When it comes to baking layer cakes, my oven refuses to cooperate. If it were human, my oven would be a spiteful curmudgeon; the stubborn sort who'd make a face and press their lips together when you try to be nice by offering him a bite of something delicious. But it's also quite wily and takes great pleasure in throwing last-minute curve balls. I tried to pull a fast one by pretending to prepare a sheet cake instead of a layer cake. Apparently, even when I don't make direct eye contact, my oven still knows what I'm doing.
The cake is sitting pretty in the photos, but it's all thanks to a clever little photo trick known as 'cropping.' In reality, some of the cake clung to the pan like gum to a shoe. But it was amazing... beyond delicious and in the end that's all that truly matters, right?
The original recipe actually called for saffron, not ginger. Unfortunately, I could not summon the amount of will needed to pay 23$ for a small bottle of what appeared to be air. But I felt as though I was entirely missing the cake's plot. Saffron is pure bliss. Truth be told, even if someone handed me a bottle of saffron and said that I could have it for free, it would still feel wrong. Something as luxurious as saffron needs to be earned. If I successfully embarked on an epic Indiana Jones quest to save a 50,000 year old relic from falling into the wrong hands, *maybe* I'd feel worthy of using saffron. Maybe. Until that happens, I'll always have ginger.
The cake is everything that people dream of when they dream of cake. It's soft, fluffy, sweet and it sticks in-between fork tines (the ultimate test in moistness). I couldn't taste the coquettish ginger in the cream filling so next time I would add a bit more; or, better yet, use fresh ginger root. The filling was sweet with a silky custard-y texture. And the frosting...seriously, what more needs to be said about coconut cream cheese buttercream frosting?
Please don't let my tales of miserly ovens and codependent cake pans deter you from trying any recipes, especially this one. I'm sure other ovens are well-adjusted.
Coconut-Ginger Cake (recipe adapted from Tyler Brown via Food & Wine)
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (be sure to shake, and stir before using)
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract (or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)
12 tablespoons (that's 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
Ginger Cream Filling
1 cup milk (I used whole)
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
3/4 pound cream cheese, softened
12 tablespoons ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut or unsweetened coconut flakes
Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 250° F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan (bottom and sides), line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter and flour the paper, gently tap out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk and almond extract (or vanilla, is using).
In the bowl of you stand mixer (or any large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the butter with 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar on medium speed until fluffy (about 3-5 minutes).
Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between additions and scrapping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Turn the speed down to low, and add the dry ingredients in 4 batches, alternating with the coconut-milk mixture. When using this method, always begin and end with the dry mixture. Set the batter aside.
In separate large, clean bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With the beater(s) still running, slowly beat in the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar until the egg whites are thick and glossy. Scrape the beaten whites into the cake batter and fold until just combined. Try not to over mix the batter. A light hand=fluffier cake!
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 35 minutes (I know this seems like a long time, but the oven temperature is low, so it's okay). Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed. [Note: My cake took about an hour and 45 minutes...but my oven is insane. Just be ready to adjust the time as needed.] Transfer the cake to a rack and allow it to reach room temperature before removing from the pan.
Prepare the ginger cream filling: in a medium saucepan, combine the milk, coconut milk and ground ginger. Bring to just a simmer over moderate heat.
In a medium heat-proof mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add the egg yolks, and whisk until smooth and slightly thickened.
While whisking constantly, slowly add about 1/4 of the hot ginger milk, once it has been incorporated, add about another 1/4 (in all, you'll be adding 1/2 of the hot milk). It's important to keep whisking at this stage so that the eggs don't scramble.
Now that it has been tempered, scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until the ginger cream is thickened and just comes to a simmer, 4 minutes. [Note: Mine took about 10 minutes to thicken, so don't worry if it still looks thin after the 4 minutes. Just be sure to keep whisking.]
Transfer the cream to a heatproof bowl and stir in the butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream (to prevent 'skin' from forming), and refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the frosting: in the bowl of your stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or any large mixing bowl, if using a hand-held), beat the cream cheese and butter together until light, creamy, and smooth. Gradually add all the confectioners' sugar until everything is well combined and the frosting is thick. [Note: if after adding all the sugar, the frosting is too thick and does not appear spreadable, add about 1 teaspoon of milk. Keep adding the milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until it's the right consistency.]
Cover and set aside while you assemble the cake!
Let the fun begin: Carefully remove the cake from the pan. I slowly turned it over onto a large plate, peeled off the parchment paper, placed another large plate on top, and gently turned it over again so that it was right side up. Using a large serrated knife, slice the cake in half crosswise to create two 9-by-6 1/2-inch layers. [Note: Don't feel bad if your cake is smaller than it should be. :) Mine was too sloppy to reach 9 by 6 1/2-inch status, so I cut away all the messy parts.]
Transfer one layer to a platter and spread the ginger cream on top. Cover with the second cake layer, flat side up. Using an offset spatula, spread the cream cheese frosting all over the top and side of the cake.
Press the *shredded coconut* onto the side of the cake and sprinkle the rest of the coconut on the top. Serve right away or lightly chilled.
*If you would like to toast the coconut, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the coconut out evenly on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes, until the tips start to turn golden brown. Stir once or twice to prevent burning. Remove the pan and allow the coconut to cool before adding it to the frosted cake.*