Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ina’s Coconut Cake Topped the Birthday Surprise!

Pulling off a surprise birthday party is no small feat. Planning, coordinating, sneaking around, out-and-out lying. And even if you can keep your own poker face on, you have to trust your compadres, too. But when your efforts are rewarded by a near-speechless, red-faced birthday friend blurting out, “Oh, you rats!” plus a Barefoot Contessa coconut cake, it’s all worth it.

And so it was a couple weeks ago, when our friend Susie was the target of a surprise birthday party on her actual birthday, but a year before one of those big decade milestones we really don’t like drawing attention to.

Susie’s daughter-in-law Courtney and her son Josh, with the conspiring talents of Susie’s (and our) good friend Mary, invited thirty people to their home on a weeknight after a workaday, directed us to out-of-the-way parking places, hid us all quietly (miraculously!) in a closed off den, and plotted how to get Susie to open the door on cue.

(The fact that Mary had -- just the night before -- baked a beautiful coconut cake, Susie's fave, for us all to share at a Wing Night certainly diminished the prospect of Susie even dreaming anyone might have anything up their sleeves. She was feted royally -- with singing, prezzies, even a tequila!)

And it all worked just as planned. (Knowing the party conspirators, I bet they had a Plan B in their back pocket, just in case; that’s why they’re so good at it!)

Courtney baked Ina's celebrated version of Susie's favorite cake. She made two double-layer cakes to accommodate the crowd, and even the most calorie-conscious among us couldn’t resist.  Courtney’s cake did not disappoint:   moist, creamy, sweet, but not cloying.  Delectable.  Food for the gods.

Ina Garten's Coconut Cake

• 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
• 2 cups sugar
• 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
• 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
• 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 cup milk
• 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
• 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
• 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
• 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut


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.

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 frosting. 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.


  1. Looks great, a wonderful suprise

  2. I just love coconut cake. Your cake turned out wonderful.

  3. Wow, my husband would kill for this cake. He is a coconut nut :)

  4. Susie loved the cake -- both cakes were delicious! And the surprise was, as they say, priceless!


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