Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Rose's Heavenly Coconut Meringue Buttercream Cake (Cookbook Recipe Testing)

Yesterday, I decided to delve into my newest cookbook, Rose's Heavenly Cakes, from the famous cake-goddess, Rose Levy Beranbaum.  This cookbook has amazing and simply beautiful recipes for every kind of cake one could possibly imagine, and I am looking forward to testing some of those. This book, is just about the closest thing to a cake baker's bible, if there is such a thing - from, like I said above, the goddess of cakes herself.

I decided to start off grand, and prepare a two layer coconut meringue buttercream cake from her cookbook.  The recipe for the cake (which I won't re-post in its entirety here) can be found in her cookbook, Rose's Heavenly Cakes, which is hot off the press, having just been published in September, 2009.  She is also the author of The Cake Bible, the legendary 1988 cookbook that has certainly lived up to its name.

The recipe that I tried, is called the Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cake With Silk Meringue Buttercream, found on pages 23-27 of her cookbook.  A few warnings before you proceed - this is not a cookbook for beginning bakers.  The recipes in the cookbook are wonderful (I've tried two so far, and certainly plan to try and test many more) but you should experiment with simpler recipes before delving into her multi-stage recipes.  In addition, I generally recommend that aspiring bakers begin with cupcakes before graduating to cakes because the scale is smaller and little mistakes can be a bit more forgiving.  Finally, although the recipes in this cookbook are amazing and extremely well put together and conceived, the instructions can be a bit complicated and intimidating for beginning bakers.  However, at this point, I am advanced enough to give a try, and the results did not disappoint, though perhaps I still have a few things to learn when it comes to cakes.  However, the result of this one was some true cake eye candy.

The first step in this recipe, was to create two layers of an light coconut cake.  The recipe, on page 23 of Rose's cookbook was fairly simple to execute.  It involved using a combination of coconut milk (the real deal - lots of calories - not lowfat coconut milk) and coconut extract to achieve a coconut flavor.  The cake used cake flour, as well as superfine sugar, a lighter sugar, that melts faster and allows the cake to have a lighter, more airy texture.

My mistake, and one I will not make again, was to use two (older) metal cake pans, by different manufacturers - which resulted in the layers of the cake being a bit uneven.  Both were fine on their own, but I had some difficulty stacking them into a two layer cake.  Thus, I instead made two delicious single cakes (because I really need to eat two entire cakes, and have a 4000-calorie a day diet - once again, I may have prepared too much food, and need to share!)  Next time, I will use two uniform silicon cake molds, which I think will get the job done and allow me to make a layer cake.

It's a bit tricky also to determine when the cakes are done baking.  You want to make sure they don't become crispy around the edges, but are cooked through.  It's an art and requires testing the inside of one of the cakes with a candy thermometer and with a toothpick.

Rose's recipe for the frosting for the cake(s) - depending on whether you are doing a two layer monster, or two separate cakes, is for a silk meringue buttercream.  Preparing this frosting is an art in and of itself, that requires multiple stages that are not for the novice baker.  As the name implies, the frosting requires preparing an Italian Meringue, and also a Creme Anglaise.  It also requires an eye-popping amount of butter.  (Really, as a baker, it is incredible to see the amount of butter and sugar that go into so many delicious baked goods - mind boggling, so consume in small portions).

First, I prepared the creme anglaise, which is a type of custard.  This was relatively easy and involved mixing and heating sugar, egg yolks, coconut milk, vanilla extract and coconut extract until you have a coconut flavored custard.  Then, this was set aside while I prepared the meringue.

Meringue has been the one aspect of baking that has always intimidated me.  Until yesterday, quite honestly, my meringues were always failures and I always avoided meringue recipes like the plague.  But finally Rose presented a sure-fire formula that I was able to figure out and prepare a winning meringue.  So, I suppose those meringue desserts need no longer scare me off.  In fact, I enjoyed preparing the meringue and it was almost as easy as preparing whipped egg whites for a souffle, just with a sugary-twist.

To prepare the meringue, which I will discuss in detail, I used the following ingredients:

2 large egg whites (separated from the yolks) at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 2 T superfine sugar
2 T of water
1/4 tsp cream of tarter

I beat the egg whites, as instructed by Rose's recipe, in my artisan mixer (fitted with the whisk attachment) until foamy.  I heated the 1/3 a cup of sugar and water in a saucepan to form what was like a simple syrup.  Next, I added the cream of tarter to the egg whites and beat until soft peaks formed, and then gradually beat in the other 2 T of sugar until it formed stuff peaks.  Then, I heated the sugar-water to about 248 F using a candy thermometer and then beat the egg whites gradually adding the sugar water.  Low and behold a meringue formed!! The consistency was perfect and the meringue tasted - well meringue-like.  So, I am eternally grateful to Rose for those perfect directions that helped me figure this one out.  Meringue, you no longer scare me!

The final step here was to combine the butter (her recipe called for four sticks of butter (yes, four, you are reading that correctly) with the other frosting components.  I don't care for such a buttery frosting, so I used 2 and a half and it was just fine and still plenty light and airy for me.  I beat in the Italian meringue, coconut shavings and creme anglaise into the delicious frosting.  



  1. This cake looks great and your "on the frontline" feedback provides irreplaceable incite to casual bakers. Thanks:-)

  2. Oh my, four sticks of butter is some craziness right there. I'm glad it turned out well :)

  3. hi,i was just googling for Rose Levy Beranbaum's coconut cake when i saw your blog. I intend to make this so would really appreciate it if you could clarify for me:

    so you only used half of the butter called for in the frosting? And it worked perfectly? It wasn't too runny or soft to work with, and it kept up well???

    i ask because i too do not like buttery buttercreams, if you know what i mean :) THANKS IN ADVANCE!


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