Baking is a luxury. There’s something about setting aside a morning to put together a cake that just feels extravagant. It isn’t practical and doesn’t check off any boxes. Taking the time to bake means setting aside all the things I should be doing and taking time for something I want to do.
I recently made this cake for a friend’s birthday. It’s a four-layer coconut cake with lemon curd and coconut pastry cream filling, topped with marshmallow buttercream frosting and toasted coconut. The tang of the lemon curd is a nice balance to the other coconut flavorings, and the flavors just brighten up a dreary winter day.
While the cake sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Each of the elements (coconut cake, coconut pastry cream, lemon curd, marshmallow buttercream) is fairly straight forward. The trick is setting aside the time to make everything and then assembling it. I made the curd and pastry cream one night, then finished the cake the next day. You could even make the cakes a day in advance and wrap them in plastic wrap until you’re ready to assemble everything.
The different elements are listed separately below, so be sure to read all the way down so you don’t miss any ingredients. You’ll need egg yolks for the pastry cream and egg whites for the cake, so be sure to save your whites if you make the pastry cream in advance.
Lemon Curd from The Joy of Cooking
1/3 cup sugar
grated zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup strained lemon juice
6 tbs. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1. In a stainless steel saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest until the mixture turns light in color. Add the lemon juice and butter.
2. Cook the ingredients over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the butter melts. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens and comes to a simmer. Simmer the curd or a few seconds, and then remove from heat.
3. Cover the curd and refrigerate until it thickens. It can be kept in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days.
Coconut Pastry Cream adapted from Willow Bird Baking
1 (14 oz) can unsweetened coconut milk (not low fat)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbs. vanilla extract
a pinch salt
3 egg yolks
2 tbs. cornstarch
2 tbs. butter
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1. Add the coconut milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract to a medium sauce pan, and heat over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the eggs yolks and cornstarch in a separate heatproof bowl and whisk them together until the mixture turns a light yellow.
2. Once the coconut milk mixture is hot and had tiny bubbles around the edges, pour a small amount into the the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot coconut milk mixture to the yolks a small amount at a time, whisking continually. You don’t want to add it too fast, or the milk will cook the yolks. Be sure to go slow here. Once about 1/2 cup of the milk has been mixed into the yolks, add the yolk mixture back to the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture.
3. Whisk the mixture over medium-high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, until it turns thick and them begins to bubble. Be sure to whisk the entire amount of time so that the pastry cream comes together. Remove from heat. Whisk in the butter, and then stir in the coconut flakes.
4. When the pastry cream has slightly cooled, cover it with plastic wrap pressed right up against the surface. This will keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to two days.
5. Before using the pastry cream, you’ll need to add the whipped cream to lighten it up. Beat the whipped cream until it forms medium peaks. Stir about 1/3 of the cream into the pastry cream, and then fold in the remaining cream. Warning: This stuff is highly addictive!
Coconut Cake adapted from Willow Bird Baking
1/2 cup + 2 tbs. milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tsp. coconut extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2¼ cups cake flour
1½ cups + 2 tbs. granulated sugar (11.35 ounces)
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
12 tbs. butter, softened but still cool
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Add a greased parchment paper circle in the bottom of each one as well.
2. Add the milk, coconut milk, egg whites, and extracts to a small bowl and whisk them together. Set the bowl aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and beat until the mixture resembles crumbs.
3. Add half of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat the mixture at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add the remaining half of the milk mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat for 30 seconds more.
4. Divide batter evenly between the cake pans, and bake for 23-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Let the cakes rest in pans for a few minutes before running a knife around the edges of the pan and inverting the cakes onto wire racks to cool.
Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting from Laura’s Snowball Cake
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 jar marshmallow creme (7 or 7.5 oz)
2 cups powdered sugar
1. Cream the butter till light and fluffy. Add marshmallow creme.
2. Whip for about 2 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat for about two more minutes.
Plus: 1/2 cup toasted coconut for decorating the cake
To Assemble the Cake
1. Using a serrated knife, cut each of the 9-inch cakes in half horizontally. You may need to level off the layers to make them flat. Add about 1/2 cup of the frosting to a plastic bag with the corner snipped off (if you have a pastry bag, feel free to use it).
2. Place strips of wax paper around the edges of the plate to catch crumbs and keep the plate clean. Set one of the layers on the cake plate, and make a thin line of frosting around the outside edge of the top of the cake, this will help contain the lemon curd. Spread half of the lemon curd on the top of the cake, keeping it inside the frosting.
3. Place a second layer on top, and pipe a thin line of frosting around the outside edge of the top. Scoop about 3/4 of the pastry cream onto the layer, and spread it evenly inside the ring of frosting. (You’ll have pastry cream left over – go ahead and eat it!).
4. Place a third layer of cake on top, and pipe a thin line of frosting around the outside edge of the top. Spread the remaining half of the lemon curd on he top of the cake. Place the fourth layer of cake on top.
5. Spread a very thin layer of the marshmallow buttercream over the cake. This is the crumb layer, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, or until the frosting is set.
6. Spread the remaining frosting on the cake, and sprinkle the top and sides with toasted coconut.