Weekend Food Prep–How NOT to make a Coconut Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting

I like to think that my regular readers appreciate that on Saturdays when it comes to recipe time, I get straight to the point. I give you a little background, and then get on with the recipe. It’s my intent to give you what you want without all the unnecessary fluff of exposition so common with the recipe blogger crowd.

Well, not today!

Today, you get all the backstory, because this is a failed recipe. One mess after another, and this is what I got out of it–a lumpy, underbaked chocolate cake with overly sweet frosting mooshing out.

What I wanted was a rich chocolate cake with fluffy coconut icing and dark, bittersweet chocolate in contrast. A Mounds bar on a dessert plate. This would be a fancy layer cake, pretty with contrasting stripes of flavorful filling.

So, I started with baking a chocolate cake. I’d had good luck with this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen before, using it for these cupcakes.

They recommend underbaking the cake a bit, so I followed that instruction and removed the two round pans when they seemed to have just baked. I got a bit nervous when the cakes almost immediately began to sink in the middle, but I figured it would be alright once they cooled and firmed up a bit. So here are mistakes numbers one and two–I chose the wrong recipe of cake and I underbaked it. When I sliced through the cake to make layers, it was soft to the point of breaking into chunks, and the texture was so moist, it was like a gooey brownie rather than a firm layer cake. Tasty chunks of gooey brownie, to be sure, but not nearly enough structure to create the tower I was going for. But I soldered on.

The next step was making a coconut filling. I like old-fashioned 7-minute frosting, which is really a meringue. Egg whites, sugar and flavorings are beaten over simmering water until a firm, spreadable frosting is created. So, I started with that.

Seven-Minute Frosting

one. Whisk together in a heat-proof, nonreactive bowl until frothy:
2 egg whites (don’t use liquid egg whites for this, it has to be from fresh eggs)
1/3 cup water (don’t forget this part like I did, mistake number 3, but in case you do forget, I learned you can add it later when you realize it looks really weird and grainy)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbs. corn syrup
1/4 tsp. cream of tarter

two. Place the bowl into a sauce pan with barely simmering water at the level that submerges the egg whites. Using a handheld, electric beater, beat constantly for 5 minutes, or until a fluffy, glossy meringue has been formed and you can make stiff peaks. If you’re concerned about the eggs being fully cooked, check that they’ve reached at least 140oF.

three. Remove from the heat and beat another few minutes until the meringue has cooled down. Beat in
1 tsp. vanilla

four. Now, this is where mistake number four happened. I wanted coconut filling, so I toasted about 1 cup of unsweetened coconut. That went fine. But then, instead of folding in the coconut, like I kinda really knew I should have, I half-assed it and used my electric mixer. And my beautifully, pillowy, luscious meringue lost all of its bubbles, deflated into a gooey, melted marshmallow of a mess. But it tasted good, so I decided to use it anyway, and besides, waste not want not and all of that.

So, I used this messy coconut mixture to weld my cake bits together between the layers. This made way more icing than I needed for this purpose, and I did end up throwing about half of it away. So, maybe that counts as mistake number five. I should have made only half of the recipe.

The final bit of the cake was the chocolate frosting. I wanted a rich, bittersweet chocolate to counteract the sweet coconut, so I went with an old favorite, a quick mocha frosting.

Quick Mocha Frosting

This might have been the first frosting I learned to make. It’s a nostalgic, American powdered sugar icing, and it’s good on a basic chocolate or yellow birthday cake.

one. Melt in a microwave safe bowl:
1 cup (6 oz) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

two. In a large mixing bowl, beat together:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup softened butter

three. Add the melted chocolate along with:
2 Tbs. hot, strong coffee
2 tsp. vanilla

four. Beat until light and fluffy. Adjust the texture with additional strong coffee, added about 1/2 Tbs. at a time, until spreadable.

Yields enough to scantly frost a two-layer cake.

So, after making this nostalgic loveliness, I proceeded to spread it between the two rounds, on the sides, and top of the layer cake. The layers sloshed drunkenly around, as the coconut filling was so loose, and the layers continued to crumble as I attempted to glue them together with additional frosting.

As a final flourish, I pressed additional toasted coconut into the sides, all the while pressing and coaxing the thing into roughly a traditional tower sort of shape.

I set the final cake in the fridge, hoping it would all magically set up given a bit of time, and eventually, I braved a slice. It was disappointing. The coconut filling was fine and vaguely coconutty, but the mocha frosting was so overpoweringly sweet, the final flavor profile was mostly of raw powdered sugar (which gives us mistake number six, using a powdered sugar icing). The chocolate cake itself is delicious, but so delicate, it was no match for the heavy toppings. I ended up peeling off most of the mocha frosting and eating the cake and coconut filling without it.

It’s not so terrible that it is going into the compost, but the most inspiring thing about this cake is that it inspires me to try again and do better next time! I wish you good luck in your baking and cooking experiments this coming week! Feel free to share your recent failures below.

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