, Southern Gatherings, Author Pat Branning, Author Pat Branning

Let’s have a party!  I have always loved the fantasy of a party; the perfect way to indulge my imagination, creating special moments in time where we can leave our everyday world and venture into a new and fabulous one.  Make it simple, soulful, Southern and gorgeous!

As a Southern woman I view hospitality as the backbone of my heritage and the desire to entertain runs deep in my veins. Afterall, the generations of women who came before me set a precedent and created traditions for each new generation to preserve and hand down to the next.  As young girls we collect china, crystal, linens and silver and these things are held dear to us. We value our mother’s silver service passed down along with the multigenerational silver patterns owned by our families.  What a legacy! Let’s honor this legacy of our loved ones and we celebrate life’s special happenings, birthdays and baby Christenings, holidays, graduations, anniversaries and every day.  Each lovely celebration reflects the influence of mother and her mother, and the countless Southern women who have graciously led the way and entertained through the years.

For the Christening of our daughter Margaret and her husband Simon’s baby, we followed their lead and chose to serve the Ultimate Coconut Cake, the same cake served at their wedding just four years before George was born. This is a cake loved by Charleston brides and served often at their weddings.

There are 5 steps to creating this masterpiece but none of them difficult.  It’s well worth the effort if an occasion comes along where you truly wish to dazzle your guest with both taste and presentation.

Ultimate Coconut Cake

Courtesy of the Peninsula Grill, Charleston, S.C.

Step I Coconut Filling

5 cups heavy cream

3 cups sugar

4 sticks unsalted butter

¼ cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons water

9 cups shredded sweetened coconut

Place coconut in bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coconut is finely chopped.

In a small bowl, mix together cornstarch, vanilla and 3 tablespoons water and set aside. Place cream, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.

Add cornstarch mixture to cream mixture and bring to a boil. Simmer until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove cream mixture from heat and stir in processed coconut until well combined.

Transfer to a large baking bowl and let cool. Cover filling and chill overnight.

When ready to assemble cake, place half the mixture in the bowl of a 5 quart electric mixer fitter with the paddle attachment and beat for 4 to 5 minutes. Mixture should be creamy and smooth. Do the same process for the rest of the mixture.

Step 2   Cake

Yields two 10- inch round cakes (you’ll cut each layer into thirds later)

1 pound unsalted Plugra butter

3 cups sugar

6 large eggs

4 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tablepoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1 ½ tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coconut extract

Preheat oven to 325*. Spray two 10-inch round cake pans with cooking spray with flour.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy.

With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture, alternating with cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.

Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before removing from pans.

Step 3 Simple Syrup

¾ cup water

¾ cup sugar

Place water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. May store up to one month in refrigerator.

Step 4 Frosting

2 sticks unsalted Plugra butter, room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

Place butter and cream cheese in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment; beat until creamy. With mixer on low speed, slowly add vanilla, seeds from vanilla bean and confectioners’ sugar. Beat until creamy and smooth.

Step 5 Final Assembly

Yields one 6-layer cake

2 cups sweetened shredded coconut flakes, toasted

2 coconut cakes

simple syrup

coconut fillng

coconut cake frosting

Preheat oven to 375* Spread coconut flakes in an even layer on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden and set aside.

Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level; discard trimmings.

Cut each cake into 3 even layers.

Place 4 strips of parchment around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan.

Place one layer on cake plate and brush with about 1/5 of the simple syrup.

Spread 2 cups filling on the cake.

Place a second layer on top. Repeat process with the next 4 layers and top with last remaining layer.

Spread top and sides of cake with frosting, keeping in mind you may not need to use all of it.

Press coconut into sides of cake; remove parchment paper strips.

Chill cake up to 5 days. The syrup is more evenly distributed after 1 day.

Slice immediately while cold and bring to room temperature before serving.