When I picked up a copy of Martha's latest book, Cake Perfection, I promised myself I would make the first one that really caught my fancy. Inexplicably, the one that most spoke to my senses, as well as my desire for a baking challenge, was the Meyer-Lemon Coconut Layer Cake on page 74 of the book. Perhaps it was the name of the cake with its tropical-sounding tartness that got me going, or maybe it was the glossy photograph by Lennart Weibull: four layers separated by coconut-lemon curd and candied citrus slices on top. Whatever the reason, I went grocery shopping armed with my ingredients list and plotted my plan of attack.
I took my time and followed the instructions very carefully. I came up with my own order of tasks: I began by toasting the coconut flakes, which were used in the curd and on the exterior of the cake as decoration - one cup for each purpose. Once cooled, I refrigerated them until I was ready to use them. I then moved on to the lemon curd, which I determined was delicious on its own after tasting a small spoonful. I let it cool and then refrigerated it as well. I then moved on to the frosting. I had never made a Swiss meringue before so this was new territory for me - and it showed.
Everything was unfolding as it should: the egg whites and sugar had been successfully whisked over a saucepan of simmering water; after ten minutes in the stand mixer with the whisk attachment, cool, stiff, glossy peaks formed. Wonderful, I thought! Then I added the coconut oil and the butter (room temperature) and things got a little wild. Everything turned into a soupy mess. I almost cried. I didn't panic, though, and put it in the fridge until it firmed up, hoping I would be able to reconstitute it with the mixer when it came time to frost the cake. I then made the cakes, which turned out beautifully. Confidence restored!
Now... back to that scary buttercream. With nothing but faith and hope in my heart, I placed the room-temperature buttercream back into the mixer - curdled, soupy, weird. I began slowly with the paddle attachment and then increased the speed to medium high. After about four minutes the frosting actually looked like frosting and all was right with the world. I was able to exhale. I frosted the cake, adding the second cup of toasted coconut flakes to the sides and top, and refrigerated it to set.
The candied citrus slices were simple. Mine, however, were sliced too thickly. I really ought to invest in a mandolin to get those paper-thin slices required for such garnishes. But I used my knife skills (which were not as successful as they were when slicing the cake layers, seemingly) and I ended up with slices that were too thick to properly simmer in the simple syrup: they were meant to be entirely translucent. They did soften and become sweet but they were not the sleek, glassy confections depicted in the photograph in the book. No, not even close. I used them anyway because I enjoyed the hit of yellow, and they actually tasted quite good, if a little chewy.
All in all, I was pleased with how it all turned out and was quite proud of myself. And, always, the final test is how good the cake tastes. This one is a hit! The cakes were fluffy and moist, the curd was appropriately tart with little flecks of toasted coconut mixed in for a nice bit of texture, and the frosting was creamy and glossy and not overly sweet, which I enjoyed. I like the sophisticated nature of a frosting that's not cloyingly sweet.
I will make this one again. But next on my list is the Milk-and-Cookies Cake on page 81 of the book. This one will be all about nostalgia.
If you enjoy baking and haven't yet got a copy of Cake Perfection, I'd urge you to consider it, or at least put it on your Christmas or birthday wish list. I'm enjoying it thoroughly!