Coconut Walnut Vanilla Pound Cake

Coming soon to a table near you!

Coming soon to a table near you!

My friend Gasoline sent me this recipe nigh a year ago, and I sheepishly confess I only just got around to making it. What can I say? I go where the wind takes me. *music swells* I am free, I –

Okay, where was I?

The best darned pound cake ever, is where I was. 🙂 My mom used to make classic sour cream pound cake, and hers was the best sour cream pound cake I’ve ever had. I’ve tried making it, but she did something magical – something Mom-like – and whatever it was, it was lost with her. This recipe from Gasoline’s Aunt Gail is the best other-pound cake I’ve ever had. It’s a pound cake with freshly toasted walnuts, which I adore (though packaged toasted walnuts work just as well in this recipe), and with toothsome flaked coconut. The wild thing (to me, and yes, this is wild!) is that the recipe doesn’t stop with flaked coconut. It incorporates coconut extract, which brings the coconut flavour to the forefront of pretty much all of the other flavours. You poke the fresh, just-out-of-the-oven cakes (yes, I said cakes! This recipe yields two 9″ loaves!) with a fork and pour over them a glaze made with coconut extract. The glaze soaks into the cakes, making them even more moist than before and giving them a simply amazing texture.

And... Action!

And… Action!

If you are not pleased by coconut, then keep reading! I found that while the coconut flavour was nice, it was just a bit too strong for me. The coconut also seemed to underscore the cake’s sweetness, and I just felt this dessert could be better. I made it a second time, substituting vanilla extract for the coconut extract but leaving in the flaked coconut. (You could omit the flaked coconut, and even the nuts, if you wanted, and the cake would still rock out.) I reduced the amount of sugar in the cake by nearly 1/2 cup, and used vanilla extract in the glaze rather than coconut extract. Ta-da! We have a winner! 🙂

Made you look! ;)

Made you look! 😉

The vanilla version of this cake wasn’t cloyingly sweet (seriously, I’d advise reducing the amount of sugar in the cake batter no matter which extract you use), and its flavour was boldly vanilla-esque but also kind of buttery and with a hint of coconut from the flaked coconut. The glaze simply boosted the vanilla-butter profile, rather than making the vanilla too prominent at the cost of other flavours. The cake was still moist and the texture was, if anything, more delicate than the first time I made this cake. So reducing the sugar didn’t negatively affect the texture at all. Yay!

This cake is kind of a cross between coffee cake, banana bread, and pound cake. It’s not as dense as classic pound cake (sorry, Mom), yet it’s solid and thick. I would say the texture here is reminiscent of the banana bread I made last year, only much more moist. It’s frighteningly quick to make, and doesn’t even require a mixer. I used a whisk!

It's... it's kind of staring at me. See those walnuts?! They look deranged! DERANGED, I SAY!

It’s… it’s kind of staring at me. See those walnuts? And those bits of coconut?! They look deranged! DERANGED, I SAY!

The walnuts (you may use pecans, if you prefer) and the buttery vanilla flavour are wonderful for fall. This is definitely a fall or winter kind of cake. And since it’s so quick to make, perhaps you could whip it up for a quick dessert or make it the night before a busy day, to serve as a quick, delicious breakfast. The protein in the walnuts makes up for all that sugar. 😉

I really need to play around with subbing cream of coconut for some of the oil and sugar!

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Coconut Walnut Vanilla Pound Cake

Yield: two 9″ loaves

Ingredients:

For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract OR coconut extract
2 cups sugar (I wound up preferring 1 1/2 cups sugar)
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts OR toasted pecans
1 cup flaked coconut (either sweetened or unsweetened)

For the glaze:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 TBS butter (either salted or unsalted)
4 TBS vanilla extract OR coconut extract

Method:

For the cakes:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9″ loaf pans, or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Combine buttermilk and extract in a glass measuring cup. Set aside.

Whisk together sugar and oil. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in alternate increments, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Gently stir in nuts and coconut.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 40 minutes; check doneness. The cakes are done when a toothpick or fork inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The cakes may need up to 55 minutes in the oven to fully bake; keep checking them at five minute intervals.

Place cakes on cooling racks and immediately begin making the syrup (see below). As soon as the syrup is finished, poke holes all over each cake with a skewer or fork and pour syrup over each of the cakes, making sure to cover the surface of each cake entirely with syrup. Allow cakes to cool completely in their pans.

For the glaze:
Place all ingredients in medium, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive saucepan and turn heat to medium-high. Bring mixture to a boil, swirling the pan occasionally as needed. Do not stir with any implement or you’ll risk making the mixture grainy! Boil 5 – 7 minutes, or until the consistency of maple syrup. Do not let mixture caramelize.

Pour immediately over the still-warm, poked cakes, dividing the glaze evenly between each cake. The glaze will soak completely into each cake.

Sprinkle powdered sugar on top, if desired.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Source: My friend Gasoline’s Aunt Gail

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Italian Cream Cake

Neo said it best: Woh.

Neo said it best: Woh.

I am so excited about this cake! I’m a chocolate lover for eternity, but even I’ll say that this Italian cream cake is better than a lot of chocolate cakes out there. Towering and elegant, it is just the thing for a special occasion (even if the special occasion is that the sun came out today). Italian cream cake is, in my mind, the ideal vanilla lover’s cake. It is tender and moist, with a deep vanilla flavour and buttery tones. The cake itself is not overpoweringly sweet, which makes this the perfect white cake to go with any filling you can throw at it. Or on it. Or over it!

Traditional Italian cream cake is served with cream cheese icing, so I use my beloved go-to cream cheese icing recipe (really, you can’t go wrong with this stuff. I’ve used it on red velvet cake, carrot cake, and even cheesecake, all with delicious results), which is fabulous with the Italian cream cake layers. I generally choose to keep the traditional additions of nuts (most people use walnuts or pecans) and coconut out of the cake layers themselves, as I like the smooth texture of the cake without them. I grate white chocolate and go a bit nuts chopping walnuts into very small pieces, and between each cake layer, I spread sweetened flaked coconut, the grated white chocolate, and the finely chopped walnuts. This gives not only a lovely crunch, which contrasts gorgeously with the tender cake and the creamy icing, but adds wonderful flavour and complexity. I think using salted walnuts is a breathtaking complement to the sweetness of the cake and icing, but this is an emotional decision for most. For the top of this particular cake, I spread these items onto the cream cheese icing in such a way that the walnuts were on the bottom, covered by the white chocolate and flaked coconut, to make the finished cake an imposing show of icy white. This particular cake was for a birthday, so I wanted it to look striking. The fact that the cake was for a client is also why there are no photographs of the cut cake. I took photographs of the cake assembly so that you can get a good idea of what’s going on between the sheets, as it were.

The coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts have been sprinkled atop the cream cheese icing adorning the first layer. Huzzah!

The coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts have been sprinkled atop the cream cheese icing adorning the first layer. Huzzah!

The three layers are assembled, with coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts cavorting between each layer along with a generous layer of cream cheese icing. All that need be done now is to ice the cake with more cream cheese icing, top with more coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts, and decorate with white chocolate whipped cream.

The three layers are assembled, with coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts cavorting between each layer along with a generous layer of cream cheese icing. All that need be done now is to ice the cake with more cream cheese icing, top with more coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts, and decorate with white chocolate whipped cream.

I took things a step further for this cake and iced around the top and bottom edges with white chocolate whipped cream. This is simply sweetened whipped cream that has white chocolate ganache whipped into it. The end result is a slightly thicker, richer whipped cream with a distinct white chocolate flavour. Gnarly. This stuff is so good that it’s turned two people that I know of off regular whipped cream. Once you’ve gone white chocolate whipped cream, you’ll turn up your nose at any other kind. You’ll be like a purebred Chihuahua! The cake was served with more white chocolate whipped cream on the side, and the more I think about it, the more I feel that this amazing cake needs naught but a little raspberry coulis to be served alongside the white chocolate whipped cream. Next time, my friend. Next time. Some Lindt white chocolate truffles were a fun finishing touch.

A word of caution:
The batter for traditional Italian Cream Cake is lightened by folding in beaten egg whites. Even after adding the egg whites, there doesn’t appear to be enough batter for three 9″ pans. Trust me, there is. As long as you haven’t overbeaten the egg whites, the batter will rise beautifully while baking. What was around 1/3″ high of batter inside a cake pan will rise to be almost 1 1/2″ high! We all heart Kitchen Science.

See? The cake layers rise magically from 1/4"-high wet batter to almost 1 1/2"-high rounds of moist tenderness. So gorgeously golden brown! I mourn for the lack of Italian cream cake before me.

See? The cake layers rise magically from 1/4″-high wet batter to almost 1 1/2″-high rounds of moist tenderness. So gorgeously golden brown! I mourn for the lack of Italian cream cake before me.

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Italian Cream Cake

Yield: One three-layered, 9″ cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
5 eggs, separated & at room temperature (eggs are easiest to separate when they are at room temperature, & egg whites attain their full volume when at room temperature)
1 TBS vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

For the cream cheese icing:
1 1/2 pounds (3 pkgs, 8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
3 sticks salted butter, softened
1 TBS vanilla extract
6 – 8 cups powdered sugar (add more to increase sweetness if desired)
1 – 3 TBS milk or cream, as needed, to thin consistency

For the white chocolate whipped cream:
3 cups heavy cream, separated
12 oz. white chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup powdered sugar OR 2 – 4 TBS maple syrup

For assembly:
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
12 oz. white chocolate, chopped very fine (I used a food processor to chop white chocolate chips; this is not advisable, as chocolate dulls the blades)
2 cups finely chopped walnuts or pecans

Method:

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 325˚F.

Spray three round 9″ cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line each pan with a parchment paper round (this is crucial! If you don’t line the pans, the cakes will break coming out of the pans later), and spray pans again. Set aside.

Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on high speed. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and beat well. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating each addition only until incorporated. Do not overbeat.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters, whip egg whites until stiff but still a little soft and wet – do not beat egg whites until stiff and shiny. Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites into the batter.

Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling racks and cool completely.

For the cream cheese icing:
Beat cream cheese and butter until well blended; scrape sides of bowl with spatula. Beat in vanilla. Slowly beat in sugar to avoid spatter, then increase speed and beat until well blended and completely smooth and fluffy, scraping bowl as needed. Add milk or cream, 1 TBS at a time, to thin consistency if desired.

For the white chocolate whipped cream:
Place the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, bring 1 cup of the heavy cream to a boil. When the chocolate is fully melted, remove bowl from heat and pour the boiling cream over the chocolate; let sit for 1 – 2 minutes. Stir gently with a whisk or spatula until the chocolate is smooth.

Let the chocolate sit until it reaches room temperature. The chocolate cannot be at all warm when it is added to the whipped cream.

While the white chocolate ganache is cooling, beat the remaining 2 cups of cream with the powdered sugar or maple syrup only until soft peaks form. (You will beat the cream more when the ganache is added.) Add all the white chocolate at once and continue to beat until the mixture holds firm peaks. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the cream and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Overnight is best.

Assembly:
Place one cake round, flat side down, on a serving platter. Spread a generous layer of cream cheese icing atop the cake layer. Atop the icing, sprinkle 1/3 each of the coconut, white chocolate, and nuts. Place second cake layer, flat side down, atop nuts. Spread cake layer with generous layer of cream cheese icing. Once again, atop the icing, sprinkle 1/3 each of the coconut, white chocolate, and nuts. Place final cake layer, flat side down, atop nuts. Ice entire cake generously with remaining cream cheese icing. Atop the cake, sprinkle, in this order (so that the finished cake looks completely white), the nuts, coconut, and white chocolate.

Pipe rosettes or stars of the white chocolate whipped cream around the top of the cake to disguise the edges of the sprinkled items. Pipe more rosettes or stars of the whipped cream around the bottom of the cake. Reserve the rest of the whipped cream for serving with the cake. (Trust me, you’ll want some!)

Sources: Cake layers moderately adapted from the Food Network; decoration and layering of components are original ideas

Badass Pecan Pie

The pecan pie is reposing near my beautiful fall apron. I know my crust looks a little wonky, but I happen to be quite terrible with pie crusts. It's an affliction that is poorly understood.

The pecan pie is reposing near my beautiful fall apron. I know my crust looks a little wonky, but I happen to be quite terrible with pie crusts. It’s an affliction that is poorly understood.

Hold the phone, people! This pie is beautiful. This pie is poetical. The filling is buttery, the notes of vanilla definite and sure. It tastes almost like caramel; and the thick, smooth texture of the filling is actually quite reminiscent of caramel, only it holds its shape. The secret to the filling’s unbelievable, and atypical, smoothness is that the filling is cooked to 130˚F before being added to the just-baked pie crust, and then baked at 275˚F for an hour. The character of the pecans really comes to life against this butter-and-vanilla majesty. Crivens*, but I could eat this filling all day long.

And the crust! Oh, the crust! As if this amazing filling weren’t incredible enough by itself!

The filling is as smooth as caramel and twice as thick!

The filling is as smooth as caramel and twice as thick!

The crust, a vodka pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated, blew my socks off. It was such a scunner** to work with, being very wet compared to more typical pie dough, and it needed a lot of patching; but it’s so flaky, tender, and mildly sweet – the perfect backdrop for the rich filling – that I forgive it its scunnery. This is hands-down the best pie crust I’ve ever encountered. I am wowed. I am amazed. I am in love.

And I almost passed it by! Why? Because it has vodka in it, and I thought that vodka would make the crust taste of strangeness. But it doesn’t! It leaves no vodka flavor whatsoever in the pie crust. I was skeptical of this claim, but my skepticism was silenced by my first bite of this flaky wonder. I am a believer.

The cool thing about using vodka in a pie crust (aside from boozing while you bake) is that vodka retards the formation of gluten during the mixing process. Gluten forms when flour absorbs water and is subsequently physically manipulated, as with kneading. Gluten toughens the dough and too much of it, as would form with too much handling of the dough, makes for a tough baked product. With vodka, you can handle the dough practically all day long, and it won’t form much gluten compared to using water. The alcohol content of the vodka evaporates in the oven, leaving behind absolutely no taste of vodka. A bit of caution: This crust must be made in a food processor to get the flour both evenly coated and not coated with butter. (When you’re blending flour and butter, some of the flour is coated with butter and thus will not absorb water, while the rest of the flour is not coated with butter, and thus will absorb water.) Having said that, it’s certainly worth a try even if a food processor doesn’t enter the picture. I bowed to the Cook’s Illustrated recommendation and used a food processor. It really works wonders.

This slice of pecan pie is giving me a pointed look.

This slice of pecan pie is giving me a pointed look.

Over the years, I’ve wrestled with making a good pecan pie. I could never achieve the right balance of flavours, and the texture was always a bit lumpy, which served as an addendum to the mediocrity of my pecan pies. And I never bothered making my own crust, because I figured its flavour and texture would disappear into the overly sweet filling. I used store-bought frozen crusts, which are very thin, and tasteless, and so I created my very own little self-fulfilling prophecy. Yay!

As you know, I’ve been trying out recipes for the upcoming Feast of St. Bird, and I was mighty pleased with how the pumpkin cheesecake from Cook’s Illustrated holiday baking magazine turned out. Leafing through the magazine – I still haven’t read all the recipes in it yet! – I encountered a recipe for Classic Pecan Pie. I made a few changes, and wound up creating an amalgamation of the Cook’s Illustrated pecan pie recipe and the pecan pie recipe I’ve been using and tweaking for years (from an old recipe card of my mom’s – unfortunately, I don’t have a more specific source than that). I downplayed the molasses flavour of the magazine’s recipe, slightly increased the amount of corn syrup, and scaled back the butter by 1/3. The full TBS of vanilla extract seemed spot on to me, however, and I happily tipped in a full measure of vanilla. So that’s why I could never seem to get a bold vanilla flavour out of my old pecan pie recipe – I was only using 1 tsp of vanilla! When comparing the two recipes side-by-side, I saw a note I’d written to myself on the old recipe card: “Try 1 full TBS vanilla?” So that made me feel a bit better about my thought processes regarding pecan pie.

What is your quest?

What is your quest?

Two things about the Cook’s Illustrated pecan pie recipe bothered me, and bother me still. The first is that the filling recipe yields enough for two standard-depth 9″ pies (or 1 deep dish 9″ pie), yet the recipe calls for the use of only one standard-depth 9″ pie dish. You will have enough filling for either two standard-depth 9″ pies, or one deep-dish 9″ pie. Trust me on this. I know of what I speak. The second issue is that the crust recipe for this particular pie would yield a fairly thick crust for a standard-depth 9″ pie dish, but a very, very thin crust for either two standard-depth 9″ pie dishes or one deep-dish 9″ pie dish. I doubled the crust recipe, as I have a deep pie dish, and I am so, so happy I did this. The crust was not overly thick, nor was it overly thin: it was just right. ‘Tis something to consider when choosing to make either two standard-depth 9″ pies or one deep-dish 9″ pie. The crust recipe below is the doubled version; simply cut the amount of each ingredient neatly in half to halve recipe.

*An all-purpose exclamation used by Pictsies.

**A deeply insulting word – also used by Pictsies – for a useless git.

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Pecan Pie

Yield: One deep-dish 9″ pie OR two standard-depth 9″ pies

Ingredients:

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour (up to 1/4 cup – yes, the dough is wet!) for dusting the rolling surface
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp salt
12 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces and chilled
8 TBS vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), cut into 4 pieces and chilled
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:
4 TBS unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 TBS light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 cup light corn syrup
1 TBS vanilla extract
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped fine

Method:

For the crust:
In a food processor, process 1 1/2 cups of the flour, 2 TBS sugar, and 1 tsp salt until combined, about 5 – 10 seconds. Scatter butter and shortening atop flour mixture and process until mixture begins to form uneven clumps with no floury bits left, about 15 – 20 seconds. Scrape sides and blade of food processor; re-position mixture evenly around the bottom and blade of the food processor. Cover mixture with remaining 1 cup flour and pulse until mixture is broken into pieces, about 6 – 8 pulses.

Transfer mixture to large bowl and add vodka and water. Using a heavy, stiff spatula, press and turn the dough to incorporate the liquids.

If making one deep-dish 9″ pie, wrap dough as it is in plastic wrap; if making two standard-depth 9″ pies, divide dough in half before wrapping each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour and up to two days. Dough can be frozen for 1 month; when ready to roll, allow dough to thaw completely at room temperature before rolling.

Note: Do not bake crust until ready to make the pie filling, as the heat of the crust and that of the pie filling (which is cooked to 130˚F before being baked) are necessary to achieve the smooth texture of the baked filling. When ready to make the pie filling, preheat oven to 425˚F. On a heavily floured surface, and with a heavily floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12″ round (or two 12″ rounds, if making two standard-depth 9″ pies) and place in pie dish(-es). Fold and tuck the overhanging dough underneath itself; patch any holes using some of the overhang, if necessary. With your fingers, crimp edges of dough. (Here’s hoping you’ll have more luck than I did. I’m terrible with managing pie crusts.) Loosely wrap dough and pie dish(-es) in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Line surface of chilled dough with double layer of aluminum foil, making sure to cover the edges of the crust. Fill with pie weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and aluminum foil and bake an additional 4 – 7 minutes, or until crust(s) is (are) golden brown. Immediately after removing browned crust(s) from oven, reduce oven temperature to 275˚F. Fill hot crust(s) with pecan filling and bake (further instructions below).

For the filling:
While crust(s) is (are) baking, melt butter in 3 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-low heat. Off the heat, whisk in the sugar, brown sugar, and salt until the butter has been absorbed. Whisk in the eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla until completely incorporated and smooth.

Return mixture to the stove on medium-low heat and cook, whisking occasionally (at some point during this stage, the crust[s] will come out of the oven – you want the crust to still be hot when you pour the filling into it. Place baked crust[s] on rimmed baking sheet[s]* and set aside), until the mixture is hot to the touch and registers 130˚F on an instant-read thermometer.

Immediately remove mixture from heat; stir in pecans and pour mixture into hot crust (if making two pies, divide filling evenly between crusts). Bake at 275˚F for 50 – 65 minutes, rotating the pie(s) halfway through baking. The filling should look set and crispy on top. If you shake the pie gently from side to side, the pecans should not move about in the filling; they should form a united, stiff mass of browned pecans. The filling should “[yield] like gelatin when gently pressed with back of spoon,” to quote Cook’s Illustrated (p. 72 – 73). I didn’t find the gelatin qualifier to be of much help, as the top of a baked pecan pie is kind of hard due to the pecans rising to the top, but perhaps you will find this information helpful.

Let pie cool on wire rack, about two hours. This will help the filling set even further, as the pie will still cook a little after it’s removed from the oven. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the cooled pie can be stored at room temperature for 2 – 3 days. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm, with whipped cream if desired. This whipped cream would make a smashing accompaniment to this pie.

*Here is where the wisdom of placing the baked and empty crust on a rimmed baking sheet becomes apparent: If the pie is sitting on a rimmed baking sheet, it will be much easier to get into and out of the oven without destroying the edges of the crust, as the filling for this pie is very heavy. Using a rimmed baking sheet for this purpose also makes it easier to move the pie around in general.

Source: Crust from, and filling heavily adapted from, Cook’s Illustrated All-time Best Holiday Baking, 2013