- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Thanksgiving Day is nearly here, and I always greet this venerable American holiday with a little fear, for pulling off the feast takes some real cooking and planning. If you work ahead, doing as much as you can ahead of time, you will feel more relaxed come turkey day and have time to visit with family and friends.

One way to cook ahead is to make this wonderful sweet potato layer cake instead of traditional pumpkin pie. Or serve it alongside the pumpkin pie if you just have to have the pie.

Sweet potato cake with coconut pecan cream cheese frosting

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing the pans

Flour for dusting the pans

1 16-ounce can sweet potatoes in heavy syrup

1 18.25-ounce package plain spice cake mix

3 large eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil, such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean or sunflower

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Coconut pecan cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease 2 9-inch round cake pans with solid vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

Mash the sweet potatoes with their heavy syrup in a large mixing bowl using a fork or potato masher. Add the cake mix, eggs, oil and cinnamon. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute.

Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 to 3 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The batter should look well combined and thickened.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans, smoothing it out with the rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven side by side.

Bake the cakes until they spring back when lightly pressed with your fingers and just start to pull away from the sides of the pan, 28 to 31 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and invert each onto a rack, then invert them again onto another rack so the cakes are right side up. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the coconut pecan cream cheese frosting. Place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving platter. Spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first layer and frost the top and sides of the cake with clean, smooth strokes. Makes 16 servings.

COCONUT PECAN CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup flaked coconut

½ cup finely chopped pecans

Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Stop the machine. Add the confectioners’ sugar, a bit at a time, blending with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is well incorporated, 1 minute. Add the vanilla, then increase the mixer speed to medium and blend the frosting until fluffy, 1 minute more. Fold in the coconut and the pecans.

Use at once to frost the top and sides of the cake of your choice. Makes 3½ cups, enough to frost a 2- or 3-layer cake.

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