I had always loved the Lemon Coconut Cake at Junior’s in Miami Beach and of course the Key Lime Pie at Joe’s Stone Crab. Unfortunately, Junior’s, an icon of the past, is gone and I realized that I should check out the pastries that were found at the Latino and Cuban bakeries around the city. My friend Karen, with whom I was staying, frequents a little hole in the wall each morning to get her Cuban coffee, a very milky cappuccino loaded with sugar. Here we picked up an individual coconut tart with a layer of dulce de leche which is a very sweet custard made from reduced evaporated milk and sugar and is golden brown and extremely sweet. It seems to show up in a lot of the pastries from South America and Cuba personally find it coyingly sweet but it may be an acquired taste.
Our next stop was the most surprising of all. We had been told that there was a BP gas station in Little Havana that had a rather extensive bakery and bar as part of what we think of now as the convenience store that is adjacent to many gas stations. We got some gas and then entered the store only to be aghast at what we saw. Inside was an elegant looking bakery café replete with mahogany display cases and a fabulous cappuccino machine. They carried a large assortment of Latino/Cubano pastries both sweet and savory. What caught my eye immediately was a coconut custard layer cake in which the light yellow cake (most likely a mix) which had been baked as a bundt cake, had been first sliced lengthwise and then had the centers of each layer carved out a bit so as to be replaced with a thick creamy coconut custard. The cake was then frosted on the outside with a sugary white frosting and lots of coconut. Now I have to admit that even though this cake had some artificial stuff going on and the frosting was definitely NOT made with butter, it was damn good and my friend and I ate the entire thing in one fell swoop.
Next we sampled a thick slice of the coconut tart which had a crust, then a layer of dulce de leche and then a thick layer of some kind of creamy coconut mixture…another Blue Ribbon winner in my opinion!
Next we headed off to Versaille, the most renowned Cuban restaurant and bakery in Miami. We entered the restaurant part and honestly it could have easily been a big Jewish deli, the kind I had frequented as a child on occasional trips to Miami. Lots of food, lots of noise, lots of activity and lots of choices. We passed through to the bakery and here we chose a couple of individual pastries that we had not seen at the other establishments: one was the —- A baked custard atop a spongy crust with occasional pineapple pieces. Tasted like a basic baked vanilla custard; I believe the spongy layer at the bottom had been soaked in a sugar syrup. The other pastry was a custard that contained some cornmeal and was soaked in a sweet rum/sugar syrup. Neither were my cup of tea because once again the predominant flavor was just plain sweet.
Interestingly enough, the gas station won out in my opinion but nothing lit my fire like the original Junior’s Lemon Coconut Cake, so here is my version of that cake.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter
1¼ cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 large eggs
3 large egg whites
1 cup light cream or cream of coconut
¼ teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoon unsalted butter
Butter Cream Frosting
3 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1½ cups (3 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into 10 pieces
1 tablespoon coconut extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease 2 8-inch layer cake pans with vegetable oil or butter or line them with parchment circles or inserts.
2. Sift both flours with the baking powder and salt into a small bowl and set aside.
3. Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest in a medium size mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 1½ minutes. Stop the mixer twice to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the eggs and the whites to the butter mix one at a time and blend on medium speed scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Then beat the mixture until it is light and increases in volume about 1½ minutes. Scrape the bowl.
5. Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients to the mixture by stirring them in lightly with a rubber spatula so that the liquid is absorbed. Then turn the mixture on low to blend partially, 5 seconds. Scrape the bowl.
6. Add half the cream or cream of coconut and blend on medium low speed for 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl then add the rest of the dry ingredients with the mixer on low.
7. Add the remaining cream in a stream and blend until the batter is velvety in texture, about 10 seconds. Use the rubber spatula to give the batter a few more turns.
8. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and place both pans on the center rack of the oven.
9. Bake the layers until they are lightly golden in color, spring to the touch and a tester inserted in the center comes out dry, about 28-30 minutes.
10. Cool the layers in the pans on a rack before frosting.
11. Meanwhile prepare the lemon curd. Dissolve the gelatin in the lemon juice in a small bowl.
12. Using a whisk stir the egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl until blended.
13. Combine the lemon juice mixture and the egg mixture in a small heavy saucepan and stir with a whisk to blend. Place the pan over medium low heat, and stirring constantly with a whisk, bring the mixture just to the boiling point.
14. Remove from the heat, strain the mixture into a small metal bowl and stir in the butter. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the curd and refrigerate until fully cooled.
15. Next prepare the butter cream. Place the egg whites and sugar in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water. Stir with a whisk until the mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and the sugar is dissolved, about 4-5 minutes.
16. Place the egg white mixture in a medium size mixer and mix on medium high speed with the whisk attachment until it is tepid, about 5-7 minutes.
17. With the mixer still on medium high, add the butter to the egg white mixture 2-3 pieces at a time to incorporate. Stop the mixer frequently to scrape down any butter that is sticking to the side of the bowl. Add the coconut extract and continue to beat until light and fluffy, an additional minute or two. Use the frosting immediately or it
will have to be rewhipped.
18. Following the procedure for frosting a four layer cake on page xx, spread layers one and three with the lemon curd and the middle layer and outside of the cake with the butter cream. Generously sprinkle the coconut on top of the frosted cake and pat it around the sides.