This fall in the midst of my book tour was a François gathering. My husband’s family were all coming together in Vermont to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents. This is no easy feat for this group, they are spread far and wide. Relatives came from Paris, New York, Toronto, Trinidad and of course, Minneapolis. Because of an engagement on the book tour I had to miss the anniversary party, but got there in time to have Thanksgiving dinner with everyone. In the airport on my way to Vermont I stopped at the magazine rack and picked up an issue of Fine Cooking that had a spread on Party Cakes. I’d left this very magazine on my kitchen table at home, where I’d been meaning to flip it open. In the mad rush that had led up to this moment I failed to plan what I’d be making for dessert, which was my contribution to the meal. I wanted to make cakes for Anna and Ewart, whose party I’d missed and they had to be something a little bit over-the-top and creative. My mother-in-law is a potter and adds a sense of beauty and creativity to everything she does. Her art and home represent a life that has been rich in travel, culture, a sense of wonder and mostly joy. These are all things that I admire tremendously and hope to create in my own life. So these cakes had to be something a little out of the ordinary. (Did I happen to mention that Graham’s sisters and brothers are tremendous cooks and his cousin is the executive chef at Balthazar /Pastis  and Minetta Tavern  in NYC?) No pressure, but my cakes had to kick ass!
The cake in Fine Cooking  with the meringue topping all done up like curls reminded me of my son Charlie and seemed to have just the whimsy and statement that I was looking for. I made my own coconut pastry cream and meringue, but loved the flavor combination and attitude of what Rebecca Rather created on those pages. I’ve made this cake several times since and as you will see at the end of the post I often use my Devil’s Food recipe in place of the white cake. In both forms it disappears quickly and with much ooohing and aaahing.
Coconut Cream Cake from fine cooking or Zoë’s Devil’s Food recipe :
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
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
Coconut Pastry Cream by Zoë
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 by Zoë
1 cup egg whites
2 cup sugar
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 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 if you don’t have one of these special Beater Blade , which is my favorite new kitchen tool!) 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 over due it or the whites will get too stiff and not fold into the batter smoothly. Whites beaten without sugar will get too stiff quickly so check them after 2 minutes.
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 sauce pan 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 a 1/2 cup of the hot cream slowing to the yolks, whisking as you add.
Pour the yolk mixture into the pot of hot cream…
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 cool. 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 Super Slicer  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, yes glob, of the meringue in your hand and press it against the meringue on the cake. (see my hand in the upper right hand corner of this picture.)
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, not as scary as that sounds, and you need to blow them out as you go.
The burnt tips are lovely contrast and add a wonderful flavor.
This cake is amazing all on its own or served with coffee ice cream .
Here is the version made with Devil’s Food cake.
Also amazing with coffee ice cream, but then again what isn’t? Enjoy!