20 May 2010

My "When Harry Met Sally" Cake

Harry: "The first time we met, we hated each other"
Sally: "No, you didn't hate me, I hated you.  The second time we met, you didn't even remember me."
Harry: "I did too!  I remembered you.  The third time we met, we became friends"
Sally: "We were friends for a long time"
Harry: "And then we weren't"
Sally: "And then we fell in love.  Three months later, we got married"
Harry: "Ya, it only took three months"
Sally: "Twelve years and three months"
Harry: "We had this... we had a really wonderful wedding"
Sally:  "It was... it really was a (laughing) beautiful wedding"
Harry:  "We had this enormous coconut cake"
Sally:  "Huge coconut cake, with the tiers, and there was this, this very rich chocolate sauce on the side"
Harry: "Right, 'cause not everyone likes it on the cake, 'cause it makes it very soggy"
Sally:  "Particularly the coconut, soaks up a lot of that stuff, so you really... it's important to keep it on the side"
Harry:  "Right."

I'm willing to bet that everyone reading this remembers this movie - after all, When Harry Met Sally is the iconic Nora Ephron romantic comedy, the one that really turned her into a household name before she went on to write Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail.  There are certainly a number of memorable scenes, but the mental imagery of their enormous tiered wedding cake: moist coconut cake with rich chocolate sauce on the side - that stuck with me for years.  To the point where, years later, when I finally came across a recipe for a decent coconut cake, I knew I absolutely had to serve it with a nice rich chocolate ganache.

Most coconut cake recipes I come across are little more than a white cake with a sticky frosting covered in shredded coconut.  Such a combination does not a coconut cake make.  After all, a white cake covered in chocolate icing is not a chocolate cake, so how come coconut cake gets to break the rules?   So I was very excited when, years ago, I came across a recipe for a coconut cake, made with {gasp!} actual coconut!  Not just shredded coconut, but coconut milk too!  You can imagine my surprise, and sure enough, when I gave it a try, and it was a pretty damn good cake.  It had to be if it was going to live up to the imagery from When Harry Met Sally.  Over the years, I have fine-tuned that recipe here and there, changing up the frosting from a too-sweet Italian meringue to a delicately flavoured Coconut Cream Icing, playing around with different syrups for the sponge, and adding the above-mentioned chocolate sauce.  All of this tweaking has brought me to the perfected coconut dessert I share with you today.  In fact, this cake is so good, it has become my signature dish, and I have even been hired to bake this for various special occasions,  and birthdays - for people who say they don't like cake, yet apparently love this coconut cake, and even a wedding (naturally).  My friend Shannon loves this cake so much, that when I presented her with her gift last Christmas, a lovely cake plate and a coupon for a cake of her choice for any occasion, she shouted out "Coconut Cake!" before I could even finish telling her what the gift was.  And it's at her request that I make this cake again tonight.  If I want wow factor, or a dessert with nice summery flavours, this is the cake I make.

Normally, I make this cake in round cake pans, and go for a traditional layer cake presentation, however, given the type of event this was being served at, I decided to go for an elegant loaf style cake.  To do this, I baked the cake in two 8x8 square pans, then trimmed the crust edges from the cakes, and split each cake in half, so that I ended up with a nice long, rectangular cake 2-layer that is easier to cut and serve. Serving it with a liquid chocolate sauce was also going to be a challenge for this event, so I made the ganache well ahead of time and allowed it to chill in the refrigerator while I baked.  When it came time to assemble the cake,  I added a generous layer of ganache between the cake layers, along with some of the frosting.  This meant that I had a nice chocolatey truffle-type layer of chocolate sauce built right into the cake, and I can't think of a reason why that would be a bad thing.

Fluffy Coconut Layer Cake with Chocolate Ganache On The Side
Cake adapted from Williams-Sonoma Baking 

2 1/4 Cups (280g) cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 Cup (186g) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/2 Cups (301g) sugar
3 large eggs, separated, at room temp
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Cup (250ml) coconut milk (you can use "light" coconut milk, but really, why bother at this point?)
1 tsp coconut extract
1 Cup (125g) shredded sweetened coconut

6-8 Tbsp (90-120ml) Mailbu coconut rum or coconut syrup

Coconut Cream Icing

2 Cups (500ml) whipping cream
1/2 Cup (100g) confectioner's sugar
4 tsp (20g) cornstarch
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 1/2 Cups (150g) sweetened flaked coconut

Coconut- flavoured Ganache  aka "Very Rich Chocolate Sauce"
1 Cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1 Cup (250 g) dark chocolate, chopped (or, if you are lazy like me, dip into your enormous stash of Callebaut callets)
2 Tbsp Malibu Coconut Rum (or 1 tsp coconut extract)

Preheat oven to 350˚F and place oven rack in centre position.  Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans.

In medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside
In bowl of mixer, combine butter and sugar, beat on medium-high until mixture is light in colour and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, vanilla and coconut extract. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
Gently fold in 1/3 of the dry ingredients until almost fully incorporated. Fold in 1/2 of the coconut milk. Fold in another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by the remaining coconut milk. Gently fold in the final 1/3 of dry ingredients and the shredded coconut until just incorporated.  Take care not to stir too vigorously, or the cake will be tough. Transfer batter to a clean, large bowl.

In clean mixer bowl, using a balloon whisk, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form (peaks should fall over gently when the whisk is lifted).
Gently fold the egg whites into the batter, just until no white streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between 2 prepared baking pans. Bake the cake layers until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out cleanly, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let them cool in the pans for about 3 minutes. Using wire rack, invert both layers and remove pans. Let cool completely on the racks, covered by a clean slightly damp kitchen towel so they do not dry out.

To prepare the Coconut Cream Icing: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, corn starch, salt and 1/4 Cup (50ml) of the whipping cream.  Bring mixture to a boil, over medium-high heat, while stirring continuously.  Immediately transfer the hot mixture to a small bowl.  Gently stir in the vanilla and coconut extracts, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
In a clean mixer bowl, whip cream to very soft peaks.  With the mixer running on medium speed, slowly pour in the cooled sugar starch mixture.  Turn the mixer up to medium high speed until the mixture is well combined, but be careful not to over-whip.  Gently fold 2/3 of the coconut into the cream.

To assemble and decorate the cake:
Gently place one cake layer on cake plate and brush layer with Malibu rum or coconut syrup.  (If going with the truffle-like layer of chocolate as I did for this occasion, now is the time to apply it).  Evenly spread a generous amount of the coconut cream icing onto the bottom cake layer. Top with the second cake layer, and brush layer with remaining Malibu or syrup.  Evenly coat entire cake with remaining coconut cream, and garnish with remaining coconut.  Chill until ready to serve.

Serve chilled with warm chocolate ganache.  Stand back and graciously accept the ooh's, ahh's and yumm's.


Jamie said...

Is that really a scene from the film? Ha Ha! But I'm glad it inspired you to create this cake it sounds divine! And looks scrumptious. Coconut and chocolate. YUM! And I wish for my birthday I had a friend give me a coupon for a cake! Lucky friend! And great cake! And light coconut milk indeed!

Shannon said...

This is so funny - when I took this cake to work yesterday, I told someone that I loved it so much, I'd get married a third time just to have it at my wedding - like Harry and Sally! I've always thought of this as a "When Harry Met Sally" cake. It went over at work like a winning lottery ticket. Smiles everywhere! Thanks Julia!!!

Jennifer said...

I love this movie and I've always been curious what a cake like that would look like. Now I see. And I WANT TO MAKE THAT CAKE! Don't really have a special occasion, but like you said, who needs one.

Amy said...

Hi- I am attempting to make this cake and was wondering what the directions are for making the very rich chocolate sauce on the side. I see the ingredients but don't see where you explain how to make it. Thanks!