The special meal (Sauerbraten, Semmelknödel, and Blaukraut) that I featured recipes for last week were for my husband whose birthday happens to fall on Valentine's Day. It is tradition in our home, that the birthday boy or girl gets to pick the meal (homemade or eating out) and the cake. If you've been reading my blog for a while you know by now that my husband is not a fan of chocolate, with the exception of a few dishes like the German Chocolate Cupcakes he requested last year. For his birthday it is usually a given that he will pick a cake that has not one fleck of chocolate (white chocolate excluded) in it. Last year he picked Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake which is what started my blog and this year after looking through a couple of my recipe books he "settled" on Piña Colada Cake from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes. Always up for a good challenge, I decided this would be some great practice to continue working on my layered cake skills.
Layered cakes and in specific, more than two layer cakes are something that does not come easy to me. I'm getting better at it, and the cakes do taste very good after all is said and done, but the process gives me a little bit of anxiety. Today's featured cake is composed of three key components. A brown sugar cake, a pineapple filling and a coconut buttercream. First up the cake. This cake was everything and more I had hoped for. Fantastic flavor and texture, but it gave me a little bit of trouble in the oven and happened to dome in the middle (which might be due to my oven, I haven't figured that one out yet). I had to level all three layers with a knife (not an easy task for this lefty) before being able to use them. The second component was the pineapple filling. Who knew, that a combination of crushed pineapple, sugar, lime and vanilla bean would end up tasting so utterly decadent. I could eat this stuff by the spoonful, on vanilla ice cream, Greek yogurt, etc, I'm sure you get the picture. I will definitely be making this filling again all by itself since there are so many great applications for it. The last, and most certainly not least, component was the coconut frosting, which is another winner. An Italian meringue buttercream which to me tastes so much better and lighter (if that is even possible, considering all the butter) that gets its coconut flavor from a combination of coconut milk and coconut extract. Everything came together very easy, putting it together is where the going got a little tougher for me. The cake is assembled by placing one of the cake layers on a cake plate where it is then drizzled with rum (oh yeah, baby) and a layer of the pineapple jam. Another cake layer, more rum and pineapple filling and then the final cake layer and more rum. If you look closely at my cake slice you'll see I put my second and third layer together upside down which makes the cake appear like there is a whole different layer of filling. Nope, not the case, just Susi messing up slightly ;o) I tried removing the layer so I could fix it but between the rum-drenched cake and filling it started to fall apart and I just decided to leave it as is.
The final step, frosting the cake and applying toasted coconut to the sides. For decoration I simply chose fresh pineapple slices and a bit more coconut.
The verdict? The cake is incredible! The birthday boy loved every little thing about it. A perfect balance of flavors that will just melt in your mouth. It is truly reminiscent of the drink. With a couple of teeny tiny adjustments this recipe would be perfect. First up the amount of rum, which my kids were not nearly as enthusiastic about as the adults. You could leave it out completely or replace it with pineapple juice. I also ended up reducing the rum to about 1/3 cup (I reflected this change in the recipe) total between all the layers. The 2/3 cup the recipe called for would have been overkill and I happen to like rum flavored desserts. The other thing I would change the next time is to double the recipe for the pineapple jam. There could have easily been more of that without being too much and I ended up having to spread it a little too thin around the edges so that there would be enough. I made the cake one day before my husband's birthday and while I was busy for a few hours, baking, cooking and assembling, the process wasn't too bad or difficult. One thing I did recognize is that the cake actually got better with each additional day it sat in the refrigerator. The rum had time to soak into all the layers and the flavor wasn't nearly as strong on day 3 as when it was first cut. Another plus is that the cake stayed wonderfully moist. My husband ended up taking some of it to work where it got the thumbs up and a few requests for the recipe. Would I bake this cake again? Absolutely, without a doubt, this recipe is a keeper and if Piña Coladas make you think of tropical islands, sunshine, umbrella drinks and sandy beaches give this recipe a go, chances are you won't regret it and you'll feel like you are on vacation!
Piña Colada Cake
(adapted from "Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes")
For the pineapple filling:
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice (no sugar added)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 one-inch piece of vanilla bean, split in half
For the brown sugar cake:
3 3/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups light brown sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the coconut buttercream:
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
For assembling the cake:
Brown Sugar Cake (baked and cooled)
Pineapple Filling, at room temperature
1/3 cup rum (light, amber, or dark, whichever you prefer)
Toasted coconut flakes
Thin slices of pineapple for decoration
For the pineapple filling: Combine the crushed pineapple, sugar, and lime juice in a large nonreactive skillet. With the tip of a small knife, scrape the vanilla seed into the pan; add the pod as well. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, 2 to 3 minutes.
Raise the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the juices have almost completely evaporated and the pineapple has a jam-like consistency. Remove from the heat an discard the vanilla pod. Let the pineapple filling cool completely before using. (The filling can me made a day ahead and refrigerated. Let return to room temperature before using.)
For the brown sugar cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large mixer bowl; whisk gently to combine. Add the brown sugar, butter, and 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk to the dry ingredients. With the mixer on low, blend to incorporate. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk the eggs with the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk and the vanilla and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and beating only long enough to incorporate between additions. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans.
Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes; then turn out onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and allow to cool completely before filling and frosting.
For the coconut buttercream: Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment so they are all ready to go.
Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
Beat the egg whites briefly at medium speed.Slowly add the hot syrup in a thin stream, being careful to avoid the beaters. Continue to whip until the meringue has cooled to body temperature.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the butter, several tablespoons at a time, and continue to beat until a smooth, fluffy frosting forms.
Add the coconut milk in several additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well after each addition. Add the coconut extract and mix until smooth.
For assembling the cake: Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Carefully brush with rum. Spread half of the pineapple filling over the layer, leaving a 1/3-inch margin around the edge. Add the second layer, brush with more rum, and cover with the remaining filling. Top with the third layer, flat side up, brush with the remaining rum. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the coconut buttercream. Decorate with toasted coconut and thin slices of pineapple.
Adapted from: Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes