Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stress-free Lemon Coconut Chiffon Cake

In the past, the idea of throwing a “dinner party” has, for me, usually brought on an emotional combination of excitement and anxiety. The thought of having a house full of friends is very appealing, but the anxiety surfaced when I got caught up in overthinking the menu,the pre-party cleaning, the necessary amount of plates and silverware. I had always made dinner parties into hefty affairs, where the threat of a minor imperfection haunted me for days beforehand, even well into the party itself. I think this hostess distress is fairly common, but over the past several weeks, I've come to view “dinner parties” differently. What if, instead of worrying about how the apartment looked, I worry about nothing? What if, instead of obsessing over finding the ideal recipe for a main course, I obsessed over nothing? What if, instead of expecting something to go wrong, I expected nothing?

I've found this manner of dinner parties to me much more enjoyable and gratifying. Of course, there are times for the formal and nit-picked party, but I don't see why those should be the norm when having guests over. For me, I much prefer inviting a bunch of people over, cooking a lot of good food, and seeing where the evening might lead, hoping for nothing more than an entertaining night with friends.

And since for me, baking is a stress-reliever, as opposed to a stress-inducer, I decided to try a cake that I had wanted to make for some time, but hadn't yet had the proper audience. But the warm weather and a table full of friends prompted me to open up my copy of Baking Illustrated and try the Lemon Coconut Chiffon Cake. Although I pointedly did not stress over what they may have thought of the cake, I was still pleased when they smiled at their first bites and told me that it was absolutely wonderful: light, lemony, and moist.

Lemon Coconut Chiffon Cake

From Baking Illustrated

1 ½ cups sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
7 large eggs, 2 whole and 5 separated, room temperature
2/3 cups water
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. cream of tartar
Grated zest of 2 large lemons (about 3 tbsp.)
2 tbsp. strained lemon juice
1 cup lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
4 tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
5 tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

For the cake: 1. Adjust the rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in the 2 whole eggs, 5 egg yolks (reserve the whites), water, oil, vanilla extract, zest, and lemon juice until the batter is just smooth.
2. Pour the reserved egg whites into another bowl and beat at low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add the cream of tartar and beat until the whites are very thick and stiff, just short of dry, about 10 minutes. Fold the whites into the batter.
3. Pour the batter into an ungreased large tube pan or bundt pan (9 inch diameter, 16 cup capacity). Rap the pan against the countertop a few times to rupture any air pockets.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55-65 minutes. Immediately turn the cake upside down to cool, and elevate it on a wire rack so that air can flow through the pan. Let the cake cool completely.
4. To unmold, turn the pan upright and run a knife around the pan's circumference. Use a skewer to loosen the cake. Invert onto a serving plate.
For the icing: 1. Beat the butter, lemon juice, and confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Let it stand 1 minute, then spread on the cake.

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