I’m a believer in cakes for birthdays. A candle in the middle of a brownie or a set into a scoop of ice cream doesn’t work for me. I appreciate all sorts of sweets on other days or for other occasions, but on my birthday, there needs to be cake. Even if I bake it myself as I usually do. And, luckily, I had just read a review copy of Grandbaby Cakes by Jocelyn Delk Adams right before my birthday. I had several new cakes to consider making. Both the book and Jocelyn’s food blog of the same name came about from memories of her grandmother’s made-from-scratch cakes and kitchen lessons. The cakes in the book include options for every level of baker from beginner to experienced, and each one comes with a story about the recipe’s origin. There are basic layer cakes, pound cakes, sheet cakes, baby or mini-size cakes, celebration cakes, and seasonal cakes for holidays. In the Pound Cake chapter, the Apricot Nectar Cake is a recreation of a recipe from the author’s aunt and sounds delicious with the nectar in both the cake and the glaze on top. The Peach-Raspberry Cake has a pretty ombre effect in frosting that changes hue as it moves down the layers. Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is reinterpreted as cupcakes, and they’re decorated with dried pineapple slices that look like flowers. The Mango Swirl Carrot Cake with mango puree added to cream cheese that’s baked into the top of the cake is a carrot cake variation I need to try. A serious contender for my birthday cake was the Strawberry Sundae Cake with the alternating layers of vanilla cake and strawberry ice cream. But, in the end, I chose the Strawberry Coconut Cake with strawberry puree mixed into the vanilla cake layers and shredded coconut covering the cream cheese frosting.
I’m not sure when it happened but at some point in the last 20 years or so, the standard for layer cakes seems to have become three layers rather than two. For a household of two people, that’s a lot of cake. I almost always reduce the quantities of ingredients and only bake two layers, and that’s what I did here. The cake batter is made with sugar, butter, pureed fresh strawberries, eggs, flour, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and sour cream. Strawberry extract was suggested, but I didn’t locate any at the grocery store and left it out. Red food coloring is also an option, but I skipped that as well. The result was just barely pink cake layers, but the flavor from the fresh berries was the most important part. The frosting was made with cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. I added extra confectioners’ sugar to firm it up a bit. For the coconut flakes, my favorite is the unsweetened kind. The flakes are smaller, but the flavor is all coconut without any extra sweetness.
This was a rich and tender cake with the butter, oil, and sour cream, and it didn’t stand a chance of being dry even the next day. The strawberry puree gave it great flavor too. Cream cheese frosting is always a winner, and the coconut flakes dressed it up a bit. This was everything I wanted in a birthday cake. And now I want to bake all those other cakes for other occasions too.
Strawberry Coconut Cake
Recipe reprinted with permission from Grandbaby Cakes by Jocelyn Delk Adams, Agate Surrey, 2015.
Big Mama's Coconut Cake is famous. You may think this is a tall tale, but people would literally line up in front of her home just to get one for the holidays. Her cake’s highlight is a heavenly meringue frosting, which she whips by hand. I adore her classic, just like its legions of fans do, but I had a bit of fun updating it. The cake now has an exciting strawberry flavor; the pink layers burst against a bright white frosting with a tangy cream cheese accent. It is such a fantastic way to liven up a coconut cake recipe that has not only been around the block but looks mighty fine for her age, too.
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon strawberry extract
3–4 drops red food coloring (optional)
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream, cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (optional)
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes, for garnish
FOR THE CAKE
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Liberally prepare 3 9-inch round pans with the nonstick method of your choice.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream together the granulated sugar and butter on medium-high speed until nice and fluffy, about 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the strawberries in your food processor and puree until smooth. Set aside.
With your stand mixer running, add the eggs 1 at a time, combining well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Change your mixer speed to medium-low and add the strawberry puree slowly into the batter.
Continue mixing while you tend to the dry ingredients. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add 1/2 of the flour mixture to your stand mixer bowl. Continue to mix on low speed to combine.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and oil and add to your stand mixer bowl.
Pour in the remaining flour mixture and continue to mix on low until well incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, strawberry extract, and food coloring, if using. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix the batter until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.
Evenly pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 23 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a layer comes out clean.
Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks. Let cool to room temperature. Lightly cover the layers with foil or plastic wrap so they do not dry out.
FOR THE COCONUT FROSTING
Clean your stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Beat the cream cheese on high speed until it begins to thicken and become fluffy.
Turn your mixer down to low speed and carefully add the confectioners’ sugar. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, turn your mixer speed back to high and continue whipping.
Add the heavy cream; vanilla extract; coconut extract, if using; and salt and continue to mix until a smooth, light, and fluffy frosting is achieved.
Once the layers are completely cooled, place 1 layer on a serving plate. Spread just the top of the layer with 1/3 of the frosting. Add the second layer and spread with another ⅓ of the frosting. Add the final layer, bottom-side up, and spread with the remaining frosting. Frost the top and the side of the cake. Gently pat the side and the top of the cake with coconut flakes. Serve at room temperature.
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