blue stained-glass memories ::::
The summer between high school and college, I spent one week in Western Michigan with a group of about ten teens, painting a house for a low-income family. Days were long, first scraping the crumbling white paint from the exterior, then painting it Beethoven Blue. It was a soft shade of blue, like the pre-dawn Michigan summer sky, a color of newness. The other teens and I would sleep on the pews and floor of the church, sleeping bags and pillows, every night, a divine slumber party. It was a modern design: the wide altar and tall stained glass window stretching in front of the sanctuary like open arms to the congregation.
It was that stained glass which entranced me everyday. It rose from the floor to the vaulted ceiling peak and stretched down on the altar side walls. The blue triangles of glass were interspersed with pips of bright red, yellow, and green. So blue was the light through the window it cast a blue calm over me every morning and afternoon, a different blueness depending on the direction of the sun hitting the window, sometimes like the shade of Beethoven Blue.
The days were hot in the sun during the day while we worked, listening to The Ocean Blue and Depeche Mode. We drank lemonade, lots of water, and reveled in the occasional break from the sun, or opted to work on the side of the house that was shaded. I remember that short time fondly, waking early to go running with one of the chaperones, heading to breakfast, and working on the house much of the day. Teammates from that summer include of now well-rounded adults: there is a church choir director, a drummer for a band, a successful yoga instructor in Southern California, and a physician.
So what does this story have to do with coconut cake? We never had such a fancy cake in our humble and divine accommodations that summer. I had barely touched a mango at that point in my life. We never came close to drinking pina coladas. But for whatever reason, I think of blue, the clear, clean light through the speckled stained glass, and I think of this cake. It is a cake for a special occasion. A cake of remembrances, a cake to savor.
- For the mango curd (makes 1 cup): 1 pound mangos (frozen is fine), cut into ½-inch pieces
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- For the cake: ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
- 2 cups sugar
- 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup milk
- 4 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
- For the frosting: 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 5 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut (I used a large flaked coconut.)
- The night before, prepare the mango curd: Puree mango, sugar, lime juice, and salt in food processor, scraping down sides of work bowl occasionally.
- Add yolks. Puree about 10 more seconds.
- Strain through sieve set over large metal or heat-proof glass bowl, pressing on solids with back of spatula to release as much puree as possible. (This took some work to do.) Discard solids in sieve.
- Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170 degrees F. This may take you 10 minutes to do. It took me 20 minutes, because I turned by heat down too low after I noted it was boiling. Remove from water.
- Whisk in butter one piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The night before or early the next morning, prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.
- Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling. I made my cakes the night before, then made the frosting and assembled everything the next day.
- For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).
- To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with the mango curd. IMPORTANT NOTE: In order to avoid mango curd seepage from the edges when the second layer is placed on top (like mine did - don't use my photo as an example), I would recommend that you pipe frosting around the inside edge of the first layer (acting a fence to keep the curd from leaking), then spreading with curd inside the frosting circle.
- Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature. Flavors meld over time, and I felt the cake tasted better the next day.
- NOTE: While we loved this cake, everyone who tried it felt the mango curd was not mango-y enough. It was more lime flavored. Edge down the lime juice, and you might have more of a mango flavor. Want to add some pizzazz? Toast your coconut first, then add to cake. So pretty.