A&P Spanish Bar Cake

In case you were wondering: No, I cannot eat all these desserts by myself. First of all, I’d rather not weigh 400 pounds — I just don’t think that’d be a very fun way to live. Secondly, even if I developed some wonderful condition that kept me trim regardless of how much pie I ate, baking is no fun unless you can share it with people you love. For me, one of the most rewarding parts of being a food blogger is watching people enjoy the things I’ve made (that sounds creepy, like I sit and stare at them as they eat, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

One group of folks I love to bake for is Mike’s family. Each Sunday evening we gather at their house for dinner and I bring whatever dessert I’ve whipped up. His mom is a fantastic cook, so the meal is always devoured enthusiastically. Many times I almost don’t think I have room for dessert! I say almost, because y’all know that there is always room for dessert.


One reason I love to bake for Mike’s family is because they’re always encouraging — even if the results of my culinary efforts that week are not perfect! Don’t you love the people in your life who take one look at your runny pie and say, “Nevermind, it tastes delicious!” My own family deserves this praise as well, since they were served Coconut Cream Soup for Thanksgiving and ate it with cheerful smiles and compliments. Yep, those kind of folks are the keepers!

Because Mike’s family has been so supportive of my baking, I jumped at the chance this past weekend to create something a little special for them. A couple Sundays ago, Mike’s dad mentioned a cake his dad used to bring home from the old A&P store. The cake was called Spanish Bar Cake, and he described it as a dark brown cake with raisins and a creamy white frosting. I was so excited to recreate the memory that I started googling around that night.

What did I find? Well, first off, Mike’s dad is not the only one by far who wants to recreate the cake! Many online forums had pages of nostalgic posters describing their childhood experiences with the cake. They discussed every facet of their vivid Spanish Bar Cake memories : the color, the texture, the pattern on the frosting, the shape, the packaging . . . ! I also found many copycat recipes that boasted an identical taste and appearance to the original.

Not having tasted Spanish Bar Cake myself, I found it difficult to settle on a recipe! There were a few key disparities I had to evaluate. First, some recipes used cocoa powder, while some were a more traditional spice cake. After asking Mike’s dad to describe the color again, I decided to use the recipe that included the cocoa.

Another difference in the recipes I viewed was the frosting. Some used a standard cream cheese frosting, while others used white buttercream. I chose the latter, though I love cream cheese frosting. I reasoned that if the cakes were not refrigerated and had groove marks in the frosting, chances are the frosting would need to be safe when stored at room temperature and relatively stiff. Hence, buttercream. There were other, smaller decisions to make — things like nuts or no nuts (I chose no nuts), one layer or two (I chose one) — and then I was ready to bake!

One bonus of this cake is how simple it is to make! I must be on an easy cake kick. It’s a two-bowl process (one for the cake and one for the frosting). In a nutshell, you mix the dry ingredients, add the wet, bake, cool, mix the frosting, frost. No fuss.

If you have fond memories of this old A&P cake, bake one up for yourself and enjoy a blast from the past. I’ll add a note tomorrow to let you know how close to the original this recipe is, based on Mike’s dad’s reaction!

UPDATE: Score! Mike’s dad said as soon as it touched his tongue, the memories came flooding back! Apparently this is it, folks! He even said it seemed a bit moister than the original. Hurray!

Spanish Bar Cake

Recipe by: compiled from various internet sources
Yields: one 9 x 13 in. cake

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa (I used Dutch process)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups applesauce
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups raisins, soaked in warm water until plump and drained

Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
1 cup white shortening
1 cup butter, softened
8 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (can use clear if you want the frosting to be snow white)
4-6 tablespoons milk for thinning to desired consistency

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 13 in. baking pan with cooking spray (or butter and flour). Plump the raisins in warm water (I do this in a measuring cup that I’ll use for wet ingredients later — one less dish to clean).

In a large bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together. Add oil, applesauce, and eggs. Mix well. Add in raisins and stir to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan, rapping 3-4 times on a counter to release trapped air bubbles. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Let cake cool completely before frosting.

To prepare frosting, mix all ingredients until well combined. Add more milk if needed for consistency. Frost completely cool cake. Use a fork to rake grooves into the frosting to resemble A&P’s cake presentation.

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Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Icing

It was hard to get my baking accomplished this weekend, but if I could go back and do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I just spent the weekend with 8 of the sweetest 6th graders on the planet. My church holds a youth conference each year called Disciple Now. Students travel to the homes of generous church members to spend two days worshiping God, studying His Word, and having fun. I was a family group leader, responsible for leading the gals through Bible studies and refereeing the occasional pillow fight.

My short time with those bright, silly, beautiful, brilliant young ladies was so rewarding — partly because at first, it didn’t feel like it was going very well. They were exhausted Friday when we arrived home after worship, and were in no state for the Bible study we had planned. Sleepiness, pointed watch-checking, and delirium ensued. I lay in bed that night and reiterated the prayer I’d prayed upon arriving at the event earlier in the afternoon: Lord, I know Your strength is made perfect in my weakness, and right now, I’m feeling very weak! Please come make this work for Your glory.

The next day, I spoke with other group leaders who had experienced that very same moment of brokenness late Friday night. My Bible study leader revealed that she had woken up at 3 am that morning with the urge to pray for us. I’m so thankful for her prayers and the faithfulness of God — because the fantastic time spent with the girls Saturday was not my doing, but His! Apart from wheelbarrow relay races, crabwalking, screaming contests, an obstacle course, and a whole lot of giggling, we had an amazing discussion of what it means to live a “backwards life” for Christ (here is a site where you can download a free copy of the devotional book we worked through on this topic). The girls revealed their hearts — friends they were praying for, their struggles in faith. At one point, we made a list of daring ways to share the gospel (“good news”) of Christ with our loved ones.

I’m adding one to my own personal list — posting the good news on Willow Bird Baking! You are all on my list of “loved ones”! You may not be a believer, but I challenge you to read and consider this message either way, in the spirit of allowing me to share something that’s important to my heart.

The central message of Christianity is this simple truth: we are all sinners, separated from God by our sins. We cannot remedy this by ourselves, but God so loved us that He sent His Son Jesus to live a perfect life and die in our place — paying the price for sin. Jesus was then resurrected to triumph over sin and death. If we confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that Jesus did this for us, we accept His free gift of what Christians call “salvation”: salvation from the price of sin, and an eternal relationship with God, who is a wonderful Father.

If this is the first time you’ve heard or understood what Christ did for you, will you take a moment right now and tell Him you’re accepting His gift? If you’re already a believer, will you take a moment and thank Him again? Lastly, if you’re reading this right now and have questions, please leave me a comment with your email address.

Okay, I know you’re ogling the pictures of the amazing Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Icing and wondering . . . how does Christ relate to Oatmeal Cake? Well, my jam-packed weekend resulted in a rushed baking session on Sunday. I needed a quick and simple recipe that I could make while bleary due to sleep deprivation. I cut calories during the week to splurge on the weekends, so I also wanted a recipe that could be easily devoured before Monday morning. This cake more than fit the bill — especially the easily devoured part!

This recipe is heavenly, y’all (pun intended)! The cake is incredibly moist and delicate, with a mesmerizing blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and oats. The broiled icing is insane: toasted coconut and pecans bound by a gooey almost-caramely mixture created by the broiled butter and brown sugar. On my Recipe Index, small hearts denote Willow Bird Baking favorites — the recipes I’m over the moon about. This hearty, filling cake has more than earned its heart!

One of the best parts is that it truly is a quick and easy recipe as well. The icing is spread on while the cake is warm, meaning that the entire recipe can be easily accomplished within an hour (not including cooling time). If I got through the entire process without a hitch while half-asleep, caffeinated, sore, and frazzled, it should be a breeze for you! Happy eating!

Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Icing

Recipe by: America’s Test Kitchen*
Yields: one 8-inch square cake (about 9 pieces)

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup (3 ounces) quick-cooking oats (see note)
3/4 cup water , room temperature
3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Broiled Icing Ingredients:
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 ounces) light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) pecans, chopped

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut two 16-inch lengths aluminum foil and fold both lengthwise to 5-inch widths. Spray 8- by 8-inch metal baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Create a foil sling for the pan: cut two 16-inch lengths of foil and fold them to widths of 5 inches each. Fit foil pieces into baking dish, one overlapping the other, pushing them into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. This creates a sling that will help you remove the cake after baking and cooling. Spray foil lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Combine oats and water in medium bowl and let sit until water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. In another medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together.

3. In bowl of standing mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium speed until combined and mixture has consistency of damp sand, 2 to 4 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula halfway through mixing. Add egg and vanilla; beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Add flour mixture in 2 additions and mix until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add soaked oats and mix until combined, about 15 seconds.

4. Give batter final stir with rubber spatula to make sure thoroughly combined. Transfer batter to prepared pan and lightly tap against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any large air bubbles; smooth surface with spatula. Bake cake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes (careful: mine only took 28 minutes), rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cake cool slightly in pan, at least 10 minutes.

5. FOR THE BROILED ICING: While cake cools, adjust oven rack about 9 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. In medium bowl, whisk brown sugar, melted butter, and milk together; stir in coconut and pecans. Spread mixture evenly over warm cake. Broil until topping is bubbling and golden, 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Let cake cool in pan 1 hour. Following illustration 2, transfer cake to serving platter, then discard foil. Cut cake into squares and serve.

*ATK’s notes: Do not use old-fashioned or instant oats for this recipe. Be sure to use a metal baking dish; glass pans are not recommended when broiling. If you have a drawer-style broiler (underneath the oven), position the rack as far as possible from the broiler element and monitor the icing carefully as it cooks in step 5. A vertical sawing motion with a serrated knife works best for cutting through the crunchy icing and tender crumb.


P.S. Reader comment: “Seriously this is the best cake I have ever baked or eaten. […] I cannot thank you enough for posting this. It is seriously amazing!” Hurray! GO MAKE THIS CAKE!

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Chocolate Sheet Cake

My family and I like to joke that Pioneer Woman stole this recipe from us, since she has such a similar one on her blog. We know it’s not true by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it makes us feel a little smug. We think to ourselves, We had an amazing family recipe that Ree Drummond decided she was going to pilfer! Because it was so awesome, of course! We’ve been robbed by fantastic Pioneer Woman, of all people! Wouldn’t it sound cool to tell people that at dinner parties?

Ahem . . . but, as I mentioned . . . not actually true. In reality, the recipe for this amazing Chocolate Sheet Cake was created by who-knows-who, and was passed around, shared, and adapted to fit into many families’ recipe boxes. Here’s an interesting discussion about the origins of the cake. Several folks on Pioneer Woman’s blog recount where they came across the recipe first: some found it printed in a newspaper decades ago, some grew up eating it in their own kitchens. My family’s recipe was passed on to us by my great aunt, Linda Houts. Bless that woman.

Readers also shared their different names for the cake: Fabulous Sheet Cake, Cowboy Sheet Cake. Beth Moore and some other folks calls their version Texas Sheet Cake — and the flavor is, indeed, big enough for even Texas! As for my family, we always just called ours Chocolate Sheet Cake. But now I’m a little jealous of all those fancy names! I might have to come up with something a little more snappy. What do you think of Majestic Imperial Fantabulous Sheet Cake o’ Love? MIFSCOL for short? Okay, okay, fine . . . we’ll stick with Chocolate Sheet Cake.

But this is one fantabulous cake. It’s simple enough that I made it as a child (repeatedly — as in, any time my mom would hand over the cocoa powder and a spoon). My favorite time- and energy-saving characteristic of this cake is that you don’t have to wait for the cake to cool to pour the rich frosting all over it. So easy and quick!

But it’s not just simple — it’s also delicious enough that I still make it as an adult (wait, what? I’m an adult?!) when I want the absolute best chocolate cake flavor. Don’t you love it when the easiest also happens to be your favorite? The cake is fluffy and extremely moist with a gooey, deep chocolate frosting. I’m telling you . . . something magic happens when you put all these ingredients together, and the product is greater than the sum of its parts!

I’ve devoured this cake in Chocolate Chickie Cake Balls, in the Ice Cream Cupcakes I posted earlier this week, and (of course) all by its lovely lonesome. It’s also the perfect platform for a big ol’ scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. After my discussion of Freezer Tetris last post, I’m sure you’ll believe me when I say that there’s a big ziplock bag of Chocolate Sheet Cake in my freezer right now, just waiting for another fun recipe where I can sneak it in! Once you get a taste, you’ll be looking for any reasons you can find to bake it, too!

Chocolate Sheet Cake

Recipe by: Linda Houts
Yields: one half sheet cake (serves about 12)

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
dash salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting Ingredients:
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
6-8 tablespoons milk (as needed for consistency)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt together and set aside. Mix butter, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, and water together in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Pour over mixture of dry ingredients. Stir well, then add buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Mix to combine. Pour into a half sheet cake pan (12 x 18 in.) sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes. When a toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs, the cake is done. While cake starts to cool, make the frosting. Mix butter, cocoa, and milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and add confectioner’s sugar, nuts, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Spread over warm cake.

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Clementine Cake

I’m getting really good at u-turns. You can’t make a left turn out of my apartment complex, so a few times a week I’ll find myself sitting at a traffic light, tapping my steering wheel in a bored rhythm, waiting to make my u-turn. If the turn lane light turns red just as I get there, I’m crafty enough to stay in the straight lane for a bit and make a u-turn just up the street. If I time it right, it’s a tad bit faster than waiting for another green arrow. Because that 30 seconds really matters, y’all.

I’m also apparently the queen of the culinary u-turns lately. You remember last week’s shenanigans, right? I wasn’t overwhelmed enough with my two-day Valentine’s dessert recipe, and needed to add, oh, handmade pasta to the mix. Ridiculous.

This week there was another switch, although thankfully not as intense: I was shuffling along, planning to make some personal ice cream cakes when a post showed up in my Google Reader that I could not ignore. Whaaat — a gorgeous citrus cake appears JUST when I’m about to toss out my leftover clementines, which are getting a little squishy? Just like that, my weekend plans slammed on their brakes, put on their turn signal (because unlike the drivers around here, my plans always use their turn signal), and changed direction entirely! Clementine Cake was born!

Mike liked this sweet dessert — but I loved it. It was a beautifully simple, dense, bright citrus cake with that lovely crackling glaze to break your fork into. No fussy frosting, so I found myself cutting slabs of it here and there to eat with my fingers!

I will say the cake itself was a bit dry (I overbaked, which could be the issue), but I had a few tricks up my sleeve to fix that. I poked holes in the cake as it cooled so the glaze would seep into the it when poured. We also served hunks of the cake with a smear of gorgeous clementine curd and a pluff of barely sweetened fresh whipped cream. I can’t recommend this serving suggestion enough — in fact, I’m going to make it a serving command (can I do that?), because the cake and fixins tasted just like a homey creamsicle!

My poor dad has been on a diet for weeks now and this is his “break” weekend. He’s not technically supposed to have cake, but I fixed him up a small slice (I promise I’m not a diet saboteur). He and my little brother both enjoyed it, so I left them a hunk for later. I may also have hidden away a bit in my own fridge! Something about refrigerating fruity baked goods always enhances the flavor, and this cake was no exception.

Clementine Cake

Recipe by: Adapted by Willow Bird Baking, Lick the Bowl Good, and Technicolor Kitchen from Jill Dupleix
Yields: one 9-inch cake

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon grated clementine zest
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons fresh squeezed clementine juice (I needed about 7 clementines total to make the cake and glaze)

Glaze Ingredients:
1 1/2 – 2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
grated clementine zest

Fresh Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and set aside (I use Wilton’s Cake Release).

Cream the butter and sugar well for several minutes, until it is very pale and thick.

Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition, then add the zest. Add the flour, baking powder and salt all at once, and beat well, then slowly add the clementine juice until it is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, and bake for 35-40 minutes – or until an inserted skewer comes out clean (If it starts to brown too much on the top, cover loosely with a sheet of foil.) I baked mine for 40 or 45 minutes, which proved to be too long.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 15-20 minutes on a wire rack. Then invert onto a plate, remove the parchment paper and allow to cool completely before glazing.

To make the icing, stir the clementine juice into the icing sugar until you have the right spreading consistency. Using a skewer, dowel, or toothpick, poke holes through entire cake to allow glaze to seep down into it. Pour the icing onto the cake and spread with a spatula or butter knife, allowing the icing to drip down the sides of the cake.

To make fresh whipped cream, whip cream and icing sugar together until the mixture forms soft peaks. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Leave the icing to set before cutting the cake into wedges or storing in an airtight container. Serve with a smear of clementine curd, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream (and optional candied clementine peel).

Enjoy your citrus squeezin’!

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Ugly as Sin Coconut Cake

There’s this CAKE. This beautiful, gorgeous, dramatic, heart-stopper of a CAKE. I’ve been dreaming about making it for weeks (2 weeks and 2 days, to be exact): scanning the recipe online, pondering it on my drive home, lying in bed and imagining each step, right down to torching the meringue. I’ve been a little obsessed, but you’ll understand why when you see how lovely it is. Here it is in all its glory, over at Zoë Bakes. I KNOW, RIGHT?! It is stunning.

So this past Friday I gathered together all my ingredients, donned the adorable retro apron my mom made for me, and became one busy bumblebee. I left the sour cream out of the recipe accidentally, so that was my first mistake. Ever set your cake out to cool on a wire rack only to turn your head and notice an ingredient still sitting on the counter waiting to be used? Oops. It wasn’t a big deal, as it turns out, because the cake was delicious. The coconut milk added an absolutely heavenly flavor — making this one of the best white cakes I’ve ever tasted.

The filling was similarly amazing: creamy, thick coconut pastry cream folded with rich whipped cream. I knew when stacking this cake up with the delectable filling between each layer that, no matter what, I had a dessert champion on my hands.

That’s about where the success story ends. Well, maybe that’s a bit dramatic — the cake was delicious and we adored every bite. But as the title of this post suggests, my version of Zoë’s lovely cake was ugly as sin. Now, you might be thinking, “Aw, you’re being too hard on yourself; it wasn’t that ugly!” Let me clarify:

It was ugly! Lopsided, striped, U-G-L-Y-it-ain’t-got-no-alibi, UGLY. The real reason I made this cake was to achieve those beautiful burnt meringue curls that Zoë’s cake had. That clearly didn’t happen.

My meringue was runny. At first I blamed it on humidity: it rained for days in Charlotte and I was whisking the meringue up right above my steamy dishwasher. But I tried again the next day in a steam-free kitchen to no avail: same results. I’m relatively sure my bowl and whisk was free of fat or residue, so I don’t think that was a problem. My mom blames the fact that I have a hand mixer rather than a stand mixer. This could be the culprit, but I sure beat until my arm was about to fall off. Maybe the most likely possibility is that I overheated my egg white and sugar mixture. The target temperature is 110-120F, but I’m pretty sure mine was past that when I removed it to whip. I’ll have to give it another shot with a cooler mixture.

Oh well. I love pretty food, cute food, sophisticated food. Mostly, though, I love food that tastes good — and this tastes good. Fantastic, even! If you don’t want to tackle the meringue, it would even be delicious covered in some slightly sweetened whipped cream and coconut. But I hope you’ll grab your stand mixer and give the meringue a try — I know I’ll be trying it again! As you can see from Zoë’s version, it’s worth it.

Coconut Cream Cake with Toasted Meringue Frosting

Recipe by: Zoë Bakes (coconut pastry cream, Swiss meringue) and Fine Cooking (cake), adapted by Willow Bird Baking
Yields: 9-in. 4-layer cake

Cake Ingredients:
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
13 1/2 ounces (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature (I left this out accidentally; still worked great)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature

Coconut Pastry Cream Ingredients:
1 can (14 fluid ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch kosher salt
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup whipping cream

Swiss Meringue Ingredients:
1 cup egg whites
2 cup sugar
pinch salt

To bake the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle of the oven. Grease and line with parchment two 9×3-inch round cake pans. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Mix the coconut milk and vanilla, set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes (scrape down the bowl). Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until incorporated. Add half the coconut milk and mix thoroughly. Continue to add the flour and coconut alternately, ending with flour. Add sour cream and mix until incorporated. Set aside in a large bowl if you don’t have a spare bowl for your mixer.

Beat the egg whites in your stand mixer with the whisk attachment (if you are using the same bowl, be sure it is VERY CLEAN or the whites will not whip up. Any fat on the bowl will prevent the whites from foaming). Beat the whites on high speed for 2-3 minutes, until it forms soft peaks. Don’t overdo it or the whites will get too stiff and not fold into the batter smoothly. Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it. Gently fold the remaining whites into the batter.

Divide evenly in the prepared pans. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the tester comes out clean. Cool on rack in pan and then invert to use.

To make the coconut pastry cream: Heat the coconut milk, sugar, salt and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan over medium heat. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and corn starch. Once the cream is hot, remove the vanilla bean, scraping out any remaining seeds and returning them to the cream. Add 1/2 cup of the hot cream slowly to the yolks, whisking as you add. Then pour the yolk mixture into the pot of hot cream and whisk. Continue to whisk with heat on medium-high for 3 more minutes. The mixture will turn thick and bubble. You need to continue to whisk for the full 3 minutes or the pastry cream will separate once it is cool. After the 3 minutes, whisk in the butter. Add the coconut flakes. Pour into a shallow dish to cool.

Cover with plastic wrap pressed right against the pastry cream. This will prevent a thick skin from forming on the surface. Refrigerate for at least an hour or freeze for 30 minutes. Once it is cold, stir the pastry cream to loosen. Whip the 1/2 cup cream to medium peaks. Stir in 1/3 to the pastry cream to lighten. Fold in the remaining cream until the pastry cream is nice and light. Split the two cakes in half with a knife and add 1/3 of the filling to the first cake layer. Spread it out to the edge and repeat with the other layers.

To make the Swiss Meringue: Whisk together the egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Rest the bowl over a pot of simmering water to form a double boiler. Scrape down the sides of the bowl so that all the sugar is off the sides of the bowl. Continue to stir the mixture until all the sugar is melted into the eggs and you no longer feel any graininess when rubbed between your fingers, about 3-5 minutes.

Place the bowl onto your mixer and whisk on high speed until the meringue is thick and glossy and the bowl is just warmer than room temperature, about 8 minutes. Using a spatula, spread a nice thick layer of the meringue over the cake, make sure you have at least a cup of meringue left. Don’t worry about how it looks, you will be making spikes over the surface in a minute.

Take a glob of the meringue in your hand and press it against the meringue on the cake (Zoë has a great photo tutorial of this part on her blog). Pull that glob away from the cake and it will break off in a wispy curl. The more of a glob you lay down as a foundation on the cake, the bigger your curls will be. This may take a few times to get the hang of it, but then you’ll be off and running. Once you have the cake fully set with curls you will need a torch to toast the meringue. Hold the blow torch a ways from the cake and touch the flame down between the curls. The curls will set fire and you need to blow them out as you go. The burnt tips are lovely contrast and add a wonderful flavor.

Cake mixed, baked, and sliced into four layers.

Coconut pastry cream cooling and then spread onto a cake layer.

Cooking my Swiss meringue and preparing the cake for frosting!


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