This is the best cake I've ever made. Now, I'm not one to exaggerate just for the sake of a story. But how can you go wrong with a coconut-pecan-vanilla-caramel filling nestled between chocolate cake layers, and topped with ganache?
The truth is, there is plenty to go wrong with this cake. You must be precise with this recipe and give yourself lots of time or risk failure. But it's so delicious that you have to try anyway.
A true testament of this cake's immense appeal is the fact that I have made it several times even though it takes me a full four-and-a-half hours. That's right, four-and-a-half hours from start to finish.
In fact, now that I have this cake down to a science, I know to start some of the steps a day early, and I recommend that you do the same.
The first time I ever made this cake, I started at 8 p.m. and realized within minutes that I wouldn't be going to bed at my usual time that night.
That was my fault. And that's why I now read recipes from start to finish before I actually start to make something.
I first discovered this recipe when I searched for "chocolate and coconut and cake" in Epicurious.com via the Bridge Street Bakery in Vermont after Gourmet magazine used this cake to grace one of its covers in 2000.
You can find this recipe at either of the links above, or below for your own convenience. Don't say I didn't warn you -- this cake is not for the faint of heart. You need to be confident before embarking on this one.
For cake layers
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup boiling-hot water
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
4 ounces coarsely chopped pecans (1 cup)
14-ounces can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
10 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
Special equipment: 3 (9-inch) round cake pans
Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350°F and oil cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk together whole milk, butter, whole egg, yolk, vanilla, and almond extract in another large bowl until just combined. Beat egg mixture into flour mixture with an electric mixer on low speed, then beat on high speed 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and beat in water until just combined (batter will be thin). Divide batter among cake pans (about 1 1/2 cups per pan) and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans and rotating them 180 degrees halfway through baking, until a tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes total.
Cool layers in pans on racks 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment or wax paper and cool layers completely.
Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
Spread coconut in a large shallow baking pan and pecans in another. Bake pecans in upper third of oven and coconut in lower third, stirring occasionally, until golden, 12 to 18 minutes. Remove pans from oven.
Increase oven temperature to 425°F.
Pour condensed milk into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and cover tightly with foil. Bake milk in a water bath in middle of oven 45 minutes. Refill baking pan with water to reach halfway up pie plate and bake milk until thick and brown, about 45 minutes more. Remove pie plate from water bath.
Stir in coconut, pecans, and vanilla and keep warm, covered with foil.
Make glaze while milk is baking:
Melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate and corn syrup, whisking until chocolate is melted. Transfer 1 cup glaze to a bowl, reserving remaining glaze at room temperature in pan. Chill glaze in bowl, stirring occasionally, until thickened and spreadable, about 1 hour.
Put 1 cake layer on a rack set over a baking pan (to catch excess glaze). Drop half of coconut filling by spoonfuls evenly over layer and gently spread with a wet spatula. Top with another cake layer and spread with remaining filling in same manner. Top with remaining cake layer and spread chilled glaze evenly over top and side of cake. Heat reserved glaze in pan over low heat, stirring, until glossy and pourable, about 1 minute. Pour glaze evenly over top of cake, making sure it coats sides. Shake rack gently to smooth glaze.
Chill cake until firm, about 1 hour. Transfer cake to a plate.
Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
For easier handling when assembling cake, place bottom layer on a cardboard round or the removable bottom of a tart or cake pan.
None, however the icing sugar and raspberries atop the cake were my idea. Other times I've used orchids, or sugar rosettes - depending on the occasion.
Would I make this again?
Yes, likely many more times. I've finally worked out a procedure that works for me. Make the cake layers the day before, and wrap them tightly before chilling. You can also toast the coconut and pecans the day before. This will cut down considerably on your prep time.
One thing I wish I had done was to use a large sharp knife -- after placing the cake layers on top of each other -- to even out the layers. This would prevent the ganache from rippling down the sides of the slightly uneven layers, I think. The great thing about this cake is that even if your ganache doesn't look picture perfect, you can camouflage any imperfections with fruit, or icing sugar, or whatever strikes your fancy.
Five stars out of five. Yes, it is time-consuming. Yes, the ingredient list is long, and can get expensive too. But the cake is moist and delicate, the filling is rich and indulgent, the ganache topping is silky smooth and decadent, and it is a striking cake to pull out at coffee time. And it even tastes great the next day.