Coleen's Dish: Cake

This bunny cake made my birthday very special. Even our dog was mildly excited. BTW...this was a couple of years ago.  No Instigram filters needed.

Cake isn't just dessert. It often marks passages in life: birthdays, weddings, celebrations of all kinds. An edible gesture in which the medium is a good part of the message.

When I was a kid, I used to look forward to my dad decorating our birthday cakes. My mom would whip one up and he would transform simple rounds or squares of chocolate or vanilla into animals, boats, all sorts of things. My dad is very creative -- a do-it-yourselfer. He made it look so easy. When I was 9 or so I tried to design and decorate my own birthday cake. My chocolate daisy with white, 7-minute frosting turned out horribly. But I gained even more respect for my dad.

When I was invited to Easter Dinner by my friends, Jill and Mike Killeen this year, I offered to bake a cake for dessert.  I've done a few since childhood.  They turn out better now.

Baking for Jill, however is a special task as she has a deadly nut allergy.  A trace of nut oil transferred to any part of the cake could send her to hospital. The process that ensures that won't happen begins with re-washing all of the utensils I plan to use, followed by a thorough scrub-down of all surfaces and handles. Once that's done, I can get on with the job.

I bake one day and decorate the next. It's labour intensive, but it's fun! I like doing it so much, I baked another cake to celebrate Jill Killeen and Jill Krop's birthdays recently. I made two, so the extra one went to Tamara who was celebrating her birthday on the same weekend as our dinner.

Rather than give you cake recipes, below is the pastry cream recipe and the decorating method for each. Use your favorite coconut or vanilla and/or chocolate cake recipes. Any vanilla cake with coconut extract should work fine. The lighter the better.

Coleen's Dish: Cake2

Coconut Cream Cake

This is a four-layer cake filled with coconut pastry cream and covered in butter cream icing and shredded coconut. The first time I made this I used a gluten-free mix and it was great. Use a mix or make a cake from scratch. You're friends will love you regardless. At least that's what they said to me.

Coconut Pastry Cream

1/4 cup milk
1 - 398 ml can coconut milk
4 egg yolks
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cornstarch
4 tsp butter
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a saucepan, heat milk and coconut milk until bubbles form around edge.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, flour and cornstarch until smooth; gradually whisk in milk. Return to saucepan and cook over medium heat just until bubbly -- about 5 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer gently, whisking until thick enough to mound on a spoon -- about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla extract. Scape into bowl. place plastic wrap directly on surface and refrigerate until firm and bout 3 hours.

Bake two 8" round cakes. Cool thoroughly on wracks. When they are cooled, slice them in half horizontally using a long, sharp, non-serrated knife. Turn the cake as you go. Keeping the knife deep and horizontal will prevent you unwittingly cutting through the top or bottom of the cake.

Prepare your favorite vanilla butter cream icing but substitute coconut extract for vanilla.


Place first layer of cake on a plate or cake stand with parchment paper edging the plate so that when you have finished decorating, you can remove it and the plate will be clean.

Spoon 1/3 of the pastry cream on the first layer of cake and spread evenly. Repeat with remaining layers.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

When cake and pastry cream have chilled, gently spread icing over top of cake and work down the sides. It doesn't have to look perfect because you'll be covering the entire cake with shredded coconut. Pat coconut on iced cake. Remove parchment paper from plate, cover cake with plastic wrap of glass dome, and refrigerate until needed.

Tip: When slicing this cake, use a hot water heated sharp knife and cut gently down from the centre of the cake or the pastry cream will squish out.

Coleen's Dish: Cake3

For the Chocolate Cake -- I used a Swiss Meringue Chocolate Butter cream icing as the filling and chocolate ganache to coat. I used a chocolate genoise. It can be a tricky technique for the uninitiated, but try it a few times and it will get easier. It's a delicious sponge cake that uses butter, so it doesn't dry out like a sponge. Still -- use a simple syrup or a liquor like Royal Chambord to moisten each layer of the cake before icing.  Serve this cake within a day of baking it.