The Dream of Cake

[Cake for Whitney, May 2009.]

Once, a few years ago, I had a long layover in Munich on the way back from Thessaloniki to Washington, DC. I wandered the airport in a fog of sleepiness and humidity (who knew Germany was so grey and hot in the summer?) and bought a sweater in Benetton on the euro that I ended up hardly ever wearing. I checked in early and looked for a place to eat — not a sandwich, as I’d had so many of those during the past few weeks (or at least, lots of cheese and bread) — but something sit-down and proper. I can’t remember exactly what I got (!) but it was delicious. I read my magazine and sipped a strong cup of coffee, and then I tucked into a slice of chocolate cake

What was so special about that cake? Nothing, probably — it was just chocolate, after all, topped with thick bittersweet ganache. But oh, did it taste so good to that weary traveler, already aching a bit for the Greece I’d just left.

Or maybe I was jetlagged?

Jetlag can do funny things to the brain. It can prompt one to send text messages in the early morning hours of the day from the Philadelphia airport regarding wishes to catch the next plane … anywhere, perhaps to Burlington or Belize or Bahrain or all or neither. It can create naps while waiting for the next flight, curled up into those uncomfortable airport seats. It can cause you to fall asleep at 6p and wake up at 3a ready to start the day even though there’s no way you should be starting the day at 3a.

Mostly, it necessitates lots of coffee and sometimes also cake.

There’s a certain cake I used to bake a lot for birthdays when I lived in Washington : a confectioner’s ideal of smooth white cake layers sandwiching cool pineapple, filled and frosted with fluffy whipped cream, and sprinkled all over with toasted coconut. Individually each of these components could stand on its own — fresh pineapple for breakfast is one of my favorite treats, and I swear I could eat shredded coconut by the handful — so together they form a sort of cake-y splendor that transcends even the dream of cake.

Yes, perhaps it seems as though I exaggerate a bit. But really I’m not. Promise.

(Look at that thing — it’s really so awfully pretty, don’t you think?)

It’s a true stunner.

This weekend we celebrated my parents’ 40th anniversary with a garden party (or, rather, a party in the backyard, complete with lots of cold champagne and a ping-pong table set up in the field). My brother and his girlfriend Emily were in from Maine, as well as my uncle and his girlfriend, Sharon, from Florida and so we cooked and drank and feasted quite well for about two days. Our menu included

Spanikopita and dolmades
Hummus and breads
Assorted cheeses

Grilled salmon, with choice of almond-parsley pesto or nectarine salsa
Roasted potato-pesto salad
Grilled zucchini
Slow-roasted tomatoes
Vegetable skewers (mushrooms, peppers, onions)
Couscous-feta salad
Greek salad

Oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies
Mini vegan chocolate cupcakes
Two coconut cakes, one filled with pineapple and one filled with peaches

It was a time, and I have photos. Oh-so-many photos. But for the moment I can only offer you this cake: appropriate for birthdays, weddings, anniversary celebrations, last days at the office — or just tonight. It’s dreamy and perfect any time of year and for any occasion. And I wish I had a piece right now with some Greek coffee to tide me through the rest of the afternoon.

Coconut-pineapple Layer Cake

For cake layers
2 1/3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, beaten lightly

For filling
a 28-ounce can crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
a rounded 1/4 cup sugar

2 2/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut (a 7-ounce bag), toasted golden
and cooled

1 carton whipped cream, whipped

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottoms of 2 buttered 9- by2-inch round cake pans with rounds of wax paper. Dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a glass measuring cup stir together milk and vanilla. In a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed cream butter 1 minute and add sugar in a steady stream, beating until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition, until pale and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture in 4 batches alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and stirring after each addition until batter is smooth.

Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops, and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cake layers in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of each pan and invert cake layers onto racks. Remove wax paper carefully and cool cake layers completely. Cake layers may be made 5 days ahead and frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil. Thaw cake layers in refrigerator 1 day before proceeding with recipe.

Make filling:
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the pineapple, sugar, and cornstarch. Stir well to combine and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thick. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Spread one cake layer with about 1/4 of the whipped cream. Top with the pineapple filling and sprinkle coconut lightly over it. Top with the other cake layer. Spread the cake with the remaining whipped cream, covering completely. Liberally sprinkle coconut over the cake.

Join the Conversation

  1. i love you when you are jet-lagged.

  2. Oh my this looks fantastic! What a beautiful summer cake.

  3. You and your family certainly know how to eat!

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