Other people’s recipes: Moosewood’s Coconut Lemon Layer Cake

Another weekend, another cake! This time, it’s Coconut Lemon Layer Cake from The Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts (Clarkson Potter, 1997; p. 94). Like most of the recipes in this cookbook, it’s not attributed to any particular baker, and some aspects (like the absence of ingredient weights) show the age of this cookbook, but when I brought it in to work, most people who tried it thought it was delicious. (One taster, however, said that he didn’t think the lemon and coconut flavors were particularly harmonious — but another taster described them as “well balanced”.) Here is how I made it:

Mise en place
We start, as usual, with the mise en place. This cake, like several of the other cakes I’ve done these past few weeks, starts with a batter made from creamed butter and sugar, some sort of liquid, flour, and leavening, and then lightens it considerably by folding in an egg-white foam. This is a “white” cake, which means it has no egg yolks (the whole eggs you see will be used to make lemon curd, later on). The egg whites I used were leftovers from making Daffodil Cake a few weeks ago; unlike yolks, egg whites store perfectly fine in the freezer. The other ingredients shown here are 50 g of shredded coconut, which I’ve already toasted, but is actually used last (as a final topping for the cake); coconut milk, which is the source of both the liquid and the coconut flavor in the cake proper; 11 oz (310 g) of pastry flour; 400 g of sugar; salt and baking powder; butter; and vanilla. Two sticks (8 oz, 225 g) of butter go into the cake batter, and the third stick goes into the lemon curd, along with the zest of three lemons, the juice of one lemon, the three whole eggs, and (not shown here) 150 g more sugar. The three different bottles of vanilla are there because I wasn’t sure whether I’d have enough of any one; I ended up using the last of the Madécasse extract and made up the difference with the Spice House Mexican vanilla.

The ingredient notes for coconut milk in this cookbook talk about it coming in cans, and combined with the publication date that suggested to me that I should avoid the big aseptic cartons of newfangled dairy substitutes in favor of something I could buy in a can at the Asian grocery.

Batter before incorporating egg
As I mentioned, the batter of the cake is made by creaming the butter and the sugar, then incorporating the liquid ingredients alternately with the dry ingredients, which is a fairly common procedure for this type of cake.

Whipped egg whites
In a reversal of last week’s procedure, this time I made the egg-white foam with the hand mixer and used the stand mixer for the creaming. As before, I added an eighth of a teaspoon of cream of tartar, not called for in the recipe, as insurance against egg-white collapse.

The egg whites are then folded into the batter, which lightens it considerably in texture, and then portioned out into two previously prepared 9×2-inch cake pans. (Sorry, no pictures!) Since I knew the tare weight of my stand mixer’s bowl, I was able to accurately split the batter between the two pans, each getting about 650 g of batter.

Lemon curd prior to cooking
While the cake is baking, it’s time to make the lemon curd. We start out by whisking together three eggs, 150 g of granulated sugar, a tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest (it took three lemons for me), and a third of a cup of lemon juice (80 ml or about one large lemon’s worth). This is then cooked slowly over the stovetop until thickened (which not only denatures the egg proteins, it also denatures any lingering Salmonella bacteria — for optimal safety, one should probably check the temperature with a probe thermometer, but I didn’t bother to do so this time). The lemon-egg mixture is then pressed through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the chalaza from the egg the lemon zest (nobody wants chewy lemon curd!), and then 8 tablespoons of room-temperature butter are stirred in, one at a time, until fully incorporated. The finished curd has to set up in the refrigerator, but it will be ready by the time the cakes are cool. The lemon-curd recipe makes about 390 g of curd.

Both cake layers side-by-side
And about those cakes… I left them in the oven for 40 minutes, the recommended time, at 350°F (175°C), the recommended temperature, but they actually were a bit overcooked at the edges, with the classic domed center that indicates a too-high oven temperature. (The dome comes about because the edges of the cake set before the cake is finished rising, whereas the still-uncooked center is still able to expand.)

Domed cake layers
That’s a really big dome. Very unfortunate. I ended up using a small serrated knife to saw off the hardened crust around the edges, and my longest bread slicer to cut the domes off both layers.

The scraps from leveling both cake layers
That’s how much cake didn’t end up in the final product. I found another purpose for it, though. <burp>

Filled cake prior to frosting
I wasn’t too worried about the surgery I had to do to the layers, however, because this is a filled cake, and as usual with filled cakes, the bottoms of the layers, which are completely flat, face outwards, with the cut surfaces facing the filling. Only half of the lemon curd is used to fill the cake; the other half is mixed with the whipped cream to create a light, mildly sweet frosting.

Completed cake
And thereby hangs a tale. I was just about to whip the cream on Sunday night when I saw to my horror that I had mistakenly bought a pint of useless half-and-half rather than the heavy cream I had intended to get. (I was rooting around in the refrigerator case trying to find cream with a better date, and the two bottles of my usual brand are nearly identical.) So after my bike ride on Monday morning, I had to rush to the store and pick up a half-pint of cream to finish frosting the cake. The cream is simply whipped to stiff peaks, then mixed with the remaining lemon curd, to make this light lemon frosting; then (finally) the toasted coconut is sprinkled on top. This recipe actually calls for coconut flakes rather than shredded coconut, but I used what I had. Keeping the cake in the refrigerator overnight did help the lemon curd set up even further; this cake is intended to be refrigerated after frosting, which I wasn’t able to do since I was already running late for work.


For a layer cake, this isn’t obscenely high-calories — and of course the cake itself is relatively light thanks to all those egg whites, so it’s mostly the filling and frosting that push up the toll. As is usual, I made 16 slices, which is at the high end of this recipe’s suggested yield, but nobody complained about the serving size. The figures below do not reflect the amount of cake I removed in the leveling process, nor do they reflect the amount of frosting that I had left over (about half a cup), assuming instead that all of the cake and all of the frosting made it into the final cake.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/16 of a 2-layer cake
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 473 Calories from fat 252
% Daily Value
Total Fat 28g 43%
 Saturated Fat 18g 92%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 100mg 33%
Sodium 200mg 8%
Potassium 59mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 51g 17%
 Dietary fiber 1g 5%
 Sugars 35g
Proteins 4g 9%
Vitamin A 17%
Vitamin C 5%
Calcium 7%
Iron 3%
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