Celebration-worthy Coconut Cake

The authors of “The Silver Palate Cookbook” shared their tips with Cathy Thomas.

“The Silver Palate Cookbook” changed the way we cook. Published in early ’80s, it took off and gave home cooks from coast to coast a good shot of culinary courage. The dishes were doable and the results impressive. Almost overnight, home cooking became more vibrant. Pesto, gazpacho, and chicken with fresh berries became commonplace. The Chicken Marbella became a dinner party staple.

Authors Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins wrote in the introduction to their book that they wanted to “take the mystery out of good food and allow people to have an honest appreciation for it.” The catalyst for the book grew out of their culinary experiences owning and operating The Silver Palate, a gem of a food store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The authors visited my kitchen in 2007 when the 25-year anniversary edition of the book was published. Together we whipped up their beloved Tomato, Montrachet, and Basil Salad, a dish that turned sliced tomatoes and red onions into an irresistible tomato-season treat. Basil puree, imported black olives, and a simple vinaigrette became tastebud seductive when creamy goat cheese was crumbled on top.

Few recipes seem dated, although over the years many of the trend-setting formulas have become everyday dishes. For me, it’s the classic coconut cake that stands out as one of my favorites from this timeless book.

The authors advise that the oh-so-chunky coconut rich frosting be generously used between the two layers and on top, leaving the sides “naked.” I like to use a more modest amount as a filling and just enough to cover the top, and then cover the sides of the cake using a flexible frosting spatula.

The cake makes a beautiful Easter cake or birthday cake, especially when adorned with pesticide-free pansies and berries. When my tiny Cecil Bruner pink roses are in bloom, I like to add them, too. If you like, spoon a mix of blackberries and halved strawberries around the base of the cake; the berries look beautiful and add a blend of welcome vibrant flavors. Before adding the fruit, I like to toss it with granulated sugar and some orange liqueur, in a 2:1 ratio, about 1 tablespoon sugar to 1 1/2 teaspoons liqueur. Let it sit until the sugar dissolves.

Bon Appetit!

The Silver Palate’s Coconut Cake

Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Butter and flour for preparing cake pans
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups (sweetened) shredded coconut, about 14 ounces
1 cup powdered sugar
Garnish: fresh berries, edible flowers
Optional garnish: halved strawberries and blackberries tossed with sugar and orange liqueur

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round layer cake pans.
  2. Beat sugar and eggs together in large bowl of electric mixer. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Add oil, wine, flour, salt, baking powder, and vanilla; beat for 2 minutes, scraping down sides halfway through mixing time.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pans. Set on center rack of preheated oven and bake until cake has pulled away from sides of pan and a knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
  4. Let cakes cool in pans for 5 minutes. Turn them out on a rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before frosting.
  5. Prepare frosting: Mix sour cream, vanilla and coconut in mixing bowl. Blend well. Add sugar and mix thoroughly. Place one cake layer on cake platter or plate and spread the top with coconut mixture. Place second layer on top of the first and spread with the coconut mixture on top. Frost the sides with coconut mixture and refrigerate until serving time. OR, you can divide the coconut mixture between the filling and top of the cake, leaving the sides “naked.” Garnish with fresh berries and edible flowers. If you wish, spoon fresh berries around the bottom of the cake (see story for flavoring details.) Source: adapted from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” (Workman, $19.95)

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”

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