coconut cream cake: a disaster of mixed proportions

For Brian’s thirteenth birthday today, I decided to bake him a cake filled with cream and fresh young coconut. Ambitious, perhaps, but I’ve been thinking about this cake for seven months since I had my first spoonful at T-Det in Bangkok last December. If I made it myself, I decided, the base must  be a  lime chiffon cake.  So it was. The cake  came out of the oven at precisely 10:05 a.m.  Even though it seemed suspiciously woftly (wobbly and soft) the top looked golden, and through the cracks in the top wafted a sharp smell of lime and the sweetness of  sugar and the promise of  a lemon-hued fragrant interior. Oh well.  I gave it an extra 10 minutes in the oven.

With happy confidence, I removed the tube cake pan from the oven then up-ended it on a funnel to cool. I turned my back to wash up the mixing bowls when I heard a sucking noise behind me. I looked around and saw that the cake had slipped out of the tube cake pan and had landed squishily on the table, the  empty pan hanging loftily on the funnel now surrounded by cake-lava. Deep inside the cake  I saw the shiny trails of uncooked egg whites and I realized that it wasn’t the absence of baking soda. I had remembered it. After scraping the mess into the trash, I thought it over. What went wrong? I immediately concluded that the oven thermo-sensor was faulty. I didn’t say “This oven’s thermo-sensor is faulty!”  Actually, I said “$#*!” This alerted David upstairs, whose hearing is acute and whose truthfulness is equally devastating, to announce to his parents, “I think something is wrong with the cake!”

I made a second cake in the evening, after a suitably decent time had elapsed for the Cake Baker to recover her nerves. To reverse my bad luck,  I used  the convection rather than the conventional oven setting. It took a bit longer than it should have in a convection oven but at least it was done. But by this time, everyone had had their fill of birthday pizza and champagne! Into my champagne I dropped a sugar cube–I’ve always wanted to do this ever since I saw Moonstruck— and it bubbled up romantically, fizzing fireworks in a champagne flute.  Alliteration notwithstanding, we were all too full to eat cake at 9 p.m. so after the appropriate picture-taking for all blog-sterity, the cake went into the refrigerator to be eaten for dessert tomorrow.

Brian's coconut cream birthday cake, #2

To make my iteration of coconut cream cake, first bake a lime chiffon cake. Rather than write it out again, I’ve made a link to the recipe. Then make the frosting. To make the frosting, make one recipe of crème fraîche.

1 1/2 cups heavy cream (at least 36% milk fat)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Add all ingredients to a large bowl. Let it rest, refrigerated, for 15 minutes. Whip until stiff peaks form. To make the coconut frosting, use one package (yields 1 cup) frozen young coconut jelly, thawed and drained. Discard the water and spread the drained coconut on a tray lined with paper towels. Cover with paper towels and pat dry. It’s important that the coconut jelly is dry and doesn’t make the crème fraîche runny. Frozen young coconut can be purchased at Asian supermarkets.

Set aside 1/3 of the crème fraîche. To the bowl, add the coconut jelly and mix thoroughly. Split the lime glow chiffon cake in half and spread the bottom half with half of the coconut-crème fraîche frosting. Put the top of the cake on top of the frosting. Spread the remaining frosting on top, being careful to just go to the edges. Frost the sides of the cake with the reserved crème fraîche.

Coconut Cream Cake

The result is a cake that is lightly sweet with a hint of lime and coconut. For a deeper coconut flavor I would add a few drops of coconut extract to the crème fraîche.

The lime and the coconut both together

Haupia Cake

A song recorded back in 1971 inspired this cake.  It’s the song  Coconut  by Harry Nilsson, the silliest song ever played on a single chord and containing the line “put de lime in de coconut and drink dem both up” that was covered by The Muppets who made it a bigger hit than Nilsson. I had made this haupia cake back in November for John who loves white cakes. I decided to try the coconut pudding cake  again, this time with a lime chiffon cake as a base. It turns out my father loves white cakes too.

Haupia Hawaiian Coconut Pudding Cake with Crème Fraîche

The Cake Baker’s Notes: This recipe is my own adaptation of the classic Hawaiian dessert. It’s made in three steps. First, make the cake, then make the haupia pudding filling, and finally, the crème fraîche. If you wish add fresh young coconut slivers to the haupia pudding. I recommend using Thai unsweetened coconut milk as it tends to be creamier and thicker. If a thin coconut milk is used increase the cornstarch a tablespoon at a time until the consistency is thickened. To add more cornstarch to the pudding mixture, make a solution of water and cornstarch, about 1:1. Never add cornstarch directly to the pudding.

First, bake a Lime Glow Chiffon Cake (adapted from The Cake Bible)

Have at room temperature:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups white superfine sugar, set aside 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup safflower oil
7 large eggs, separated plus 3 additional whites
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon grated lime peel
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Prepare to bake. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Set aside one ungreased 10 inch two-piece tube pan. Make sure the large bowl for the egg whites and the beaters are free of grease.

Whip the egg whites. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is slowly raised. Beat in the 2 tablespoons of reserved sugar and beat until stiff peaks form when the beater is slowly raised. Rinse the beaters and dry them.

Combine all the dry ingredients. In another large mixing bowl, combine the flour, the remaining sugar, baking soda, and salt. Beat 1 minute to mix. Make a well in the center.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry. In the center well, add the oil, egg yolks, water, lime juice, lime zest, and vanilla. Beat one minute until smooth. Set aside.

Combine the two mixtures. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a large balloon wire whisk, slotted skimmer, or angel food cake folder until just blended, when there are streaks remaining.

Bake. Pour into the tube pan. The batter will come up to 1 inch from the top. Run a small metal spatula or knife through the batter to eliminate air pockets. Bake for 55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center.

Cool the cake. Invert the pan, placing the tube opening over a funnel to suspend the cake above the counter. Cool the cake completely in the pan 1 1/2 hours.

Unmold the cake. To unmold the cake, loosen the sides and center tube with a long metal spatula. Remove the side of the pan. Dislodge the bottom and center core with a metal spatula or a long thin sharp knife. Invert onto a greased wire rack and reinvert onto a serving plate. Wrap airtight. Freeze cake as a frozen cake helps set the pudding filling.

Second, make the Haupia Coconut Pudding filling (from:


1 1/2  cups (12 ounce can) unsweetened coconut milk (See The Cake Baker’s Notes above)
4 -6 tablespoons sugar
4 -6 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup water or fresh coconut water, if available
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (Also recommend vanilla or rum extract!)
1/2 cup slivered fresh young coconut, optional

Make the pudding. Pour coconut milk into saucepan. In a medium bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in water and blend well. Stir sugar mixture into coconut milk; cook and stir constantly over low heat until it becomes thickened.

Add flavoring. Remove from heat. Stir in extract.

Blend in coconut. If using fresh young coconut slivers, stir gently and evenly into mixture.

Trim and slice the cake for frosting. Remove cake from freezer and, using a serrated knife, slice cake into two layers. Trim the top to level it and make the cake layers even.

Fill the cake. Put bottom cake layer on a large plate with the cut side up. Spread half the haupia on top to within 1/4 inch of the edge. Place the second cake layer on top of the haupia, cut side down trimmed top up.  Press down slightly so that the haupia will spread to the edge. Spread the remaining haupia on the trimmed top going all the way to the edge.

Decorate and Refrigerate. Refrigerate to set the pudding. When the haupia pudding is set, frost top and sides with crème fraîche.

Finally, make the Crème Fraîche (from: The Cake Bible)


1 1/2 cups heavy cream (In Canada, at least 35% milk fat)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Prepare ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, sour cream, and sugar then refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

Whip ingredients. Beat cream mixture until soft peaks form when the beaters are raised or until it mounds when dropped from a spoon.

Frost cake sides. Using a thin spatula, spread the crème fraîche evenly on the sides of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to slice and eat. Serve with any remaining crème fraîche. Refrigerate, covered, any uneaten portions.