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Coconut Palm Cream Cake

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Coconut sugar is made from the nectar of the coconut palm. It has subtle hints of coconut flavor with nuances of maple and coffee. In Southeast Asia, it is used in both savory and sweet cooking. Here I’ve used it in a Western-style layer cake, splashed with rum and lime juice and filled with whipped cream and coconut. Instead of the rum and lime juice, you could brush the cake with ¼ cup rum mixed with ¼ cup strong coffee, or just use about ¼ cup straight rum. If you want to be extra festive and fancy, use a propane torch to caramelize the top.

NotesEquipment: Two 9-inch round cake pans; A propane torch (optional).

To use molded lumps of hard palm sugar instead of the gooier coconut sugar, grate the hard sugar and use 1 firmly packed cup (7 ounces, the same weight as 2/3 cup coconut sugar).

Serves12

Cooking Methodbaking

CostModerate

Total Timea day or more

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionBuffet, Family Get-together, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationpeanut free, soy free, vegetarian

Equipmentelectric mixer

Mealdinner, tea

Moodfestive

Taste and Texturebuttery, creamy, nutty, rich, sweet

Type of Dishcake

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup (1.4 ounces) unsweetened shredded dried coconut
  • 2¼ cups (8 ounces) sifted (before measuring) cake flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) butter, slightly softened
  • 2/3 cup (7 ounces) coconut sugar (see Note)
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2/3 cup (1.4 ounces) unsweetened shredded dried coconut
  • Powdered sugar for dusting or 1/3 cup grated palm sugar or ¼ cup coconut sugar to caramelize the top of the cake

Instructions

  1. To make the cake, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the sides of the cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

  2. To toast the coconut, set a plate near the stove. Spread the coconut in a wide heavy skillet and stir constantly over medium heat until it begins to color slightly. Turn the heat down (once coconut is hot, it burns easily) and continue to stir until most of the coconut is light golden brown flecked with some white. (I often take the pan off the heat a little early and continue to stir, letting the residual heat from the pan toast the coconut more slowly and evenly.) Immediately scrape the coconut onto the plate to stop it from browning, and cool completely before using.

  3. Mix the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt, then sift it three times. Set aside.

  4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together briefly to combine the whites and yolks. Set aside.

  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer or another large bowl, combine the butter, coconut sugar, 1/3 cup sugar, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed (or high speed if using a handheld mixer) until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, taking about 2 minutes to add all of them.

  6. Add one-quarter of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until no flour is visible. Stop the mixer and add one-third of the milk. Beat just until it is absorbed. Repeat twice, adding another quarter of the flour and then another third of the milk each time. Finally add the last of the flour and the toasted coconuts. Scrape the bowl as necessary, and beat only enough to incorporate the ingredients after each addition.

  7. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and spread it level. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the layers in the pans on a rack for about 5 minutes, then unmold and cool completely (right side up) on the rack.

  8. Combine the lime juice, rum, water, and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

  9. To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a plate. Brush it with about one-third of the rum syrup.

  10. To make the filling, whip the cream with the sugar until it just holds a very soft shape—it should seem slightly underwhipped. Fold in the (untoasted) coconut. Spread all of the coconut cream over the moistened cake layer. Brush the least good-looking side of the second cake layer with half of the remaining rum syrup. Set the cake moist side down on the coconut filling. Brush the top of the cake with the remaining rum syrup.

  11. Wrap the cake carefully, to keep its shape. Refrigerate for at least several hours, or overnight, to allow the coconut to absorb moisture from the cream.

  12. To serve, you can simply sift powdered sugar over the cake just before serving, or you can top the cake with caramelized palm or coconut sugar up to 3 hours before serving: If using grated palm sugar, sprinkle it over the top of the cake as evenly as you can. If using gooier coconut sugar (impossible to sprinkle and too thick to spread), heat it very gently in a small saucepan until it flows like honey, then pour it over onto the top of the cake and spread it with a heated icing spatula.

  13. To caramelize the top, sweep the propane torch all over the sugared surface, always moving it and keeping enough distance to avoid scorching, until the sugar melts, bubbles, and finally turns reddish amber and clear. If you don’t get to reddish amber, the sugar will not harden when it cools. Before serving, refrigerate the cake for at least 15 minutes to harden the top; or refrigerate for up to several hours, and remove from the refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes before serving.

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