I've lived in Southwest Florida for eight years now, and not once have I made it down to the Keys. We had plans to make a family trip there over the summer, but things happened (like, I had a baby).
Much of Southwest Florida is filled with constructions built in the last few decades. So whenever I stumble upon anything in Florida that dates earlier than this century--anything that has the merest wisp of historicity about it--I am eager to soak it in. One of the places I have my heart set on visiting is Ernest Hemingway's home. Sure, he may have been a less-than-admirable and deeply flawed character, but his prose defined a new style in American literature and his stories, though often troubling, are filled with an aching beauty, a longing for something beyond. Also, his home is worth visiting in itself, having been built in 1851 by marine architect and wrecker Asa Tift out of limestone he excavated directly from the site.
In early September, we watched with horror as Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc across the Caribbean Islands, devastating Barbuda and skimming the coast of Cuba before it turned the corner north and barreled straight into the Florida Keys as a Category 4. It pains me to think of the loss and damage suffered. Mercifully, Irma downgraded significantly before it passed over us, and we emerged from the storm unscathed. (Our landscaping is a mess, but I'm grateful for the excuse it offers for my pathetic attempts at gardening.) One of the first things my husband assured me of after the storm was: "Hemmingway's house still stands!"
The Keys were shut down for tourism in the aftermath of the storm, only recently re-opening (as of October 1st). It's incredible to see the communities across the Caribbean and Florida pick up the pieces after Irma and carry on. After Irma, many people living in other parts of the world wondered: Why do you stay? Hurricanes have struck before, and they will surely strike again. But it's not the way of mankind to give up. We've been struggling doggedly along on this earth for thousands of years because, yes, the sun sets, but
the sun also rises.
We are hoping to make a trip down to visit in the near future. Meanwhile, here is a cake in tribute to the Florida Keys.
Lime & Coconut Cake
A light cake infused with the zest of a lime, soaked in sweet coconut milk, topped with a fluffy coconut buttercream, zingy lime curd and a pile of toasted coconut. Makes one 6-inch cake.
[For the cake]
3/4 cup (170 grams) of white sugar
zest of 1 lime
1/2 stick of butter, softened
1 1/8 cup (120 grams) of cake flour
1/2 tablespoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2/3 cup of milk
2 large egg whites
1-2 drops of lime green food coloring (optional)
[For the Coconut Milk Soak*]
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1/8 cup of white sugar
2-3 drops of coconut flavoring
[For the lime curd]
2 egg yolks
zest and juice (roughly 1/8 cup) of 1 lime
5 tablespoons of white sugar
3 tablespoons of cold butter, cut into 12 little cubes
[For the Coconut Cream frosting]
1 1/2 sticks of salted butter
2 tablespoons of the Coconut Milk Soak*
1 1/3 cup of powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon of coconut flavoring
[For the coconut crunch factor]
1 cup of shredded sweetened coconut
*see note below before proceeding.
Make the cake. Begin by centering a rack in the oven and preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Cut two six-inch circles out of parchment paper. Grease the bottoms and sides of two six-inch cake pans. Place the parchment paper on top. Grease the top of the parchment, then flour the bottom and sides.
Pour the sugar into the bowl of a mixer. Add the lime zest and mix on low until evenly distributed. Add the butter and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
While the mixer is running, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Measure out the milk and whisk in the egg whites. (RESERVE THE YOLKS!) Add the food coloring, if using.
Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the mixer and beat well. Scrape down the bowl of the mixer and then add 1/2 of the wet ingredients. Beat well. Continue alternating between the wet and dry, ending with the final 1/3 of dry ingredients. Give the bowl a final scrape and beat for an additional 30 seconds or so. Pour the batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes, or until the top of the cakes are lightly golden and spring back when touched. Cool in pans.
Make the lime curd. While the cake bakes, place the egg yolks, lime juice, lime zest, and sugar into a small saucepan. Whisk to combine, and then stir continuously with a wooden spoon over low heat until the mixture lightens in color and thickens so that when you draw the spoon across the bottom of the pan towards you, it parts and remains apart for a few seconds (like Moses parting the Red Sea).
Remove from heat and stir in the cold butter, 3 cubes at a time, until the curd is smooth. Pour into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap (resting on the surface) until ready to use.
Make the coconut milk soak (optional, see note). In a small bowl, whisk together coconut milk, coconut flavoring, and sugar. Set aside 2 tablespoons for the frosting.
Toast the coconut. When the cakes come out of the oven, reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Spread the shredded coconut evenly on a baking sheet and place it in the oven. Check on it and stir the coconut around every 3 minutes or so. It should be toasted in about 10-15 minutes.
Soak the cake (optional, see note).. When the cake is cool, leave it in the pans and poke it all over with a toothpick. Brush the cake with the coconut milk soak a little bit at a time, allowing it to absorb completely before adding a new layer of soak. This step takes patience, so wash your mixing bowl while you wait and begin making the frosting.
Make the frosting. In the clean bowl of a mixer, add butter and reserved coconut milk soak. Beat at high speed for a minute. Add in 2/3 cup of powdered sugar and the coconut flavoring. Begin to beat at low speed and then increase to high speed, beating until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 2/3 cup of powdered sugar and beat again until fluffy.
Assemble the cake. Place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan. Invert to turn the cake out onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper, and then flip the cake layer onto a cake stand or serving plate. Place 1/2 of the frosting into a piping bag. Squeeze a little bit of frosting out onto the cake and spread a thin layer over the entire top of the cake layer. Pipe a ring of frosting along the top edge of the cake to create a dam (the piped ring is taller, creating a little dam/pool for the lime curd to set within).
Pour 1/2 of the lime curd into the center of the frosted cake layer, and carefully spread it out in an even layer, keeping it within the piped dam. Top with half of the toasted coconut.
Place the second cake layer on top and repeat the steps. The cake is delicious served immediately with the coconut crispy. You can store the cake in the fridge, and even though the coconut loses some of its crunch, it is still delicious.
A note about the coconut milk soak: I had in my mind a Tres Leches effect when I thought up the coconut milk soak. Turns out, there wasn't enough soak to drench the cake in the way I wanted. It added a nice moistness, but not really a soak. If I were to make the cake again, I'd double the soak and see what I got. But since the soak is already an extra component, and the cake is delicious enough already, and you might not be feeling adventurous, you can easily skip the soak altogether--just go ahead and substitute milk or cream for the reserved soak in the frosting. Have fun!