Miss Fats returned to birthday baking with a particularly exciting project: she needed to turn out an impressive cake monster for one her closest friends in Chicago and new roommate, N. Last week, the city’s miserable heat finally hit with full force, but managed to cool down just in time for N to throw a casual Monday night backyard birthday bash in celebration of her 28th. Now it must be noted that despite its improptu planning, N never half-asses or disappoints when it comes to entertaining. She is essentially the greatest hostess Miss Fats has ever witnessed; and the last minute birthday picnic was no exception. Not to mention she makes it look entirely effortless and elegant at the same time. We’re talking anthropologie/barefoot contessa status here (don’t pretend like you don’t know what Miss Fats talking about.) Therefore Miss Fats was faced with the task of creating a cake to fit right in with the deceptively simple.
Miss Fats had been mentally preparing for this one for a while: she had noted an off-hand comment made months ago when N admitted her favorite cake flavor: coconut. She catalogued this fact for future birthday surprises (Miss Fats loves nothing more than a good surprise). She knew the classic, four-layer giant fluffy coconut cake would be the perfect pastry object in celebration of N’s 28th. Sure, a delightful cupcake would have been a perfectly pop-able backyard birthday treat, but Miss Fats felt N deserved something more excessive in the spirit of being born. A four-layer cake was a no brainer: no matter the size of the crowd, N definitely deserved a giant pile of sweet pastry lit up with candles and properly escorted in with song-accompaniment.
Now there was no way she was going to make just a coconut cake. There had to be a proper pairing (Miss Fats tends to ascribe to a three-component cake). She knows just how much N loves rhubarb, plus Miss Fats loved the idea of a splash of pink in the center of a white fluffy cake. Since N, herself exudes the easy-peasy elegance, Miss Fats knew that the cake had to perfectly mix a rustic, clean and polished exterior, punctuated with a tangy, coconutty surprise on the inside. She felt that a decadent coconut pastry cream and sharp rhubarb compote would express N’s personhood: sweet, yet perfectly punchy with a sour hit, and always indulgent.
The exterior and decoration had to be clean and simple. Miss Fats knew the classic flaked coconut cake decoration would provide the ideal base. The fluffy white strips of coconut pressed into a coconut buttercream has all the freshness and whimsy of N herself. Yet it needed just the smallest of touches to elevate it to make it a bit more special in celebration of N’s birthday. Miss Fats went with some shimmery light pink pearl sprinkles she had on hand. Pressed into the coconut and buttercream base, the pearls added a bit of fancy to an otherwise nostalgic and slightly vintage cake.
So now Miss Fats will go ahead and share all the components of this bright and summery cake. The coconut cake, buttercream, pastry cream and rhubarb filling are endlessly useful and can be transferred to almost any other baking endeavor. Go ahead and throw that cream inside a cupcake and top with ganache for a Almond Joy taste good. Or slather a shortcake with some rhubarb compote and a dollop of whip cream for breakfast/dessert heaven. Miss Fats highly recommends you go crazy with any and all cake components. Some of you will recognize these recipes from J’s insane mini cake just a couple of months ago. Both the rhubarb filling and buttercream are the new additions that Miss Fats chose to switch out for time and temperature purposes (too damn hot for that excessive swiss buttercream business.)
Fancy Pants Coconut Rhubarb Layer Cake:
makes one, four-layer, nine-inch cake
pastry cream adapted from Willow Bird Baking’s Ultimate, Moist, Fluffy Coconut Cake
cake adapted from What’s for Dinner?’s Truly Awesome Coconut Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
coconut pastry cream:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
good pinch of salt
1 1/2 egg yolks
1 tbs corn starch
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
approximately 1 tbs milk, if needed
3-4 stalks of rhubarb, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sugar (to taste)
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of powdered ginger (optional)
2 cups of sweetened, flaked coconut
pink pearl sprinkles if desires
1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 six-inch cake pans. Beat butter and sugar on high in a large bowl or stand mixer until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each. Add coconut extract. On low-speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and coconut milk. Increase speed to medium high and beat until combined (5-10 seconds). Pour into pans and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from pan.
2. Pastry cream: in a sauce pan, over medium, heat the coconut milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and coconut extracts. In a small bowl, mix the corn starch and egg yolks until well combined. Once the cream is hot, temper the yolks by carefully adding 1/4 cup of the milk to the bowl, whisking constantly. Add the yolk mixture back to the sauce pan, whisking constantly. Continue to mix over medium high heat for 3 minutes (for the FULL 3 minutes!). Add the butter and coconut flake and mix. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (make sure you press the plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream to prevent skin-formation). Store in fridge until cake assembly or until fully cooled. When you’re ready to assemble, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold into the chilled cream and set aside until assembly.
3. Rhubarb compote: In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, water and sugar. Cook until the rhubarb completely breaks down. Check sugar and add more to taste. Mix in extract and ginger. Allow to fully cool. This can be done way ahead of time, stored in a jar and enjoyed as frequently as possible.
4. Coconut buttercream: beat butter on medium high until fluffy. Sift in powdered sugar in batches to prevent making a huge mess. Beat in extracts. Beat in milk if the frosting is too thick.
5. Assembly: Begin by carefully cutting your cakes into 4 even layers. Place first layer on your cake plate and spread on half of the compote. Add second layer and spoon on all of the coconut pastry cream. Leave approximately an inch of space around the edge to make sure it doesn’t ooze out the sides as you assemble. Add the third layer and spread on remaining compote and top with the final layer of cake. Spread on a thin layer of buttercream as a crumb coat. Don’t worry: this will look terrible. Chill the cake for about 30 minutes or until the frosting is firm. Spread remaining buttercream all over the cake. Press the flaked coconut into the side and top. Use your fingers to press pretty pink pairs into the frosting. (Miss Fats recommends doing this in front of the TV or with some sweet tunes in the background.)
Now that says celebration. The crumbly cake is perfectly balanced with the ooey gooey-ness of the compote and pastry cream. It is definitely a coconut explosion, but Miss Fats likes to think that it won’t overwhelm the reluctant cake eater. Not to mention the brightness provided by the rhubarb makes this a delightfully seasonal pastry object perfect for a backyard BBQ. Miss Fats cautions you: this cake is deceptively light (in terms of flavor and texture), and can easily be consumed in excess. However: worse things have happened. Miss Fats has already received outrageously overzealous complements on this cake, so she knows she’s done some decent work here. She’s just beyond pleased that N enjoyed herself in the form of excessive cake consumption. N now just needs to get ready for future roommate cakes to come.