Friday, May 20, 2011

Strawberry coconut chiffon shortcake

On Thursday I had a goodbye lunch with my lab, where I've worked for the past 3.5 years.  A cake was the best - though still hugely insufficient - way I could think of to say "thank you for being awesome."  I wanted this cake to be attractive and on the lighter side, since my coworkers also tend to eat healthily. 

While I liked the aesthetic concept and sponge cake of a strawberry shortcake such as this one by SmittenKitchen, I also wanted to make coconut cake.  Fortunately those two desires were not incongruous, and a Google search quickly gave me this coconut chiffon cake recipe, which served as my starting point.  As usual, I made some changes; I've included my complete recipe at the end of this post.  The result was exactly as I had hoped: light-ish (the cake was butter-free) but delicious (I replaced the water with coconut milk in order to boost the coconut flavor), pretty, and seasonally appropriate.

Some pictures of the process:

Egg yolks and dry ingredients

Wet ingredients and beaten egg whites

Layers, post-baking

Halfway assembled

Almost done

Strawberries on top

Strawberry coconut chiffon shortcake (serves 8-10, depending on level of dessert fanaticism)
Adapted from AllRecipes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.25 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 0.5 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 or 7 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7 egg whites
  • 0.5 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • ~1 quart strawberries, washed and dried
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • Some more white sugar and vanilla extract for the whipped cream
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to ~340 degF. 
  2. Line the bottoms of two ungreased 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper.
  3. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the vegetable oil, egg yolks, coconut milk, and vanilla extract.   Beat until smooth, which shouldn't take long.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.  Pour the egg yolk mixture gradually over the beaten egg whites and fold until almost blended.  Add the flaked coconut and fold in.  Pour batter into the cake pans.
  5. Bake at ~340 degF until the tops are evenly/lightly browned and spring back when touched lightly, the sides have started to pull away from the pans, and inserted toothpicks come out clean.  Let cool completely before using a butter knife to gently loosen the sides.
  6. Beat cream until soft peaks start to form, gradually adding sugar and a little bit of vanilla extract to taste.  If you want your whipped cream to be a little more stable, e.g., if your cake is going to sit at room temperature for more than a short while, then dissolve 1 teaspoon of gelatin in 2 tablespoons of hot water (a tip I learned from SmittenKitchen).  Let it cool, then add to the cream and keep beating until, to quote the same source, "it holds medium-firm peaks."
  7. Invert one of the cake layers onto your cake plate and remove the parchment paper.  Roughly dice half of the strawberries and fold into half of the whipped cream.  Spread this mixture onto the bottom cake layer.
  8. Place the second cake layer on top of the first.  I inverted this layer right onto my hand and then positioned it and removed the parchment paper, which worked fine since the cake seemed strong/elastic enough to handle in this way.  (I would not recommend the same approach for something like the 1-2-3-4 cake, which falls apart much more easily.)
  9. Spread the remaining whipped cream on top and garnish with strawberries to your heart's content.