# high-altitude baking and a coconut cake

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Bam! Finito! My first high-altitude baking adventure is in the bag…and much to my surprise, it wasn’t a complete failure. I did my fair share of research on the subject since we are now a whopping 4,500+ feet higher above sea level than our last home. That has to make a difference, right?

Seems like this lower air pressure that gave me such fits upon arrival, also gives baked goods the same fits. (I’m glad we’re in on this together.) There’s a myriad of things you can do to counteract the difference, like…decrease the leavening, increase the flour, decrease the sugar, increase the liquids, increase the baking temperature, decreasing the baking time….are you still with me? As I was reading this, I started wondering if all my cookbooks were going to have margins filled with changes and notes. It made me sad. I just wanted to bake and not think about or stress over it any more than already required.

Since Joe’s birthday was the week we arrived in Utah and my baking pans were being cracked and man-handled on a moving truck, it has taken me this long to accept the challenge. Per tradition, I let him pick the cake and he chose a beautiful coconut cake from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook. This thing has never let me down, so now it was my turn to impress her. I knew that if this didn’t work, it was all on me. And somehow, that was comforting.

After speaking with a few of Joe’s new colleagues that also love to bake, they suggested first just turning up the oven an additional 15 degrees and cooking it for a little less. Doing so “sets” the cake or cookies before they have a chance to go out of control. Works for me. Aren’t you only supposed to change one variable at a time when conducting an experiment anyway?

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So, I did just that. I upped the oven temp and shortened the cooking time by 5-7ish minutes and it looked (and smelled fine). I should also mention that I added an extra egg white to the batter, which was another suggestion I found in my research. It already had 6 in there, so what’s one more?

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I’m no expert baker (or trimmer), so don’t let this domed snowball-esque mass fool you. It tastes great. I’m more of a cream cheese frosting girl, but this light buttercream probably pairs best with the light coconut cake. I usually just end up scraping most of the frosting off anyway. #cakeconfessions

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Keeping with another tradition, I topped Joe’s piece with our Bavarian Inn friends and, because my niece said so this morning, I had to toss on a few sprinkles. Apparently, it’s never a birthday cake without sprinkles. I couldn’t have it be unofficial after all that work.

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And then he was 33.

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Happy (baking-belated) birthday, sweetheart. Thanks for always extending my comfort zone—whether it be baking, or moving across the globe. Turns out my comfort zone is wherever you are. (And you thought this post couldn’t get any sweeter?!)

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White Coconut Cake with Coconut Frosting

From: Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
Serves 8 to 10

Cake:
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into two-inch pieces
6 egg whites
1 cup coconut milk*
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Frosting:
1 ½ cups sugar
6 egg whites
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into two-inch pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
⅔ cup coconut milk*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, placing the rack in the center. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans, or line them with parchment paper.

Sift the cake flour into a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar, baking powder and salt. Combine for a few seconds, setting the mixer speed on low. Add the butter and beat for about 1 minute, until coarse and crumbly.

Combine the egg whites, coconut milk and 1 cup shredded coconut in a medium bowl. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into this mixture.

Add half of the coconut milk mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium-high until combined, about a minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining wet ingredients at beat for 30 seconds, until the batter is light and fluffy. Divide between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the tops are firm and golden. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans on a wire rack.

To make the frosting: Whisk the sugar and egg whites together in a small heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (the bowl should NOT touch the water) and whisk for 6-8 minutes, until hot to the touch. The sugar will melt, thinning the mixture.

Remove the bowl from the heat and scrape the contents into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whip attachment, set the speed to medium-high and whip for 6-8 minutes, until a light color and cool to the touch. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter a few chunks at a time. Turn the speed up to medium and mix until completely incorporated, about 4-5 minutes. The frosting will look curdled at first, but keep whipping — it will come together.

Add vanilla extract, salt and coconut milk to the frosting and whip another 1-2 minutes; the frosting should be smooth. Use the frosting within 30 minutes or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, though it must be beaten until smooth before using. It can also be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature and beat with the stand mixer using the paddle attachment until smooth before using.

Remove the cakes from their pans and level the top of each cake with a serrated knife. Place one cake layer onto a cake plate or pedestal. Put 2 cups of frosting on top and spread it evenly to the edges using an offset spatula. Place the second layer top-side down on top of the first. Smooth about 1 cup of frosting on top and down the sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 20 minutes (this sets the crumb coat).

Beat the remaining frosting with a spoon to keep it creamy. Spoon it on the cake, spreading it on the top and sides. Press the remaining shredded coconut (1 cup) onto the top and sides of the cake.

The cake can be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 3 days.
*Note: Coconut Milk commonly comes in a 13.5 oz. or 14 oz. container. Either size yields enough for both the cake and the frosting. And, make sure you don’t by the Coconut Milk for beverages! I find mine on the international aisle at the grocery store.*

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13 thoughts on “# high-altitude baking and a coconut cake

    • I’m just glad it didn’t call for toasted coconut, Pam. Who would have joined me in the screaming and laughing in the driveway?? Luckily, no coconut was harmed in the making of this cake.

  1. Yum! That looks really, really good. Nice shots, too! That recipe’s a novel! Not sure if it’s because it’s on a blog. But still, looks quite intimidating. Arduous baking in full effect! Kudos to you! i admit i make a lot more yellow cakes that use the full egg, and hardly separate the yolks from the whites. I do, however, make icing thats close to that, though! Great job!

    • Thanks, Maria — coming from you, that means a lot. The recipe did seem quite long, but nothing too hard. The “white cake” (no yolks) was so light. I loved it; just prefer that extra fat and cream in the icing!

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