We have seen a lot of excitement around our house the last few weeks: Engagement parties, wedding dress appointments, picking a date, spontaneous crying…  Even UrDad got in on the action, texting his future son-in-law weekend plans and hanging drapes that have been on the closet shelf since I bought them at the Pottery Barn outlet store last year! (Nothing like getting those household projects going again!)

And in the midst of it all, my son’s birthday!  Yes, today, on 10-10-10 Sean turns 19! Born at 4 AM in Chicago, Mr. Sean is the youngest and the only boy. And he luvs to cook (he especially luvs to eat all the interesting and new food I love to cook!). In fact he is my most willing subject when it comes to new recipes, and I value his opinion. Before he left for college he and I often watched a few cooking shows on television together in the evening – I never liked Alton Brown until I realized how funny and compelling my son found him!

So no surprise that Sean asked me to make Alton Brown’s Coconut Cake for his birthday, and no surprise that I of course agreed! He and I have watched the coconut cake episode together more than once! And in true masculine form this is no ordinary cookbook-style cake. It begins with a raw coconut; it involves forged steel tools and has more steps than anyone should have to deal with on a Friday night.

Friday night is when we started. Sean made me promise to wait until he got home so he could drill the hole in the coconut and saw off the shell. UHH…no problem there… So it began, he and I in the kitchen puncturing a big coconut, extracting coconut water, grating raw coconut peeled from the shell and making fresh coconut cream and milk. Friends, fiancés and family members floated in and out of the kitchen all evening while the two of us worked. I seriously have never had my apron completely covered with debris after an evening of cooking, but Friday night I was covered in coconut shell, shreds of coconut meat and cake flour…

Five hours later the cake layers had come out of the oven, had cooled and were securely wrapped on the counter (brushed down with coconut water of course…) Saturday morning I made the frosting – more coconut water and extract and grated coconut – it seemed pretty easy after the evening before… And those final sprinkles of grated coconut on the top were pretty rewarding, I must say!

So Happy Birthday Sean! I will miss you (and the other half of this cake), when you both head back to school tonight!

Gather Up:
1 Coconut
3 cups cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup fresh coconut milk (method below)
½ cup fresh coconut cream (method below)
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
4 egg whites
1/3 cup coconut water (method below)

For the 7-minute frosting:
3 egg whites
1 ¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup coconut water
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coconut extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated coconut from ½ coconut

To Prepare the Coconut: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Find the 3 eyes on one end of the coconut and using a drill or screwdriver and hammer, put holes into 2 of the eyes. Turn coconut upside down over a bowl and drain the water from the coconut. You should get 1 ½ to 2 cups liquid. Place the drained coconut on a sheet pan and bake in the oven for 15 –20 minutes until it cracks in several places. Using a screwdriver or heavy dull blade, separate the hard shell from the brown husk. Peel the brown husk off the white coconut meat. Rinse the coconut meat and grate it.

To Make Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream: In two separate glass measuring cups bring ½ cup of milk to boil in each in the microwave. Into the first cup add 2 ounces grated coconut and cover with plastic wrap. Into the second cup of boiling mild add 4 ounces of grated coconut and cover with plastic wrap. Let both sit for 1 hour. Put each batch one at a time into a blender and puree. Strain and squeeze each batch through a clean cotton tea towel into a container. You will have approximately ½ cup of coconut cream and approximately ½ cup of coconut milk.

 To Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 2 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper and then flour the pans.

Place the flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Combine the coconut milk and the coconut cream.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream until fluffy, about 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the sugar over 1-2 minutes. Once all the sugar is added, scrape the sides down and increase the speed and cream until the mixture is light in texture and increases slightly in volume, about 2 minutes. Stir in coconut extract.

With mixer on low, add the flour alternating with the milk mixture in 3 batches, ending with the milk. Do not overmix.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter, just until combined. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bang the pans on the counter to remove any air and level the batter in the pans. Place in oven and 40 minutes. Cakes will be light golden.

Cool in pans for 10 minutes and then remove and transfer to a cooling rack. Once cooled completely, brush coconut water over the cakes. Allow to sit while you prepare the frosting.

To Make the Frosting: Bring water to steady simmer in the bottom of a double boiler. Place the egg whites, sugar, coconut water, cream of tartar and salt into the bowl of double boiler. Place the bowl over the simmering water and immediately begin beating with an electric mixer set on low speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat for 5 minutes. (The volume will reach double to triple its original size.) Remove from the heat and beat in the coconut and vanilla extracts for 1 minute. Allow frosting to rest for 5 minutes before using.

Frost cake, using fresh grated coconut between the layers and over the top and sides, to taste. Refrigerate before serving.

Recipe from Alton Brown on the Food Network.