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Read & Feed | Book club fare

'Comfort Food' a light, sweet treat

Book: Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs (Putnam hardback, 2008). Jacobs is also the author of the bestselling and popular book club favorite The Friday Night Knitting Club, now out in paperback.

WHY READ? For a book club of foodies, the allure of Comfort Food is obvious. Heroine Augustine "Gus" Simpson is the host of a popular TV cooking show. She's also obsessed with birthday cake, though she's not so excited about the bash for her looming 50th birthday. Things get even more dicey when a former beauty queen and YouTube star is made co-host of her show. Oh, and it doesn't help that the boss just loves Carmen Vega.

Comfort Food is a romp of a read with a lot of contemporary touchstones. Perfect for clubs who want a break from literature (say it with a British accent) or for groups heavy on Food Network junkies.

MAKE IT: There are many food references in the book that could inspire book club fare, but Jacobs had us at "coconut." The first two sentences of the book sent us in search of the ultimate coconut cake recipe: "Gus Simpson adored birthday cake. Chocolate, coconut, lemon, strawberry, vanilla — she had a particular fondness for the classics." Us too.

Ina Garten, host of the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, made a name for herself with her Long Island, N.Y., catering company. Coconut cupcakes were one of her clients' favorites, and even now Williams-Sonoma sells a box mix (check it out at www.williams-sonoma.com). She adapted her cupcake recipe for a layer cake, which we made and loved. There's a pound of butter in the cake and the frosting so you know it's good . . . and dangerous. Slice small pieces.

TAKE IT: Don't want to cook? Order a birthday cake anywhere and get creative by requesting decoration inspired by the book. Like the word Botox in a circle with a slash through it. Or maybe "Fifty is Nifty." Someone else signed up for the cake (or cakes)? Bring coffee (decaf and regular) in large insulated containers from Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts. Don't forget the cream and sugar substitute.

Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor

Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, contact us at features@sptimes.com and put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.

>>Moderate

Coconut Cake

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans

2 cups sugar

5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (we used 6 large)

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup milk

4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for three to five minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extract and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in three parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the two pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).

To assemble, place one layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 10 to 12.

Times testing note: We toasted part of the shredded coconut for visual drama on the top of the cake. Also, with our 9-inch pans missing in action, we used 9-inch springform pans. They worked fine.

Source: Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2006)

'Comfort Food' a light, sweet treat 07/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 11:37am]
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