Thomas Keller’s Coconut Cake

PUBLISHED ON: 04.07.2011

I thrive in simplicity except when it comes to a Thomas Keller recipe.  There is nothing simplistic about his recipes. When you take the time, read the details carefully and make a point of following the directions, your final product is going to turn out amazing.  You will be thankful that you followed each and every step.  Since I am rarely capable of following directions, and detail can give me a headache, all the credit for this out of this world coconut cake belongs to my husband….Cocktail extraordinaire and family baker.

The ingredients in this cake are surprisingly simple but the directions are lengthy. Don’t shy away from this recipe.  The directions are mostly, “how to” which reflects the science and art of baking.  You will learn a lot and finish with an awesome cake.

A white cake, with the lightness of angel food, but plenty of butter is added for richness and flavor.
Coconut Cake
Serves 10-12
Recipe from Thomas Keller

One 15-ounce can coconut milk (not “lite”)
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup egg whites, at room temperature (from about 6 large eggs)
2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
Meringue (recipe below)
Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan and whisk to blend.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the milk has reduced to 1 cup.
Meanwhile prepare an ice bath in a medium bowl and set a small metal bowl on top.
Pour the coconut milk into the small bowl.  Once the milk is cool, remove from the ice bath and stir in the vanilla.
Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees F.  Butter two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line with parchment paper, butter the parchment, and coat with flour, tapping out the excess.
Sift the cake flour and baking powder together into a bowl.  Stir in the salt.  Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the whites on medium speed, until they begin to froth.  With the mixer running, slowly add 3/4 cup of the sugar, then increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until medium peaks form.
Remove from the mixer.  (if you have only one bowl, transfer the whites to another bowl and wash out the mixer bowl.)  Switch to the paddle attachment.
Put the butter in the mixer bowl and beat on medium-low to medium speed to soften, about 1 minute.  Scrape down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, add the remaining 1-1/4 cups sugar, and mix on medium speed until light and creamy, stopping to scrape the sides as needed.  3-4 minutes.
From this point, it is important not to over mix the batter.  Each addition does not have to be completely incorporated before you add the next; there may be some visible streaks remaining.  Add half the dry ingredients to the butter and mix on medium-low to medium speed.  Add half of the coconut milk and mix.  Add half of the remaining dry mixture, then the remaining milk and finally the remaining dry mixture.  Remove the bowl from the mixer.  Scrape down the sides and the bottom to incorporate any ingredients that may have settled in the bottom of the bowl, and mix with the spatula so there are no longer any streaks.
Top the batter with one-third of the whites and fold in gently.  Gently fold in another third of the whites and finally the remaining whites.
Divide the batter evenly between the pans and gently smooth the tops.  Bake until a cake tester or wooden skewer comes out clean, 26 to 28 minutes.  Let the layers cool on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out of the pans and let cool completely.  
Meanwhile, spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast lightly in the oven, 6 to 8 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl and let cool completely.
Lay strips of parchment paper around the edges of a cake stand or serving plate to catch any excess frosting or coconut when you decorate the cake.  Position one of the cake layers in the center.  Spread a 1/3-inch-thick layer of meringue evenly over the cake layer.  Sprinkle a light layer of the coconut over the meringue.  Top with the second cake layer.  Spread the remaining meringue evenly over the sides and top of the cake.  Sprinkle the remaining coconut on the sides and the top.  Pull away and discard the pieces of parchment paper.  This cake is best served the day it is made.
Recipe for Meringue:
1-1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons plus teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine 1- 1/4 cups of the sugar and the water in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat to 220F., stirring at first to dissolve the sugar.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until they begin to look foamy, then gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar.  Increase the speed to medium-high and whip until the whites form soft peaks.
With the mixer running, slowly add the sugar syrup, pouring it down the side of the bowl to avoid the whisk.  Add the vanilla, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool.

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