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a tropical celebration

I officially declare the start of the summer season. I don’t care that it is currently raining outside, nor do I acknowledge that I am currently white as a ghost. And don’t even get me started on my bikini, which has been taunting me from the depths of my closet. Summer is here, end of discussion.
With that announcement, I give to you a wonderful tropical cake that should be at every one of your parties this summer. That is, if you can manage to not devour the entire thing. Granted, it is a three layer cake so eating the whole thing would be impressive, but since this cake is that damn good, I wouldn’t put it past anyone.

Three layers of moist, brown sugar cake. Tablespoons of dark rum soaking the cake layers. Crushed pineapple and sugar, boiled together to create a jam-like filling. Mountains of coconut flavored buttercream frosting. Sweet and crunchy toasted coconut piled on the sides.

Have I wooed you yet?


This year, I wanted her birthday to be all about fun. I got her a spiffy green dress from Banana Republic and some dangly gold earrings, and treated her to a Lemon Drop.The title of this cake refers to the scrumptious cocktail many of us ahve enjoyed while on vacation, and since we are in the summer spirit, I thought it was appropriate for her birthday.My mom is a coconulover, and I have slowly come to adore the sweet  and milky fruit too. How can she not be when she was born and raised in Indonesia, a tropical paradise? She isn’t a big chocolate lover, but toss a coconut or mango in her path and she will squeal from joy. So when she say this cake, her mouth hung open.

I must say, it is quite a showstopper. But be warned, baking and assembling this cake takes a big chunk of time. I decided to bake the cake layers first, then make the filling and refrigerate it. Hours before serving, I whipped up the frosting. It wasn’t so hard to put this thing together over a span of three days, but if I had tried to do it in one day, I would’ve crumbled under pressure. 

I was a little dismayed when I inspected my cake and saw little air pockets. This is a result of overmixing, which I am totally guilty of so next time I will turn the Kitchen Aid off instead of beating the crap out of it. The frosting was a WHOLE other issue. The original recipe didn’t state to beat the egg whites till frothy, which is the key to getting a fluffy frosting. I should have known better since I have almost mastered buttercream, but in my frenzied state I skipped over that part. The result was a sick and buttery mess, which I ended up tossing. Looking over my past buttercream experience, I realized I needed to beat the whites prior to adding the butter and finally the frosting came other. (Don’t worry, I edited the recipe posted below). It still didn’t reach the stable consistency I was looking for, but after an hour in the fridge, it got stable enough to satisfy me.

I don’t know what I loved more about this cake: the coconut frosting, the sweet rum-soaked cake, or the pineapple filling. Overall, it was a delicious birthday cake, and I plan on savoring the pieces stored in my fridge. My bikini might not like this indulgent dessert, but there’s no way I can stay away from this cake.

Pina Colada Cake
Origin: Sky High: Irresistible Three-Layer Cakes by Alicia Huntsman and Peter Wynne
Yield: makes a 9-inch triple layer cake, serves 16 to 20
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Inactive Prep Time: 30 minutes

● 1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice, no sugar added
● 1 cup sugar
● 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
● 1 one-inch piece of vanilla bean, split in half
Brown Sugar Cake, (recipe is below)
Coconut Buttercream, (recipe is below)
● 2/3 cup rum, (light, amber, or dark, whichever you prefer)
● coconut flakes and thin slices of fresh or dried pineapple, for decoration

Combine the crushed pineapple, sugar, and lime juice in a large nonreactive skillet. With the tip of a small knife, scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan; add the pod a well. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, 2 to 3 minutes.
Raise the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the juices have almost completely evaporated and the pineapple has a jamlike consistency. Remove from the heat and discard the vanilla pod. Let the pineapple filling cool completely before using. The filling can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Let return to room temperature before using.
Bake the Brown Sugar Cake as directed below. Let the cake layers cool completely. Prepare the Coconut Buttercream Frosting just before you’re ready to use it.
To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Sprinkle a generous 3 tablespoons rum over the cake. Spread half of the pineapple filling over the layer, leaving a 1/4-inch margin around the edge. Add the second layer, sprinkle with more rum, and cover with the remaining filling. Top with the third layer, flat side up, and sprinkle with that remaining rum.
Frost the top and sides of the cake with the Coconut Buttercream Frosting. Decorate with some coconut shreds and dried pineapple. I toasted some sweetened coconut flakes in the oven at 350℉ for ten minutes or so, until the flakes got colored. Keep you eye on the flakes though as they can burn easy. Once they are toasted, you can grab handfuls and sprinkle on the cake.

Brown Sugar Cake
Origin: Sky High: Irresistible Three-Layer Cakes by Alicia Huntsman and Peter Wynne
Yield: makes three 9-inch layers
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours, or chill overnight in the freezer

● 3 3/4 cups cake flour
● 1 3/4 tsp baking soda
● 1 tsp baking powder
● 1/2 tsp salt
● 2 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
● 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
● 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
● 5 large eggs
● 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350℉. Butter the three 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the pan.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large mixer bowl; whisk gently to combine. Add the brown sugar, butter, and 1 1/2 cups of the milk to the dry ingredients. With the mixer on low, blend to incorporate. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk the eggs with the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk and the vanilla and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and beating only long enough to incorporate between additions. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans.
Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes; then turn out onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and allow to cool completely before filling and frosting.
If you want to make the cake ahead of time, you can wrap the cake layers tightly with plastic wrap and store them in the freezer. When getting ready to use the cakes, take them out of the freezer and let me thaw in the fridge for 30 minutes. I find it is easier to handle the cake and frost them when they are frozen as opposed to fresh out of the oven.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting
Origin: Sky High: Irresistible Three-Layer Cakes by Alicia Huntsman and Peter Wynne
Yield: makes about 5 cups
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

● 3 egg whites
● 1 cup sugar
● 1/4 cup water
● 2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
● 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
● 1 1/2 tsp coconut extract

Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment so they are all ready to go.
Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
Beat the egg whites at medium speed until froth. Continue beating while gradually adding the hot syrup in a slow stream, taking care to avoid hitting beaters or the syrup may splatter. When all the syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until the mixture is very fluffy and has cooled to body temperature.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the butter, several tablespoons at a time, and continue to beat until a smooth, fluffy frosting forms. As you beat the butter, the mixture will appear to curdle and break, but don’t worry. It will come together in a few minutes, and will turn in to a whipped smooth frosting.
Add the coconut milk in several additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well after each addition. Add the coconut extract and mix until smooth.

Printable recipes for:
Pina Colada Cake, Brown Sugar Cake, Coconut Buttercream Frosting.

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May 6, 2009 - 12:36 pm

Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) - This just moved up to the top of the list of things to make. I’ve had my eye on that cake for awhile now. It looks amazing.

May 6, 2009 - 1:54 pm

nicole - oh YUM! I think I just changed my pick for my birthday cake this month!

May 6, 2009 - 6:05 pm

Melissa @ For the Love of Health - Your cake looks so amazing! Perfect!

May 6, 2009 - 7:38 pm

Michelle - WOW this looks delicious AND I just got this book in the mail like two days ago how perfect is that?!?! I use Chaokoh coconut milk too – its the best out there! Just wondering what kind of lens do you use? These pictures are fabulous.

May 6, 2009 - 7:44 pm

brilynn - That sounds like one awesome cake and definitely one for celebrating summer!

May 7, 2009 - 7:09 am

stephchows - I think all I have to say is WOW… and can I have a slice?? :D

May 7, 2009 - 1:05 pm

dawn - you have wooed me, over and over.

May 7, 2009 - 2:45 pm

cindy - i have sky high, but i haven’t tried the cake. it looks fantastic! well done! and happy bday to your mama!

May 7, 2009 - 2:52 pm

Irene - You have absolutely wooed me! I love the photos and the cake sounds sooo delicious! Love this book.

May 9, 2009 - 1:50 am

Katy - Seriously, that is the best cake I have seen in a long time. I’ll have to make this. I didn’t get a cake for my birthday so I’ll make myself a belated one!

May 12, 2009 - 6:28 pm

Hélène - I’ve been craving cakes for couples days now. That would satisfy my sweet tooth. Your pictures are fantastic!


June 21, 2009 - 11:33 am

a baking break « Slow Like Honey - [...] the past month, I’ve baked: one big birthday cake for my mom, a peanut butter pie for a friend’s birthday, peanut butter with chocolate cookies for a baby [...]

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