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Coconut And Hazelnut Cake

Dec 3, 2013


I'm walking towards the dungeon-like dorm building at a moment when most of my classmates are enjoying a cozy sunday evening at their homes. I curse in each step that echoes in the deserted hall and brings me closer to my bunk in the cold and dark dormitory. Just like every sunday I feel lonely, sad, abandoned and on the verge of tears.

I will be fourteen in two days. The prospect of celebrating my birthday tomorrow lifts my mood a bit. Plus, one of my best friends will bring that cake I adore from the cake shop nearby her home, with coconut, banana and hazelnuts. There is no refrigerator to keep the cake until my real birthday so we will have to advance the cake ceremony. 

When the cake in question arrives in the morning we hide it in one our lockers. As soon as the classes are over we sneak it into the dorm inside a pile of coats, as among many other things, bringing food is against the rules. I leave it in my cupboard and do the rest of the day's obligations. With the cake in my mind time seems to stand still. After the study hour and dinner, I meet four of my best friends in the laundry room, the place for secret meetings, and lay the cake on the floor while we sit in a circle around it. 

First, my gifts are handed to me. I'm a cat person already at that age hence all my gifts are cat themed: cat statuette, birthday card that sings 'meow', pencil case with a cat figure. These gifts make me miss my cat 'Cotton' and deepens my homesickness all the more.

Possessing a lighter or a match is another felony here. If you are caught with it in one of the search raids, you'll be suspected of smoking. But one of us has shouldered the responsibility for the occasion, takes out a match and lights the candle. I blow it at once. We watch the smoke dance towards the ceiling praying that it thins out before touching the smoke detector. It does, we're safe.

I cut the cake with the knife I smuggled from the dining hall and we all eat our share right from the box. My share is a little bigger, it's my birthday after all.


This cake here is not that cake.

It is the one whose recipe I found in the William-Sonoma Cookbook years ago and been keeping dog-eared with the hope that it would yield me that cake. It didn't. But it didn't come out like just any cake: it was one of those things you make and looking at it (then tasting it) you can't believe you made it with your own hands. It is the cake that put an end to my nostalgia and became the cake of my thirty-something celebrations.

Coconut And Hazelnut Cake

serves 4

Recipe: The William-Sonoma Cookbook

The cake becomes humongous when you add the frosting and the nuts. Although the recipe says it is for 8-10 people, it is more than enough for 12-14. The second time I baked it I used a 17 cm (7 inch) cake tin and used half the ingredients: it yielded me a much reasonable sized cake.

Kitchenware required:

  • 2 23 cm/9 inch cake tins (If you will use a 17 cm/7 inch tin, halve the ingredients.)


  • 1 fresh coconut
  • 3 cups (280 g) flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter (250 g), at room temperature
  • 2 cups (500 gr) granulated sugar + 2 tablespoons for the syrup
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup (250 ml) coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsalted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
  • For the frosting:

  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1.5 cups (375 g) sugar<
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) water
  • 2 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


    Preparing the nuts:

  1. Gently tap the equator of the coconut with a hammer to crack it. Catch the coconut water in a bowl and strain it. Measure out 1/2 cup of the coconut water into a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, stirring often over high heat. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. Crack the coconut into pieces. Discard the hard shell. With a vegetable peeler or a pairing knife peel the outer skin. Grate the meat in the fine grater plate or shred it in a food processor.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F C. Spread the grated coconut on a baking sheet and toss it with 2 tablespoons of confectioners's sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly toasted.
  4. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly toasted.
  5. Preparing the cakes:

  6. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  7. Grease the cake tins. Line their base with grease proof paper and grease the paper. Dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess over the kitchen sink.

    (If you don't have two same size cake tins you can bake the cakes one by one. Rinse, line, grease and dust the tin after you bake the first cake and invert it on the cooling rack. Alternatively, you can try baking the whole batter in one piece and halving it, a method I avoided because I wasn't sure if the middle would be cooked evenly.)

  8. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
  9. On high speed, beat together the butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes until you obtain a creamy mixture. Add egg yolks one at a time. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with the coconut milk in 2 additions. Add the vanilla extract and beat to blend.
  10. In a large clean bowl, beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and beat until the whites form stiff peaks.
  11. Fold in about one-forth of the whites into the batter. Then, fold in the remaining whites.
  12. Spread the batter evenly in the tins. If you have only one tin, bake the cakes one by one. Leave half the batter in a cool area in your kitchen while the first cake is baking.
  13. Bake the cakes in the preheated oven until golden brown for about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then invert on the cooling racks and peel of the grease proof paper.
  14. Preparing the frosting:

    (I omitted the coconut extract and the cream of tartar used in the original recipe because they are not easy to find. Also, instead of the notorious corn syrup I used agave syrup. You can also use honey. In spite of these alterations the cream came out just like it should be.) 

  15. In the top part of a double boiler combine egg whites, sugar, water and the agave syrup (or honey). Fill the bottom part with an inch (2.5 cm) of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Place the top part over (but not touching) the simmering water.
  16. Beat until the mixture forms stiff shiny peaks for 5-7 minutes.
  17. Remove from heat, add vanilla extract and beat for a minute longer.
  18. Assembling the cake:

  19. Place a spoon of frosting in the center of a round serving plate. Place one cake, flat side up and brush it with 2 tablespoons of coconut syrup. Spread with a cup of frosting and sprinkle with 1/3 cup of toasted coconut and all of hazelnuts. Top with the second cake layer, flat side down. Brush with 2 tablespoons of coconut syrup and frost the top and the sides with remaining frosting. Press the remaining toasted coconut on top and the sides.
  20. Serve at room temperature.
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