Coconut Lemon Berry Mini Cakes: Practice Makes Progress

Happy 4th of July! …okay, let’s just get this over with….am I a little bit late on this? Yes. But, can you be patriotic with delicious desserts every day of the year? Of course! Phew, I’m glad we can agree to ignore my lack of adherence to the calendar. This weekend, is my family’s Annual 4th of July Party (on a day other than the 4th of July). To celebrate, I decided to go back to an entry I put on my bucket list long, long ago: mini cakes. 

Recently, I’ve been trying to experiment more and more with cakes. See, one of the big differences between breads/cookies and cakes is what makes them beautiful, at least outwardly. To many, for example, a rustic bread is beautiful. A lack of uniformity can make it unique and special. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a rustic cake. It is either beautiful, or messy. Making a cake beautiful requires much more practice than making a loaf of bread or a cookie beautiful. Hence, my need to spend some time on it. Luckily, I really enjoy the process…most of the time. So, without further ado, introducing this week’s experiment: Coconut Lemon Berry Cakes!

These cakes were ones I have been dreaming about. Thinking about on the Arc Trainer. Doodling about on napkins at the kitchen table. You get it. I’ll be honest, the process always seems to go much smoother in my imagination. These guys turned out fantastic, but it took a few mishaps to get there. Today, in addition to talking you through the directions, I’ll give you some hints on mistakes to avoid so that you’re a bit more successful than I was on the first go. Let’s get started!

We’re starting with the star of the show…the cake! Now, I’m a frosting girl. Typically, I literally view the cake as just the surface that holds the frosting. That’s it. Today, however, I’m singing a whole new song. Seeing as it’s summer, this vanilla cake is chock full of berries! It may seem a bit complicated, but you’ll be making three layers for your little cakes: one strawberry, one blueberry, and a mixed berry layer for the middle. Not to fear though, we’re just making one base!

You’ll start by combining your dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Do yourself a favor here, and sift these guys together. Since we’re mixing the batter by hand, instead of with a mixer, lumps can easily go unseen. Sifting the dry ingredients will help prevent that. 

Then, melt your butter in a microwave safe bowl. Once that’s melted, you can stir in the sugar. It’ll look grainy, but you can continue by adding in the rest of the wet ingredients: the egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla. If you want to get super fancy here, you can use a real vanilla bean for added flavor. Personally, I feel like the fruit we add later will contribute to overall flavor more, so I’m not too worried about using extract.

Go ahead and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, little by little. Remember, avoid the lumps by going slowly, and adding the dries in batches. 

Now, for the division. Take the batter, and split it three ways, by weight. (Yes, it matters.) Each bowl will get one cup of fruit: strawberries, blueberries, and a mix of the two.

When you bake the cakes, it doesn’t really matter what pans you use. In the end, we’ll be cutting little rounds out of them. Essentially, you’ll want to bake the cakes so that they are about three quarters of an inch in depth. Personally, I found that each third of the batter fit well into two 8-inch round cake pans. This may require you to bake in batches. If you’re using the 8-inch pans, your cakes will bake for about 22-24 minutes, at 350 degrees. 

You know how I told you that we were starting with the star of the show? I may need to amend that statement…because we’re working on lemon curd next. And you KNOW how much this girl loves lemon curd. I’ll spare you the lecture and the explanation. You can read about how to make it here, and see the ingredients and directions for it in the recipe below!

While your curd is setting and cakes are cooling, you can make your buttercream. In today’s project, your buttercream is going to serve many purposes. Not only will you decorate with it later on, but it’ll also serve as the dam for the curd in the center of the cake, and the glue to which your coconut will stick to on the outside. It’s a pretty simple mix, with only four ingredients: butter, powdered sugar, heavy cream, and a bit of vanilla. If you want to up your lemon game a little bit, you can also throw a little splash of lemon extract in there like I did. 

Assembly time, AKA where my smooth process started getting a bit rockier. First up, cutting out the cakes. I used a 3 inch round cutter to do this, just to ensure uniformity. What I didn’t take seriously enough however, was the levelness of the cakes. Even though my cakes came out pretty even, they weren’t perfect. This made a big difference later on, as I stacked three layers together. Let’s just say, the Leaning Tower(s) of Pisa came to Connecticut. (Let’s just hope the Leaning Tower of Pisa doesn’t suffer the same fate as some of my cakes did…) So, quick tip numero uno: level your cakes first before cutting them out!

Next up, curd time! Before you start slathering the lemony goodness on there, you’ll want to pipe a dam of frosting around the perimeters of the layers. I started with a blueberry layer, then followed up with a mixed berry layer, and finished with a strawberry layer. Pro tip two: make sure your buttercream is pretty stiff here. Personally, mine was a bit too loose, and so my dams were not exactly the most stable. So, to thicken your buttercream, you can either refrigerate it for a few minutes, or whip in some more powdered sugar.

Once your cakes have three layers, chill them in the refrigerator for a few minutes, while you prep your work space for the next step. Next to your bowl of buttercream, you’ll want to add your coconut station. 

Here’s the good part about the next step: it doesn’t need to be perfect. Why? Because no one will see it. Each cake should be covered in a layer of buttercream on the outside perimeter. Just slather it on like you would with peanut butter on a sandwich. After you’ve applied a layer of glue, you can pat coconut flakes onto the slides. That’s right, just get in there and give that cake a coco-nutty hug with your hands. Again, refrigerate these after you’re done with them.

Now for the fun part! Take the rest of your buttercream and split it in half. Dye one half red and one half blue. (If you believe in actually following the calendar and have moved on from July 4th, you can dye the frosting any other colors!) You’ll use these colored buttercreams to pipe any design your heart desires, on to the tops of your cakes. 

And, there you have it folks, ‘merica in a mini cake form. While this cake is the perfect patriotic treat, it can be modified to fit any occasion! Come on, do you need an excuse to eat fruit, lemon curd, and coconut all wrapped into a pretty package? (That was a rhetorical question of course…)

Next week, we’re making a handheld version of another American classic. Until then, stay tuned and stay hungry!

Erin 

Coconut Lemon Berry Mini Cakes
Yields 8
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Cake
  1. 4 ¼ cups flour
  2. 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  3. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  5. 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
  6. 1 ¼ cup (2 ½ sticks) butter, melted
  7. 5 egg whites
  8. 2/3 cup Greek yogurt
  9. 2 cups milk
  10. 5 teaspoons vanilla
  11. 1 ½ cups blueberries
  12. 1 ½ cups strawberries, diced
Lemon Curd
  1. 3 egg yolks
  2. ½ cup granulated sugar
  3. zest of 2 lemons
  4. juice of 3 lemons
  5. pinch of salt
  6. ½ teaspoon cornstarch
  7. 4 tablespoons butter
Frosting
  1. 1 ½ cups butter, softened
  2. 6-7 cups powdered sugar
  3. 1/3 cup heavy cream
  4. ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. 1 teaspoon lemon extract
Assembly
  1. Red gel food dye (optional)
  2. Blue get food dye (optional)
  3. 1 ½ cups shredded coconut
Cake
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In a separate bowl, melt butter and combine with sugar.
  3. Once combined, incorporate egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla.
  4. Slowly fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, by adding in batches.
  5. Split batter into thirds, by weight. Add one cup of fruit into each bowl (1 cup strawberries, 1 cup blueberries, ½ cup of each fruit into last bowl)
  6. Pour batters into baking tins so that the depth of each cake is about ¾ an inch. (I suggest splitting each third into two 8 inch round pans)
  7. Bake cakes for 22-24 minutes, or until cooked through.
  8. Once cooled, cakes should be leveled if necessary.
  9. Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut pieces of cake. Each flavor of cake should produce about 6-8 small circles.
Lemon Curd
  1. Create a double boiler by filling the bottom of a pan with 1 inch of water and covering the pot with a glass bowl. Put the pot over high heat until the water boils. At this point, reduce the temperature until the water comes to a simmer.
  2. Add egg yolks, sugar, zest, juice, salt and cornstarch to the glass bowl. Whisk this mixture constantly to prevent yolks from curdling. Continue to whisk for about 12 minutes until the curd has thickened to a thin pudding like consistency.
  3. Remove from the heat and add butter, one tablespoon at a time.
  4. Once melted and well combined, pour the curd into a bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cool.
Frosting
  1. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream butter on a high speed until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add powdered sugar and mix on low until sugar is incorporated.
  3. Slowly drizzle in cream and extracts.
  4. Whip on high for about 4-6 minutes, or until all specks of butter and sugar have been completely mixed in.
  5. Adjust consistency by adding more cream or powdered sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time.
Assembly
  1. Pipe a border of frosting around the perimeter of a strawberry layer. Fill the center of the border with lemon curd.
  2. Stack a mixed berry layer on and repeat the process of applying buttercream border and lemon curd filling.
  3. Top with blueberry layer.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Coat the outside (except for the top surface) with buttercream.
  6. Use hands to pat on coconut so that all frosting is covered.
  7. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
  8. After all cakes have been covered in coconut, split remaining frosting into two bowls and mix in red and blue food coloring.
  9. Use a piping bag to decorate the tops of cakes.
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