By Request
Betty Shimabukuro

A coconut cake from the Prince Court is dressed up with strawberries, chocolate and spun sugar.

Coco nutty

A light, white coconut cake
is a pure reflection of
summer's sweetness

In places where it snows, a coconut cake is a warm-weather dessert, a reminder of the tropics, palm trees and such.

Here in the land of eternal summer, we feel tropical all the time, so a coconut cake is less of a seasonal thing. Still, it does feel a lot more summery than, say, a pumpkin pie.

The Fourth of July is a nice time to break one out -- its white-on-whiteness can be turned quite patriotic with a garnish of blue and red berries.

Today, we offer two coconut cakes, singled out by readers as the best: Iris Chung wants the recipe from Café Laufer in Kaimuki; Debby Di Bella the Prince Court version.

Executive chefs Khamtan Tanhchaleun of the Prince and Cyrus Goo of Café Laufer were both willing to share, providing two lessons in cake baking.

The Prince version is a vanilla cake with a no-cook buttery frosting covered in coconut flakes. It's a good beginners' project.

The Laufer cake is a light, layered chiffon with a coconut-custard filling and whipped-cream frosting. It's a more advanced project, involving 21(!) eggs and custard-making.

Baking cakes from scratch never seems as popular as baking cookies or quick breads. Maybe that's because commercial cake mixes are so easy and so reliable. But then again, you can also buy super-easy slice-and-bake cookie dough -- yet everyone bakes cookies from scratch.

Cake-baking seems as though it's going to be more difficult, but it's not. The technique is about the same as making quick breads -- mixing, beating, folding ... No rolling, no kneading, no yeast.

As far as ingredients go, when you bake from a boxed mix, you're already adding eggs, water and oil. A simple cake from scratch adds to that mix only baking powder, cake flour and maybe some vanilla extract.

If you've never tried it before, get yourself a box of cake flour and try one of the recipes on the back of the box. You'll amaze yourself. And you'll have flour left to make a couple more cakes. By then you should be hooked on the concept.

All of that said, these coconut cakes have one complication: You'll need to separate some eggs and beat the whites into a meringue. Folded into the cake batter, this lightens up the cake. Even a first-timer, though, should be able to navigate these instructions. After all, it's your electric mixer that does the work.

The Prince cake is the simpler of the two, a better choice for the beginning baker. It is a basic vanilla cake with a nice texture, the coconut added as a garnish.

The cake is easily adapted to other presentations: Add fruit between the layers, frost it with whipped cream, sprinkle it with chocolate ... eat it plain, even. It is moist and light enough to need no dressing up.

Prince Court Coconut Cake

2 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups sugar, sifted
1 cup milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2-1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
» Fluffy Butter Frosting:
1/4 cup butter, margarine or shortening
1-1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 eggs, separated
1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment.

Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar to form a meringue. Set aside.

Combine vanilla with milk. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine cake flour, salt, baking powder and remaining sugar. Sift three times. Make a well in center of dry mixture, add oil and half the vanilla/milk mixture. Blend thoroughly.

Add egg yolks and remainder of vanilla/milk mixture; blend thoroughly. Fold in meringue until all yellow streaks disappear.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pans 15 to 20 minutes. Removed cakes from pans and thoroughly cool.

To make frosting: Cream butter. Gradually add 1/4 cup powdered sugar while constantly beating.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat in 1 cup powdered sugar.

Combine butter and egg mixtures. Mix until frosting is firm.

Spread frosting between layers of cooled cake. Cover outside of cake with frosting. Sprinkle with coconut.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Note that the Café Laufer recipe makes two 10-inch, triple-layer cakes. It is best to use springform pans, which have 3-inch-high sides.

As an alternative, you can use four 9-inch round cake pans, which will make two double-layer cakes. Or use two cake pans and use the leftover batter to make 24 cupcakes. Take them to work and be a hero. For best results, don't bake more than two cake pans or cupcake trays at a time.

This recipe also requires 21 eggs, 16 of which have to be separated. To simplify, you can buy pourable egg whites. In that case, make the custard with six whole eggs, rather than 16 yolks.

Café Laufer Coconut Chiffon Cake

5 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
3-3/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream, for frosting cake
» Meringue:
16 egg whites
2 cups sugar
» Custard:
4 cups milk, divided
2 cups sugar, divided
16 egg yolks (or 6 whole eggs)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup whipped cream
3 cups grated coconut (fresh if possible)

To make custard: Combine 3 cups milk with 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to low boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

Meanwhile, beat together egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining milk and sugar. Add 1/4 cup of hot milk mixture to egg yolks and stir well. Slowly add all off egg mixture to hot milk; return to boil, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes to remove starchy taste. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.

The next day, bake the cake:

Whip together eggs and sugar just until incorporated. Combine water and oil; add to egg mixture. Stir to combine.

Combine cake flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to egg mixture, stirring until well-combined.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make meringue: Beat egg whites and sugar on high speed until medium peaks form (this will take at least 10 minutes).

Pour meringue into a large mixing bowl. Fold batter into meringue. Pour into two ungreased 10-inch springform pans (see notes about pans, above). Bake 30 minutes or until center springs back when touched.

Turn cake upside down onto a plate and cool on a rack. Release the springform catch and remove pan. For the regular cake pans, run a butter knife around the pans to loosen sides, then tap bottom of pans to release cakes.

Remove custard from refrigerator and add whipped cream, stirring to soften. Stir in half the coconut.

Cut each cake crosswise into thirds to make 3 layers per cake. Spread custard between layers.

Frost cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with more coconut. Makes 2 cakes.

Nutritional information unavailable


Making a chiffon cake

Cyrus Goo of Café Laufer offers these tips on making any light chiffon, sponge or angel food cake:

Do NOT grease baking pans: The batter needs to cling to the sides of the pan as it bakes. If pans are greased, the cake will fall.
Use oil: This makes a more tender cake than butter or shortening.
Whip meringue to medium peaks: Stick your finger in the meringue. Pull it out, and the meringue should form a peak that loops over like the tip of a soft ice-cream cone.
Did you overbeat? If your meringue peaks stands up straight and stiff, you've beaten in too much air. You can still use it, but your cake will have larger air pockets, rather than the desired fine grain.
Cool cakes upside down: Right out of the oven turn them over onto a plate and put the plate on a rack. Left right-side up, the center may sink.

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