Several months ago we had a good family friend out at the beach for the weekend. RM is the guy who helped me get this blog started and also the one who generously doubled my book donation drive during the holidays. He had asked if I would teach him how to make some desserts, and I think the most sought after outcome was this Chocolate-Coconut Cake that he had spied in my Francois Payard booked entitled Simply Sensational Desserts. I have used dozens of recipes from this Payard book and have never been disappointed. In addition to this recipe, we cooked or baked about a dozen different desserts from leche flan to yemas to angel food cake (so much easier to cook in bulkâ€¦) and we had what is perhaps the highest sugar/calorie intake weekend everâ€¦
There is something absolutely classic about the pairing of coconut and chocolate. In the same way foie gras and green apples or French fries and ketchup are perfect together, this is an inspired combination. But it is not a combination that I am particularly fond of. Childhood experiences with coconut in chocolate from my parentsâ€™ treasured boxes of Whitmanâ€™s Sampler (remember those yellow boxes with cross-stitch patterns?) and later with bizarre â€˜tropical exoticâ€™ Bounty Bars during college did not leave a favorable impression. In fact, I canâ€™t think of a Filipino delicacy that melds the two despite the fact that we grew cacao and lots of coconut. I mean, folks donâ€™t generally munch on chocolate covered bucaio or macaroons or eat buko pie with tsokolate ehâ€¦
Nevertheless, this Payard dessert looked terrific and to make RM happy, I made sure we would attempt this recipeâ€¦though I admit now that the perfect slice of cake in the cookbook photo was just a tad intimidating. While the recipe looked simple enoughâ€¦ layers of baked coconut â€œspongeâ€ layered between rich chocolate ganacheâ€¦ the short list of ingredients meant you absolutely had to use the best you could find. First problem, or so I thought, was the need for unsweetened dried shredded coconut. There isnâ€™t any unsweetened coconut in Manila groceries, I checked several. So I decided to make my own. On the way to the beach I passed by the market and had them grate 5 coconuts without their going all the way to the shell so that I absolutely, positively only had the white meat, no brown bits. Then back home, I laid the freshly shredded coconut out on pizza pans and dried them in the hot sun for at least 6 hours until they felt dry but still fresh. It was a lot easier than I thought. And it tasted very good.
So here is the Payard recipe. Make the chocolate ganache ahead as it takes 4 hours to chill in the fridge. Put 300 grams of good bittersweet chocolate that is finely chopped into a large stainless steel or heatproof glass bowl. Add 100 grams of milk chocolate finely chopped. Bring 1 and 2/3 cup of heavy cream to a boil in a medium saucepan and immediately pour the cream over the chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth and cover this with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the chocolate and refrigerate until firmish, say 4-4.5 hours. Make the coconut sponge by lightly but completely greasing a baking sheet about 17 x 12 inches in size and which has about a 1 inch side. Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Line the bottom of your pan with baking or parchment paper (not wax paper). Fill a medium pan with about 1/3 water and heat this up. In a stainless mixer bowl, whisk 4 large organic eggs and 1.5 cups of white sugar (I used caster sugar which is finer than most grocery granulated sugars) and whisk until mixed. Put the stainless bowl over the simmering water and whisk until it is warm to the touch (not hot or boiling). Put the mixer bowl in the mixer and use the whisk attachment to mix the egg/sugar until it has tripled in volume, roughly 5-7 minutes. Fold in 3 and 2/3 cups of unsweetened dried shredded coconut using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Pour this batter into the greased pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top of the cake is a light golden brown. Cool the cake for 15-20 minutes while still in the pan. Take a knife and run it around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert onto a wire rack and remove the parchment paper. The cake is a bit mabusisi or delicate. Cool the cake on the wire rack until it is totally cool.
Assemble the dessert. Cut the coconut â€œcakeâ€ into three equally sized rectangles. Place one rectangle on your serving platter and spread a generous layer of chilled chocolate ganache with a spatula. Place the second layer of coconut and so forth. Ice the whole cake with the remaining chocolate then sprinkle it with about 1 cup of lightly toasted shredded coconut. Refrigerate until you serve the cake. Some tips to help you make a knockout cake. Donâ€™t stress over looks, the taste is brilliant even if lopsided. But donâ€™t scrimp on ingredientsâ€¦ I used the best Valrhona chocolate I could find and it showed. Also, the homemade dried coconut made a huge difference in my opinionâ€¦the cake was â€œreal,â€ fresh and sophisticated all at the same time. Slice it after chilling for a while, makes for cleaner cuts. Payard suggests serving this with vanilla ice cream or chocolate sorbetâ€¦talk about going over the top! The cake was delicious and has changed my view on the pairing of chocolate and coconut…