David Sullivan isn’t one to trumpet his baking skills when it comes to making sweet treats. As the Kansas City Symphony’s associate principal horn player since 2009, Sullivan relaxes by mixing it up in his Kansas City kitchen, creating showstoppers.
You obviously ascribe to the adage: Eat with your eyes first. That’s true. I like to create food that is appealing and draws people in. The same is true with music. The beauty and intimacy of Helzberg Hall also draws people into the music we perform there. Both food and music invite people to actively engage. When I’m preparing a piece of music, it demands my focus and attention, so the outcome is pleasurable. The same is true when I’m baking.
You make the distinction that you are a baker, not a cook who takes creative liberties by throwing ingredients into a pot. Is there any correlation to the way you play music? Baking is very scientific, and you must follow instructions exactly for the best outcome. Cooking — like jazz — can require a variation on a theme. I enjoy playing music exactly as it’s written and am least comfortable improvising. The same is true with how I like to cook. I like using tried and true recipes, and don’t like to stray too much from them. I enjoy the preparation process and following instructions. When I’m in the kitchen baking, it’s very relaxing to just be able to follow a recipe and not have to overthink things.
Why did you choose this beautiful cake recipe to share? The simplicity of freshly fallen snow is one of my favorite parts about winter. When snow covers the dingy browns brought on by cold weather, it creates an ethereal, picturesque landscape of perfection. I’ve found no other recipe that captures this beauty more than my rendition of Paula Deen’s coconut cake recipe. Since this three-layer cake has a filling, you have to make it two days in advance. This gives the cake layers plenty of time to absorb the filling so that it comes out deliciously moist.
One of my favorite parts about this recipe is how the finished product looks. I always buy extra coconut to ensure I have enough to satisfactorily cover the entire cake. Although you need to press the flakes into the sides of the cake to get it to stick, avoid doing this on the top. Instead, sprinkle it on so that it looks light and fluffy, not mashed. For the true “Wow!” factor, a simple holly garnish on the top really brings out the holiday spirit in this cake.
Do your Kentucky roots inform your sense of hospitality and food? Any gathering is made better by the addition of good food. Add music, and you got yourself a party. I like to bring this cake to our Symphony potluck, and it’s fun when people express their appreciation of its presentation and taste.
There are many commonalities between baking and being a part of the Symphony. Different ingredients and instruments come together for what you hope is a spectacular showing that demands an encore.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Kansas City Symphony’s Christmas Festival
When: Dec. 17-20 and Dec. 22
Where: Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Holiday Coconut Cake
Makes 10 servings
For the cake:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 cups sifted self-rising flour
1 cup of coconut milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the filling:
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut
For the frosting:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
2 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups flaked, sweetened coconut
To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) spring-form or cake pans, and set aside.
Using an electric mixer fixed with a paddle attachment, cream butter until fluffy in a mixing bowl. Add sugar and continue to beat for 6 to 8 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk, alternately, to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed.
Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 5 to 10 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks.
To make the filling:
In a separate, clean mixing bowl, stir sugar, sour cream, milk and coconut together until well combined. Place 1 cooled cake round onto serving piece. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke about 12 holes (approximately 1-inch apart ) into the cake, taking care to leave a 1-inch margin from the edge of the cake. Spread 1/3 of the filling mixture onto the cake layer. Top with the second and third layers, repeating the same process. Cover cake with plastic wrap or a cake dome, and place in refrigerator for 24 hours.
To make the frosting:
Fill the bottom of a double boiler half full of water and bring to a boil over high heat on the stovetop. Turn heat to low and allow water to simmer.
Place sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water and egg whites into the top of a double boiler and beat with a handheld electric mixer for 1 minute. Place beaten egg white mixture over simmering water and beat constantly with the electric mixer on high for 7 minutes, until a thick and glossy frosting forms. Beat in vanilla.
Take cake out of refrigerator and immediately frost the top and sides of the cake until it is completely covered. Press coconut flakes onto the sides of the cake and generously sprinkle coconut over the top.
For the holidays, add a holly garnish. Allow frosting to set before cutting.
Per serving: 849 calories (41 percent from fat), 40 grams total fat (28 grams saturated), 145 milligrams cholesterol, 118 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 812 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.