This past Wednesday was Administrative Professional’s Day and to celebrate our lovely Janis (on her last AP Day since she’s retiring soon) I wanted to make something full of her favorite: coconut. I went straight to my go-to cookbook for desserts and dessert inspiration, the Greyston Bakery Cookbook.
I must share more info about this particular cookbook as it is my favorite! This cookbook was originally sent to a friend that worked as an entertainment segment producer for a morning TV show. She routinely got new products/books/etc sent to her to check out and possibly put on the show. She passed it on to me because she knew how much I loved to bake. It was so thoughtful of her to think of me and as soon as I read the intro to the book, I knew I was going to try some of the recipes in it. What caught my attention was #1 they supply all the brownie bits for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (3 million pounds of them!) and more importantly, #2 their community development work and social mission. They hire people from the local neighborhood that are unable to get jobs, hold down stable jobs or live stable lives because they lack sufficient education or have spent time in prison. They also have The Greyston Foundation which supports 6 wonderful programs: supportive housing for (formerly) homeless and very low-income families, health services for people with HIV/AIDS, affordable housing for people who would otherwise have to move out of the neighborhood (volunteer firefighters/EMTs, teachers, artists), child care, youth programs, and community gardens.
All of these wonderful ideals and practices are backed up by seriously delicious recipes. There are recipes in here that I pretty much follow exactly, they are so good. I make the blondie brownies frequently, always with rave reviews. Another of my other favorites is the Flourless Citrus Cake, a very adult cake made with whole blood oranges. For Janis, I decided to make the Fresh Coconut Mousse Cake for its beauty and fresh coconut contents. My recipe below is adapted from the original in the Greyston Bakery Cookbook.
Fresh Coconut Mousse Cake
1 ½ cups unbleached AP flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
5 eggs, separated
1 ¼ cups white sugar
4 tbl butter, melted and cooled
½ cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp coconut extract
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp coconut extract
2 ½ – 3 cups shredded fresh coconut (1 small coconut)*
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9” cake pans.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and 1 cup of sugar on medium speed until pale yellow and thick. Add in the butter, milk, and both extracts; beat on medium until well combined. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add in the dry ingredients. Set aside.
In a very clean and dry bowl (must be clean, especially free of fat/oil or this step won’t turn out right) with a clean and dry beater, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until the whites hold stiff peaks.
In two batches, fold the egg whites into the batter, blending thoroughly but gently. To fold, swipe your spatula down the center of the egg whites and batter, then turn the bowl one-quarter turn clockwise and fold the batter/egg white that’s on your spatula gently over to the right. Repeat about 6 times and add in the rest of the egg whites.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes; the cake will pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick stuck in the center will come out clean. Cool in the pan on wire racks for 10 minutes before turning out onto racks to cool completely.
While the cake is baking and then cooling, start working on the beast coconut. I had never opened a fresh coconut before. I have vague memories of one of my parents trying to do so when I was little but don’t remember the outcome. I think poking the eyes out with a screw driver was involved. I used The Google to hunt down some methods and decided on a seemingly easy and straightforward method. Behold my hairy little friend. According to his name tag, he prefers to be called “groovy.”
If you click on the picture above you can see two lines, or “equators” running along the coconut. You want the one going from the 3 eyes around the bottom and back up the other side. Now, go get yourself a hammer. One site suggested a knife handle so I tried this trick with the handle of Wüsthof chef’s knife but that was a little scary and didn’t seem to be producing enough force. Trust me, the hammer will work and you don’t need to the Hulk to crack this baby open. Hold the coconut in your non-dominant palm and find the long equator I mentioned above. Use the hammer to give the coconut a good hard THWACK on the equator. Repeat this, turning the coconut in your hand until it cracks in half. I think I turned mine 3 full turns (6 THWACKS on each full turn) before it cracked. You don’t need to swing the hammer from 3 feet above the coconut either, just use some moderate force from about 10″ away and you’ll be peering at some glistening pure white coconut flesh in no time. I opened mine over a bowl in an attempt to save the coconut water. Oh, it all landed in my bowl, but it was full of hairy coconut hair from my THWACK-job, and in serious need of some cheesecloth straining.
Okay, that was the easy part. Now you have to get the meat out and shred it up. Put the coconut halves in the oven with the cake for about 20 minutes. The meat will turn a slightly translucent and pull away from the brown shell of the coconut. Interestingly, the coconut shell heating up smells like sourdough bread toasting in the oven. After the coconut cools off you should be able to get all the meat out of the shell. Shred the coconut any way you please: food processor, box grater, veggie peeler, whatever floats your boat. I didn’t feel like dirty-ing my food processor so I did it all by hand. I used a veggie peeler to take strips off some of the coconut, amounting to about 1 ½ cups to decorate the outside of the cake. Then I used a small-sized grater to grate up the rest for the mousse.
To make the mousse: In a clean and dry (and preferably cold) bowl, begin beating the cream on medium-high. Slowly pour in the sugar** while the mixer is running. Beat for a total of 3 – 5 minutes, until soft peaks form. Add in the coconut and vanilla extracts and beat for 1 more minute. Gently fold in the finely shredded coconut. Chill for at least an hour.
When the cake is totally cool and the mousse has set up in the fridge, it’s time to start assembling the cake! If you want to be neat, tear off 3 or 4 pieces of parchment paper (about 4″ wide) and place around the edge of your serving plate. Place one of the layers top-side up onto the serving plate and adjust the parchment paper so that it is under the cake all the way around. You’ll pull these out when you’re totally done frosting. Put about 1 cup of the mousse on the bottom layer of the cake and spread it to the edges. It should be a pretty generous, thick layer. Place the other cake top-side down onto the mousse layer. Frost the cake using the rest of the mousse.
Now for the wider coconut strips… using your hand gently pat the strips up the sides of the cake. Some of them aren’t going to stick right away and that’s okay. Keep going all the way around the cake one time, then pick up the pieces that fell off and sprinkle over the top of the cake. Any strips that are left over can be placed in bare spots or added to the top. Gently pull out all the parchment paper slips and you’ll be left with a clean plate. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour before serving to set the whole thing up. Slice with a serrated knife and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Tasting note: this cake is definitely different from your average butter-laden cake or box mix. It’s toothsome and lovely. When I first cut into it, I admit I got scared. It felt dry as I cut it. The knife didn’t just sink through the layers – I had to cut back and forth slightly.
The airy texture of the cake is beautiful from those 5 eggs in there. The eggs are also what make it a little chewy (in a good way) yet still light. Some of my co-workers liked the cake chilled, whereas I liked it better once it warmed up a bit from sitting out on the table. The lovely lady we were celebrating liked it, period. Mission accomplished!
* Feel free to cheat and use the shredded coconut you can get in a bag at the store if you want to cut out some prep time. You won’t have wide, pretty wisps of coconut but it’ll still be yummy!
** you can use the same amount of powdered sugar here and just add both to the bowl before starting to beat the cream – I just don’t particularly like the taste of powdered sugar in my whipped cream. This amount of regular white sugar will dissolve just fine into the cream.