Available dried, powdered, flaked, and creamed and as oil and “water,” coconut is another one of those chameleon-like foods that show up in supermarkets in multiple forms. The delicious and extraordinarily-nutritious fruit can be used in both savory and sweet applications and proves time and time again that it will never be a “fad” food.
Originating from Malaysia, the coconut palm can produce thousands of coconuts over the course of its 70-year life. The trees grow primarily in South America, India, Hawaii, and throughout the Pacific Islands, where they are harvested and exported all over the world. Just because you see a palm tree outside your kitchen window, doesn’t mean it will bear fruit. In fact, did you know that California palm trees do not make any coconuts at all? Nope! These trees are not fruit-producing trees and in fact, only create sterile seeds since they aren’t native to California.
Coconuts have multiple layers, all good for different things. The hard hairy exterior is discarded, or in earlier times, used as a serving dish or to carve tools out of. The interior is composed of the firm white flesh (which is used for many things, like oil, vinegar, or coconut milk). Then the liquid inside is the “water.” Currently very popular, we see coconut water at every turn—full of minerals, vitamins, and hydrating nutrients.
Shredded coconut is not naturally all that sweet. It has a mild sweetness coupled with a nutty earthiness. When harvested, it is then dried and processed to whichever means is desired. Many people confuse coconut milk and coconut water. To be clear, coconut milk is not naturally created inside the coconut; that liquid is, in fact, the water.
Coconut milk is made by combining approximately four parts water to one part shredded or desiccated coconut and then by heating it together. The mixture is then strained though a cheesecloth-lined sieve, and the pulp is squeezed to extract as much coconut flavor as possible. The resulting strained liquid is the coconut milk. Coconut milk is also readily available in canned form at well-stocked supermarkets and Asian markets.
In addition to the many coconut milk applications in savory cooking, such as curries, bisques, sauces, and Thai-inspired broths, the sweet applications are just as plentiful. One of my favorite ways coax out the exotic sweetness of coconut is to make coconut cake. Oh-so indulgent and satisfying, coconut cake is a real treat. This coconut cake is a recipe from Martha Stewart’s “Baking Handbook.” I made my own frosting, sticking with the tropical-esqe theme by including lime and tangy sour cream.
Martha Stewart’s Coconut Cake
Recipe from Martha Stewart’s “Baking Handbook,” Clarkson Potter, 2005.
- 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
- 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup packed sweetened, shredded coconut
- 2 2/3 cups sugar
- 4 large whole eggs, plus 4 large egg whites
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened coconut milk
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Butter two 9-by-9-by-2 inch cake pans; line bottom with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Place shredded coconut in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely chopped.
- Stir chopped coconut into flour mixture until combined; set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy about 4 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed.
- Add whole eggs, egg whites, and vanilla; beat until fluffy and combined.
- With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the coconut milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, mixing well after each addition.
- Divide batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean about 55 minutes.
- Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack; peel off parchment paper. Reinvert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.
- Using a serrated knife, trim tops of the cake layers to make level. Place one layer on a cake plate, and spread top with 1 ½ cups frosting. Top with remaining layer, cut side down. Using an offset spatula, spread remaining frosting over entire cake, swirling to cover in a decorative fashion. Sprinkle entire cake with coconut curls, (if desired) bending and curling as desired. Cake can be kept refrigerated, covered with a cake dome, for up to 3 days.
My Sour Cream, Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 ounces softened cream cheese
- 1 stick softened butter
- 3 ounces sour cream
- Juice of ½ lime
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 16 ounces powdered sugar
- ½ to 1 cup extra powdered sugar, if frosting seems a bit thin for frosting.
- Beat the cream cheese and butter together in a stand mixture until fluffy.
- Beat in the sour cream, lime juice, and salt.
- Slowly beat in powdered sugar.
- When all sugar is combined, beat on high for 1 minute—it should be very pale white and fluffy.
- Store in the refrigerator after you frost the cake.