- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Parades. Picnics. Backyard cookouts. Band concerts. Fireworks. Whether you live in a small town or a major metropolitan center, these quintessential activities define Fourth of July festivities across our country.

I remember the routine we followed for Independence Day when we lived in Ohio. As the sun came up (think 6:30 a.m.), trucks with loudspeakers drove through our small community, announcing that it was time to rise and celebrate our nation’s birthday.

A few hours later, everyone gathered along the sides of a long, curving boulevard to watch a parade that included children riding on neighborhood floats, high school bands strutting to a 4/4 beat, veterans marching in aging uniforms and politicians waving from vintage convertibles.

Then there were the picnics and barbecues. Riding through the streets of our neighborhood, you could smell the smoky goodness wafting from a gazillion grills and glimpse groups gathered around backyard tables laden with delectable fare. Later, there were band concerts, and after dark, glorious fireworks brought a close to the day.

Food, especially American favorites, plays a major role in this summer holiday celebration. Juicy steaks and burgers or barbecued chicken and ribs accompanied by crusty baked beans, crispy coleslaw and corn on the cob slathered with butter are still among the offerings that take center stage when I am cooking. Dessert is something rich and indulgent, such as the holiday coconut cake that follows.

Several weeks ago, I found a yellowed and torn page with the directions for this coconut cake in an old folder. There was no author’s name on the handwritten recipe, but it sounded delicious. As soon as I baked the cake, I knew it would be perfect for a July 4 menu.

Composed of three golden layers that are split and spread with an icing of whipped cream, sour cream, confectioners’ sugar and coconut flakes, the cake is well over 6 inches high and will easily serve 12.

A note on the recipe said it is best when baked, iced and then refrigerated for three days before serving. I started nibbling after one day, but the cake was just as good two days later.

Garnished with strawberries and blueberries, this towering creation would make a stunning finale for our country’s birthday parties.

July 4th mile-high coconut cake

CAKE:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing cake pans

31/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting cake pans

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup coconut milk or whole milk (see note)

ICING AND GARNISH:

11/2 cups heavy or whipping cream

2 cups sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 10-ounce package (about 31/3 cups) sweetened coconut flakes, divided

1 quart strawberries, cleaned and hulled

1 pint blueberries, cleaned

Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans, then line them with 3 rounds of parchment paper cut to fit pans. Butter and flour parchment.

Sift 31/2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon baking powder together and set aside. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1 cup butter until creamy and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Gradually add sugar in a thin stream, beating 3 to 4 minutes more and stopping machine and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

Add eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Alternately add dry ingredients in three additions and milk in two additions, starting and ending with dry ingredients. Stop mixer to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Divide batter evenly and pour into prepared pans.

Bake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until a tester comes out clean and cakes are golden on top, about 25 minutes.

Remove and cool cakes in pans, 10 minutes. Then run a knife around inside edges of pans and invert cakes onto cooling racks. Remove and discard parchment papers. Cool to room temperature, then slice each layer horizontally into two equal rounds.

For the icing, whip cream until firm. Place sour cream and vanilla in a large mixing bowl, and sift confectioners’ sugar over it. Whisk well to combine. Then fold in the whipped cream and 3 cups of the coconut flakes.

Place a cake-layer bottom on a flat plate, and spread a generous cup of icing on it.

Repeat with a cake-layer top and spread with icing. Continue stacking and icing remaining layers in this way. Sprinkle remaining coconut flakes over icing on top of cake.

Place cake in an airtight container; refrigerate 1 to 3 days. (Keep cake refrigerated until serving time.) To serve, carefully transfer cake to serving platter or stand, and garnish with strawberries and blueberries. Cut with a serrated knife. Makes 12 servings.

Note: You can use either coconut milk or whole milk.

The former will give a more pronounced coconut flavor.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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