Do you dream of turning heads? Do you desire starpower? Do you long to win friends and influence people? Then look no further than this enormous slab of cake. Not only does this coconut pineapple cake feed an army (or at least an elite squad) but it’s tropically transporting. Welcome to the secrets of The Islands.
The last time I went to Hawaii was six years ago, but I think wistfully of Brennecke Beach every day. I may appear, to the uninformed onlooker, to be a pale homemaker, separating whites from darks with one hand, flossing kids’ teeth with the other and sighing in abject boredom. But here’s how I see myself: tan, surfing in a grass skirt and eating Kahlua pork while fending off surfer boys (“Scat you pesky Adonis, I’m old enough to be your mother!” Silly boy…).
Last weekend my friend Kirstin threw her surfer husband Peter a 50th birthday party. He spent much of the soiree in wool socks, hiking boots and a speedo. As my husband pointed out, why not get as close as you can to your birthday suit if it’s your birthday? I made Peter this cake and boy is it ever a party cake. Don’t even consider making this cake for yourself, or your family, (unless you are my friend Lisa, who is Mormon) because it’s too large. This is a cake to be shared and to cause others to view you with cake-goggles.
I made it in a 9 by 13 pan but I suggest using a larger one so it will sit a bit lower (making it easier to smother in whipped cream) and bake more evenly. My BFF describes this cake as “very fifties.” Yes, but in the 50’s would they have had the vision to bedeck the top with lime zest? It’s that gentle snow shower of green, zesty flecks that makes the whole thing work. Without it, it’s not a Copacabana Tropicale (my title, thank you) but simply what is referred to in some circles as a “Better than Sex” cake. I never call it that because that seems so subjective. For instance, some people might prefer…chocolate cake, right?
After you bake the cake, you have roughly 17 steps to go (okay, about 4) but don’t panic. You can do the first one or two the day before. After you remove the cake from the oven, poke some holes in it and pour the pineapple syrup over. Once the baking dish isn’t quite so hot, pop it in the fridge and cover with saran. Keep it there overnight if you like.
The next step is to make custard (Hey! Perk up! I never said this was quick!) and pour that over the cake so it soaks it up. Just thinking about it makes me want to go hula-snork-surfing (you kind of have to after you eat this because it’s pretty caloric). Once the custard is on, chill for at least 3 hours.
The final step (still alive?) is to crank up your Barry Manilow/Beach Boys mix and cover the whole shebang with whipped cream that has a touch of honey in it. If you want to splash some rum in the cream I won’t stop you (unless you are my friend Lisa, who, as I mentioned, is Mormon). Sprinkle toasted coconut and lime zest over the top and serve or chill (or place in the coldest room in the house if there’s no room in the fridge for this behemoth pan) until shortly before serving.
And now for the recipes:
Copacabana Tropicale (this is an adaption of the “Best Two Egg Cake” from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook: New Cookbook, 1953)
1 cup of butter at room temperature or 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of coconut oil
2 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups plus 4 tablespoons milk
Mix butter and sugar until quite creamy. Add vanilla then eggs, one at a time with mixer going. Mix thoroughly after each egg. Sift flour and with baking powder and salt then add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating after each addition. Bake in greased 9 by 13 or larger baking pan at 350 degrees. It is difficult to say how long this needs to bake. I would check it initially at 25 minutes and rotate it. It could take as long as 40 but again, hard to say.
Pineapple Syrup (this part is easy)
1 14 ounce can of crushed pineapple
1/4 cup of brown sugar
Stir the pineapple and sugar in a small saucepan on the stovetop at medium heat until it bubbles and reduces a bit, getting slightly thicker than juice. When the cake comes out, pour it over.
Custard (okay, this step can be a pain)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of half and half or half milk and half cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
If you want to do it right: fill half your sink with cold water. If you are like me, this is problematic, since it’s full of dirty dishes. Than pour the cream into a saucepan and heat it with a vanilla bean, (if you would rather use a bean than extract) split lengthways. Otherwise heat, but not to boiling, and then set aside.
Whisk the yolks with the sugar until thick and creamy, then strain the cream onto them, beating all the while with a wooden spoon. Fish out the bean strands if you used them, then stir constantly for about 10 minutes over low to medium heat. When the custard thickens, (usually you can tell by running your finger down the back of the spoon and seeing that it leaves a cleared path) dunk the saucepan quickly in the sink and beat well. This is to prevent the custard from “breaking” or curdling. Sometimes if you see this happening along the way, you can dunk the saucepan into the water and beat like mad to stop it. Add the vanilla extract if need be (I also added some coconut cream to this) and pour the thickened custard over the cake and put it in the fridge.
And finally: whip the cream with a touch of honey, spread it over the cooled cake and sprinkle the toasted coconut and lime zest thereon.
Now get on your party dress.