Declaring Winter is Over with Spring Cakes

IMG_4173If you lived through New York City this winter, it’s safe to say your heart may have sunk when spring rolled in with yet another snow fall followed by weeks of cold damp.It’s not that snow isn’t a beautiful marvel of Mother Nature. It is. Just not after a terribly slushy, sleet-filled winter.

So to Mother Nature, I offer you one spring-inspired coconut cake. Having worked at a bakery all through high school, switching out our cake cases became a hallmark of the change in seasons. Harvest-filled flavors transformed into vibrant, bright-flavored desserts.

Plucked by my dad from a leisurely Sunday read of the New York Times, this coconut layer cake has definitely become an Easter tradition in my family. Though it can be made anytime, I can’t help but think of warmer, pastel-filled climates when indulging. If you are in the New York City area, you can sample the cake yourself on the lunch menu at the well-known restaurant Telepan on the Upper West Side. And while this is a great option for those who are not culinary-inclined, it doesn’t allow for the opportunity to toast your own coconut flakes and make them “snow” onto a velvety landscape of cream cheese frosting. That beats real snow to me, any day!

Adapted from Larissa Raphael, Telepan, New York

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 sticks/226 grams unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups/265 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 1/2 teaspoon/3 grams fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons/10 grams baking powder
  • 3/4 cup/140 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated, plus 3 whites
  • 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters cream of coconut
  • 1 1/4 cups/295 milliliters unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons/30 milliliters coconut or dark rum
  • 7 tablespoons/104 milliliters freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 cups/370 grams unsweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks/226 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups/454 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract
  • 7 1/4 cups/2 pounds/907 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups/340 grams unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut, toasted

Preparation

Make the cake:

  1. Grease 3 8-inch cake pans and dust with flour. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and reserve. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add 3 egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl with spatula. Lower speed and gradually add flour mixture. Batter will be thick and pasty.
  3. Whisk together cream of coconut, coconut milk, rum and orange juice.
    Alternately add shredded coconut and the orange juice mixture to the batter.
  4. In the clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip 6 egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Cool
    in pans on wire rack. Unmold cakes once cool.

Make the frosting:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla extract. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix until combined and fluffy.
  2. Spread 1/4-inch-thick layer of frosting on top of the first layer of cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Place next cake layer on top and repeat with frosting and coconut. Repeat with the third layer, spreading frosting on top and around sides of cake. Hold cake steadily in one hand and use other hand to pat remaining coconut onto edges of cake.

Plated — A Culinary Savior for Busy Urbanites?

In today’s world – a world where Google delivery drones are an impending reality – it’s not hard to imagine an on-demand ingredient delivery service. In fact, as we near the end of 2014 – a plethora of services exist. Blue Apron, Meez Meals and Hello Fresh, just to name a few. I chose to try one called Plated, after being referred to the service by a friend.

Yes, I made this on a crazy busy weeknight!

Yes, I made this on a crazy busy weeknight!

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Eating My Way Through Asia: The Photos

Recently, I was lucky enough to travel to Asia on behalf of Ketchum, both as a global scholar and as a trainer of our planning process, RISC.  In a whirlwind of a month, I went through Singapore, Mumbai, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. When people ask about the experience, I point to the photos, which are mostly of food, naturally. Food is important within all cultures but it takes new heights in Asia. There, food is a manifestation of your persona – your heritage, your hometown, your ability to provide for your family, your graciousness towards a guest in your care. In India alone, I was astounded at the nuances of completely different cuisine belonging to certain regions of India – never again will I order “Indian” and not question if it’s North Indian or Gujarati, to name just two of many.

Here, I take you through my top food experiences, as seen through a selection of my personal photos.

Conveyor Belt Sushi, Singapore
Conveyor Belt Sushi: Though this has certainly hit the US before as a novelty thing, the complete normalcy of this experience in a Singapore mall is what struck me. Why wouldn’t one endlessly grab new dishes off a fast moving belt? For variety-addicts like me, this was one exciting meal (and one that could’ve gone on forever).

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The Dessert Course: Shoo Fly Pie

Holidays mean family. And in my family, family means dessert. So, logic would have it that holidays lead to family-centric dessert sessions, where dessert is a second meal (arguably, the best meal) after the normal, over-sized feast. All of my Christmas dessert sessions have been spent in one place – the farm where my grandfather lives and where my mom grew up, in rural Pennsylvania (a place called Pillow, PA). This is Pennsylvania Dutch territory – a moniker for the German folk who settled in Pennsylvania – the land of abundant fields, gorgeous seasonal landscapes, butter, and molasses.

Enter Shoo Fly Pie.

Shoo Fly Pie. Courtesy via FoodNetwork.com.

Shoo Fly Pie. Courtesy via FoodNetwork.com.

A quick Google search will help anyone identify the origins and meaning of this molasses-based dessert, growing up it was something none of my New York friends had heard of. It was my special family dessert, for when the city mouse in me became country mouse at the holidays. Tradition has it that its moniker comes from its strong molasses scent which attracts flies that must be “shooed” away, and I can confirm that it’s an appropriate name, having waved some flies away myself when eating it in the summertime. But winter was where the pie took greatest hold – the sweet buttery crumble mixed in with the sticky molasses bottom.

Sure, there are variations — whether we were going to have a “wet bottom” or “dry bottom” pie was a recurring discussion (dry bottom is a little lighter on the syrupy molasses base). But at the end of the day, with this dessert came sweet, crumbly Pennsylvania Dutch love. And considering that some of the other traditional dishes of this heritage involved parts of an animal I didn’t even know of as a girl, Shoo Fly was the clear winner for my young heart.  Watch Pennsylvania Dutch farmer-turned-professional Dwight Schrute talk about traditional dishes on The Office and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I’ll caution that this is a sweet pie, if you didn’t already form that conclusion. Granted, I have no comprehension of how something can be “too sweet.” (I worked at a bakery growing up. It feels right to be in the presence of an overwhelming amount of sugar.) But all who have tasted agree that a narrow slice is the perfect holiday treat–a taste that embodies everything sweet about the holidays. Though clearly I am a fan of creativity and innovation given my job at Ketchum, this is one holiday hallmark I will never tamper with–and I don’t believe any chef has either. That said, shoo fly pie donuts could have some potential…or shoo fly pie pancakes…maybe even shoo fly pie in a jar? You know what, let me get back to you on this…I’ve got some baking to do.

Wet Bottom Shoo Fly Pie Recipe

Pastry Shell:
1 1/4 (124 g) cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 (12 g) tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
1 stick (115 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small chunks2 tablespoons (30 g) ice water, plus more if needed

Crumb Mixture:
1 cup flour (99 g)
1/2 cup brown sugar (101 g)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening or butter (cut into 1/4″ bits) (57 g)

Liquid Mixture:
1 teaspoon baking soda (4 g)
1 cup boiling water (237 ml)
1 cup dark molasses (237 ml)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the pastry: combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in the ice water and work it in to bind the dough until it holds together without being too wet or sticky.

Squeeze a small amount together. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the counter and a rolling pin lightly with flour. Roll the dough out into a 10 inch circle. (To check the size, put the 9 inch pie pan upside down over the dough.) Carefully roll the dough up onto the pin (this may take a little practice) and lay it inside the pie pan. Press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides so it fits tightly. Trim the excess dough around the rim. Place the pie pan on a sturdy cookie sheet so it can prevent spills from burning in the bottom of the oven.

In a bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and shortening (or butter) using a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal.

In a second bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water, then add the molasses and stir to blend well.

Pour the liquid mixture into the unbaked pie shell and sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the top.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 25 minutes or until the filling is set and does not quiver when the pie pan is gently shaken from side to side. DO NOT OVERBAKE OR THE FILLING WILL BECOME TOO DRY.

Cool pie to room temperature before serving.