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Coconut cake light, perfect for summer

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 27, 2014

Coconut Cake, from Ina Garten, has coconut in the batter and the frosting. (Adriana Janovich)
Coconut Cake, from Ina Garten, has coconut in the batter and the frosting. (Adriana Janovich)

Light, white and sweet with a hint of the exotic – think tropical islands – coconut cake is a Southern staple that somehow became associated with Easter feasts.

But it was August, not April, and I was looking for something summery – and simple – to take to a garden party in a friend’s South Perry backyard.

I settled on coconut cake with dried shredded coconut meat in the batter as well as the frosting.

But I didn’t want to deal with multi or even double layers, which I worried would slide off or get knocked over during the drive. So I adapted, making a single-layer sheet cake using one of Ina Garten’s signature recipes.

It was easy to make and the result was tender and moist, sweet but not cloying.

Next time, I might add to the batter a bit more shredded coconut – another ounce, maybe two – for extra texture and coconut flavor. (A few people seemed surprised when I told them there was shredded coconut in the cake, not just the frosting; they didn’t detect it.)

This time, I made a couple of slight changes to the frosting. I cut the fat by using light cream cheese, 1/2 cup nonfat sour cream and one, not two, sticks of butter – and nobody complained.

I also put shredded coconut in the frosting as well as dusted the top with additional shredded coconut because – why not?

When I arrived at the garden and found sun-ripened raspberries in a tall backyard patch, my new favorite nearly 10-year-old helped me pluck some to place around the edges of the creamy cake for a little pop of color.

Coconut Cake

From Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa at Home,” 2006

For the batter:

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans

2 cups sugar

5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup milk

4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 pound powdered sugar, sifted

6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don’t be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until just smooth – don’t whip.

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

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