Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coconut Cream Meringue Cake

Ahhh the taste of success. It's really the cake that tastes so wonderful, but it's always nice to make a slam dunk after a horrible failure. Thank you Fine Cooking! Fine Cooking is officially my new favorite food magazine. Ok, that's a lie, Fine Cooking has been at the top of my list for quite awhile. They won me over with their big glossy pictures, and backed up their photo skills with superb recipes. This is one of those recipes. The picture in the magazine is a little better than mine, but I wanted to give you the "real thing," not some gussied up Styrofoam frosted with shaving cream (I'm on to you Fine Cooking! No way those gorgeous pictures are real. Next thing you know people are going to start claiming that no airbrushes ever touched those photo-captured fashion models).

This cake has the "Wow" factor in every respect: three fat layers, moist from sinful amounts of butter and sour cream, are buoyed on puddles of custard that has been stuffed with fluffy coconut and lightened with clouds of whipped cream. Then the whole shebang is smothered with enough meringue to kill a diabetic. I should know. THEN, the meringue is caramelized with the handy kitchen-torch I'm sure all of you have lying around in your kitchens. If you don't own a kitchen blow torch you should probably get one. Even if you only use it one time, to make this cake, it will be worth it (provided you don't somehow screw up the cake before you get to the torching).

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that this is not a trivial recipe. In addition to a beautiful, miraculously good cake, I ended up with cramped hands, sore arms, seven-thousand dirty bowls, and a kitchen splattered with egg whites and whipping cream. Not to mention I felt ill after nibbling cake batter and frosting for 3 hours. But don't let me dissuade you! The cake is freakin' delicious.

One more tip: not a good idea to put a roll of paper towels behind the cake while caramelize the meringue. Aiming flame thrower at flammable objects = bad.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
13.5 oz all-purpose flour (3 c. for those of you without baking scales)
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 c. coconut milk (shake well, room temp)
1 T. vanilla
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs at room temp
6 large egg whites at room temp (don't throw away the yolks! save 3)
2/3 c. sour cream

Coconut Filling:
2 c. heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
3/4 c. sugar
2 T. flour
1 c. sweetened flaked coconut
2 T. unsalted butter
1 T. vanilla
pinch of kosher salt

3 c. sugar
1.5 c. egg whites (about ten large) at room temp

Make Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter three cake pans and line with parchment. Butter the parchment. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a 1 c. measure, mix the coconut milk and vanilla.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl and add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat slowly to incorporate. Add half the coconut milk and beat to incorporate. Alternate adding flour and coconut milk, beating after each addition to incorporate, and ending with the flour. Beat in the sour cream.

In a clean bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks (lift out the beaters and the whites should droop a little off the ends). Dollop some egg whites into the batter and stir to loosen. Fold remaining whites into the batter gently. Divide batter between three pans and bake 25-30 minutes. A toothpick poked into the center should come out clean. Now, the recipe instructs you to position the pans so that two are on the top rack and one is on the lower rack, and no pan is directly over another. This sounds like a bunch of hooey to me, but do it just in case.

Make the Filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk yolks with 1.5 c. of the cream. In a medium saucepan, combine the yolk mixture with the flour and sugar. Cook over medium heat, whisking continually, until smooth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cooking, whisking, for 8-10 minutes. The mixture should achieve a pudding-like consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut, vanilla, and butter. Allow to cool to room temp. Whip the remaining half cup cream into soft peaks and fold into the cooled pudding.

Make the Meringue:
Set a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk the egg whites with the sugar until the sugar melts completely, 3-4 min. Rub the mixture between your fingertips to ensure complete melting. Transfer the mixture to a cool bowl and beat on low speed until the mixture becomes opaque and thickens, 4 min. Raise speed to medium and beat the mixture to barely-soft peaks. Increase speed to high and whip the mixture until thick and glossy. Peaks should stand up and curl slightly when the beater is lifted. This should take another 4 min or so.

To assemble, unmold the cakes and sandwich half the filling between two layers. Add the rest of the filling to the top layer, and place the third layer over it. Don't forget to remove the parchment. Mound the meringue on the cake. You do not need to use all of it! Dollop gobs here and there and spread it to cover the cake completely, then pile a little more in the center for good measure. You'll probably use about a third, but if you really want to you can use all of it. I just prefer to have a few crumbs of cake with my meringue.

To make the fancy little spikes on the cake, dip your fingers into the meringue and lift. Poke the cake all over until it's crazy looking.

Use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue by holding the torch a few inches from its surface and guiding the flame around the cake until it is browned to your liking.

Invite 10 people over to help you eat it because it won't keep very well! Nothing worse than slimy second-day meringue! Ok, another lie. I ate two pieces the second day. But I don't recommend refrigerating leftovers (cardinal cake sin), and since the whole thing is made of eggs I wouldn't advise keeping it too long. Shouldn't be a big problem!

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