January 29, 2015

Heaven-in-a-Pan Coconut Sheet Cake

One of the best things I get to do on a regular basis is facilitate a women's Bible study at my church on Tuesday mornings. A while ago, one of our members posted a photo and recipe of a coconut sheet cake, and another of our lovelies (who was coming back to us for the first time after life-saving emergency surgery) posted a "suggestion" that someone needed to make the cake and bring it to our next meeting. 

My mom took up the call and brought the cake--which I summarily became addicted to.

The original recipe promises that the cake "melts in your mouth." Um, yes, and no wonder considering its generous quantities of butter, shortening, and sugar. I am not opposed to these ingredients. I quite like them, in fact. 

But I want to be able to eat this cake on a regular basis. I want to have it parked on my kitchen counter for random "neatening." (Is that a crooked edge? Are you kidding me?) I am a big dessert fan--and not just on "special occasions" unless you count your average Tuesday night as special. I want the recipe for this cake to be batter-splattered from frequent use...soon.

Incredibly enough, an online search for a lower-fat version of the cake yielded nothing. So I set about coming up with my own recipe. I found a lightened-up sheet cake similar to the cake of my addiction in terms of procedure but with less sugar and no shortening. Reduced-fat sour cream and unsweetened applesauce had been added in, and I had high hopes these would moisten and tenderize the cake in lieu of the shortening.

I followed the basic recipe for the lighter sheet cake but added coconut extract. I also changed out the all-purpose flour in the cake for a flour blend: still mostly all-purpose but also with small amounts of coconut flour (thanks for the idea, Mom!) and white whole-wheat.

The original cake had been topped while warm with a coconut glaze that infused the dessert with coconutty goodness. I wanted this same coconut hit but preferably without the stick of butter. Again, I love my butter. But still. 

I found a cooked icing recipe in a cookbook from my collection and swapped out the prescribed brown sugar in that recipe for white. Another convinsing dose of coconut extract sealed the deal. I poured the warm icing over the warm cake, gave it a shower of flaked coconut, and dug in, straight from the pan. While I was standing at the kitchen counter.

Really, I am just so happy. This enlightened cake is still moist, tender, and unmistakably coconutty. But instead of 24 total tablespoons of butter/shortening in the original, this version uses half that (all butter). I scaled the sugar back as well. And the whole thing comes together in a few minutes with a saucepan and a wooden spoon. 

I am under no delusion that this is health food. But it surely is comfort food, and I need comforting a lot more than the couple times a year I would have felt justified making and eating the original recipe. This cake may just be my new non-chocolate best dessert friend.

Heaven-in-a-Pan (& Have-It-More-Often) 
Coconut Sheet Cake

(I'm tech-challenged, but I think a printable version might be here.)

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour (found in 5-lb bags with all the other flours at most supermarkets; this whole-grain flour is lighter in color and softer in texture than traditional whole-wheat flour)
1/2 cup coconut flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream (NOT fat-free)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon coconut extract (plus a few extra drops if you really like coconut)

1 cup white sugar
2 TB butter
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) milk, plus additional as needed
2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract (plus a few extra drops if you really like coconut)

Sweetened flaked coconut for garnishing (approximately 1 cup)

What to Do:
1. Round up a sheet pan approximately 9" by 13" in size. You can fudge a little on these measurements...7x11 or 10x15, for example. But don't try to cram this quantity of batter into a 9-inch square or stretch it across a half-sheet pan. Butter the pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spay.

2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and make sure your rack is in the middle position.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, white whole-wheat flour, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan, bring the 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter and the water just to a boil, stirring once or twice while waiting for this to happen.

5. As soon as the butter/water mixture boils, pull the pan off the heat. Dump the flour mixture into the pan, followed by all the remaining cake ingredients in the order listed. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon just until everyone is in the party and you don't see any rebellious pockets of dry flour mixture.

6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake emerges with moist crumbs clinging to it. Be careful not to overbake this cake. You want the aforementioned moist crumbs--not wet batter, but not a totally clean pick, either. A minute can make a difference here, so start checking early and keep checking often. As my mom always said, you can add cooking time, but you can't take it away.

7. While your cake is baking, making the icing by melting the 1 cup white sugar, the 2 tablespoons of butter, and the milk in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook (keep stirring!) until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for 2-5 minutes while the cake finishes baking. If the icing base mixture starts to set before your cake comes out of the oven, put it back over medium heat and resume your stirring just long enough to liquefy it again.

8. When your cake is done, remove it from the oven, poke the entire surface with a fork, and set it on top of the stove or on a wire rack while you finish off your icing: add the confectioner's sugar and the coconut extract (your second installment of this ingredient in this cake) to the cooked sugar mixture and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and/or you have worked out all your aggression, whichever comes first. If the icing looks too thick to pour easily, add a little more milk, a few drops at a time, until you have a manageable but not runny consistency.

9. Immediately pour the warm icing over your fork-poked cake and spread it evenly from edge to edge. Without delay, sprinkle the entire surface generously with flaked coconut.

10. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. If you have any to store, be sure to cover your pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil so it doesn't dry out. Eating the entire cake the day it's made also solves this problem nicely.

*This is really the only unusual ingredient in this recipe. Coconut flour is gluten-free, which helps make this cake especially tender. It also augments the coconut flavor we are seeking here. Yes, it is expensive (I bought a pound at Big Lots for about $7...you can find it for slightly more at any health food store). But if you store it, well-wrapped, in the freezer, it will last a long time. Swap it in for part of the flour in your favorite pancake recipe, top it with pineapple, and you'll be off to Hawaii without needing a plane ticket or a bathing suit. I highly recommend making the effort to get some and use it in this cake, but if necessary, you could substitute in 1/2 cup cake flour or additional all-purpose flour or white whole-wheat flour. Your finished cake just won't be quite as tender. 

~Baker Beware~ This recipe worked using the ingredients and method listed above. You are of course free to make your own substitutions at will--coconut oil for the butter, self-rising flour for the all-purpose, ground flaxseed for the eggs, agave nectar for the sugar, etc. But if you make these substitutions, you will have made a different cake than the one described above. Who knows...it will probably be fabulous! If it is, let me know so I can try it!