A cloud of coconut cream envelops the cloud of a cake – angel food. The combination is heavenly.
This was a request. A birthday cake request, almost squeezed out of the birthday boy who is so annoyingly unassuming, you have to extort food preferences, let alone requests, from him.
After a series of bashful toing and froing (‘but whatever is easiest’, ‘what is it that you all like best’, ‘everything you bake is awesome’) he finally admitted that he adored angel food cake and was partial to coconut flavours.
He even sent a picture of his heart’s desire: luscious and creamy, with layers and coconut flakes galore.
(I traced the pic and it wasn’t very coconutty nor a proper angel food so decided to do it my way.)
Angel food cake was in my repertoire already, so that wasn’t an issue. I did scan the internet in search of improvements on mine (semper melius is my motto!) but found nothing to match my original inspiration from Joy of Baking.
Angel food cake is interesting: it looks and feels like the most fragile fluff of a cake, likely to collapse in a heap whilst unmoulding as it’s made from egg whites only and lifted with air trapped in the meringue bubbles. There is no baking powder there, there is no fat and only a little flour.
But as long as you bake it in the special angel cake tin, categorically ungreased, whose porous sides grab and trap the cake batter holding those air bubbles in place, it’s surprisingly sturdy, sliceable and fillable.
It is also easy to make, once you have come to terms there would be a dozen egg yolks left to utilise after the cake baking exercise.
The egg whites need to be beaten to soft peaks and not overbeaten or the cake might collapse, before you start adding sugar by a spoonful.
The flour gets folded into the glossy meringue, and my additional flavour of choice here was lime: with juice incorporated into egg whites at the start to stabilise them and the zest folded in with the flour, to look pretty.
The angel cake tin has a flute in the middle to relieve some tension on those airy bubbles, and funny little legs that puzzled me big time at first.
They have a specific purpose: when the cake leaves the oven it has to be immediately inverted and suspended in the tin to prevent collapse, which is counterintuitive but works. It will sit on those little legs, leaving the tin all up in the air.
And if you’re overcautious like me, you might even prop the cake tin on the middle tube – just in case that bit decided to break off and separate from the rest. Which never happened but you know – safe than sorry.
After it is completely cold, the cake may be released and cut into layers – with a cake wire which is a mighty nifty contraption – or a sharp bread knife.
The coconut filling
Those who tell you that coconut cream whips as easily as dairy cream are barefaced liars.
Those who claim you can use coconut milk to whip up cake filling should burn in hell.
There is nothing easy or straightforward about making coconut cream filling. It is by all means doable but there are very firm precautions you need to take.
First of all, coconut milk is completely useless here, unless you want to make some sort of panna cotta and set it with gelatine (not tried, not keen).
Secondly, you need to mix coconut cream with double cream to achieve any kind of whippage: it won’t budge on its own.
And thirdly, what’s in the cream tin is too watery to be whipped. The tins should spend the night in the fridge so that on opening you can scoop the thick cream and discard the watery liquid.
Together with double cream, it will agreeably beat into pillowy filling.
I also used coconut blossom syrup for an extra layer. It is a wonderful sweetener though with the taste redolent more of caramel than coconut. But it makes a great crumb-sealer on the cake base.
If the coconut blossom is unavailable, you can use a little good honey or date syrup stirred into double cream instead.
That at least is the easy bit: just shower the frosted cake with toasted, untoasted or a mix of coconut flakes.
I particularly like doing the sides as it involves literally throwing handfuls of coconut at the frosting. Great fun – though admittedly messy.
The cake tastes divine and not at all sickly because the cream filling isn’t sweetened.
It doesn’t keep for longer than a couple of days in the fridge – but it should not be a problem as it will certainly be devoured in a blink of an eye.
More birthday cake recipes
Red velvet cake frosted with a cream cheese, mascarpone and whipped cream filling. It’s a beauty of a cake and a classic for a birthday.
A little like angel in its fluffiness, genoise is a very light sponge made with very little butter. This genoise cake is layered with cream and mascarpone filling with fresh blueberries.
Matcha (green tea) sponge cake with lemon and bay leaf scented whipped cream frosting. It’s a beautiful cake, beautifully simple to make (but nobody will believe you how easy it is).
More coconut recipes
The easiest cake recipe ever: coconut loaf cake by Bill Granger with shredded or flaked coconut. The quickest coconut loaf cake, it tastes best lightly toasted and buttered.
Orange macaroon cake with desiccated coconut and orange liqueur. This is a glorious cake, with fantastic orange flavour and slight chewiness on account of the coconut.
Coconut milk porridge for a healthy breakfast, especially for those who think dairy free is a healthier option. But it will taste delicious to anyone and is ready in 5 minutes.