8" rounds), then line them with parchment paper.  Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the room temperature 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 mild 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 25-35 minutes, until tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean.  (Note:  Ina says to bake for 45-55 minutes.  But Rick and I both found a much shorter baking time is necessary.  If you over-bake the cake will be dry.  When the cake tester/pick comes out clean, the cake is done.)  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 slowly mixing until just smooth (don't whip.)

To assemble, place on 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.


  1. Your cake is beautiful, David. I did a civil war show for PBS years ago and did that to fruit for a table setting... in the middle of August... lots of hair driers but gee, it looked gorgeous!

    Lovely recipe.. I love big tall cakes and the pansies are spectacular!

  2. Thanks Deana. I can't imagine doing candied fruits in the heat of August and then using hot hair dryers on them. But I'm sure your results were lovely. My guests ate the candied flowers with gusto. They just looked so pretty on the cake.