A little while ago an invitation to meet the executive pastry chef at Calgary’s Hyatt Regency hotel crossed my desk. I had to delay that meeting until after my annual trip to India and since I knew I would be jet-lagged on my return and that I would have a column for CBC Radio One’s Alberta at Noon due shortly after my return, I thought it would be a great idea to have this profession chef help me with a recipe to share with Albertans this Christmas.
I knew that in the two weeks I would spend in South India I would see coconuts everywhere so I asked if chef might be willing to create a great Christmas inspired coconut dessert.
I specifically mentioned that the recipe should be fairly easy.
Here’s something I learned from this experience; what a classically trained executive pastry chef from Austria whose lived and worked all over the world thinks of as easy, might not be as easy for you and me.
Ah well, it was a delight to meet chef Sabine Gradauer and if you read on you’ll see how I fared in translating her professional chef’s notes on this recipe for Coconut Snowball Cake-pops into something you can make at home. Hopefully all was not lost in translation.
Chef Sabine Gradauer is from Vienna in Austria. Vienna is famous for its bakeries, coffee houses and cakes, cakes, cakes! John Lennon and Yoko Onno went there to eat cake. Marie Antoinette of the famous quote, let them eat cake, was from Vienna.
Gradauer apprenticed as a cook but became fascinated by pastry making and says that it’s the accuracy and attention to detail that make her passionate about this art and science. Some of the classic recipes she makes require precision down to 0.05 grams.
I gulped audibly when she told me this.
I was praying she was a little more forgiving in the forthcoming recipe for the fancy little coconut wands she presented me with upon our meeting. Talking with her for a while made me realize that while she’s very disciplined so that she can keep up with her demanding career, she likes to have fun and play.
Chef Gradauer came to Banff in 2008 and worked at the Rimrock Resort with chef Ralf Wollman before opening Mark McEwan’s Fabbrica in Toronto. She missed the mountains and her free time there so she returned to Banff after a few years. This time in the pastry department at the Fairmont Banff Springs. She loves traditional baking – Parisian cream puffs, macarons and eclairs – and says that fads come and go but people will always come back to the classics. She loves to make tiramisu because of its classic flavours but she plays with the presentation.
Christmas Day brunch at the Calgary Hyatt Regency will see 800 guests enjoy a lavish buffet and Gradauer’s desserts will be a highlight. A special focus this year will be bite-size cake pops, cupcakes, cinnamon fudge and chai mousse cups. For her own holiday delight, her mother will mail her a box of her favourite Vanille Kipferl and delicate little apricot-filled Linzer cookies.
This tall slim baker gets up at 5:30 a.m. everyday to work out before working eight to twelve-hour days. When I asked her for tips on this recipe, her sense of humour came out. She said that leftover bits of the pound cake would be an excellent breakfast and that people should get to know coconut and to play with it. On the bottom of the recipe she sent me, she reminded me to have fun (with two exclamation marks).
Notes on the recipe
Gradauer’s original recipe was written with its ratios all weighed out in grams as professional bakers must. My first task was to weigh all the ingredients and convert them to cups, teaspoons and tablespoons as is the language of the North American home cook.
I found that my cake took an extra 15 to 20 minutes longer than chef’s recommended time. Chefs use powerful convection ovens. Ours at home don’t measure up. I changed the baking time.
Chef added some lemon zest to her recipe. I deleted it because I wanted all coconut flavour – all the time.
I did not eat the leftover pound cake for breakfast. I added some cut up banana, more coconut rum, candied ginger and of course – more strands of flaky coconut. I looked like a pudding to me – as seen in the photos below – so I cooked it up for my family’s supper desert. That’s was a yummy thing to do and I think chef would be pleased with my inventive frugality.
Coconut Cake-pop Snowballs – a recipe from Calgary Hyatt Regency executive pastry chef Sabine Gradauer
More Notes: – plan to make this recipe over two days. Make the pound cake one day, let it cool, and cut it in cubes, coat it in rum and white chocolate and leave it in the fridge overnight the first day. The next day, insert the cake-pop sticks and freeze for two hours minimum, then finish them by coating with chocolate and coconut and putting them back in the freezer until serving time. They’re a bit of work but a lot of fun.
To make the pound cake
1 Tablespoon butter
1 – 2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon butter
2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Grease a loaf pan with butter and then evenly distribute the one to two tablespoons of flour to evenly coat the interior surface.
Whisk the one-cup of flour with the baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl between each addition.
Beat till fluffy and then add the vanilla and beat until absorbed.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake at 325°F for 35 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack in the pan for five to ten minutes and then remove by loosening the edges with a knife before inverting onto the rack.
Let cool completely.
Cake-pop Snowball assembly (over 2 days)
1 pound cake (from above recipe)
cake-pop sticks (available at craft stores)
¾ cup of whipping cream
1 ¼ cups white melting chocolate
2 teaspoons of Virgin coconut oil
1/3 cup coconut rum
1 ½ – 2 cups white melting chocolate
2 teaspoons coconut oil
2 cups shredded coconut
Cut the crust off the pound cake and then cut it into 24 cubes and place in a large bowl.
Melt the cream, chocolate and coconut oil together in a microwave on half power for about two minutes and stir well.
Stir in the rum and pour the mix over the cake, stirring to thoroughly coat the cake.
Cover with wrap and place in the fridge overnight.
Line a rectangular baking dish with wax paper the next day.
Remove the cake and insert a cake-pop stick into each piece (to make cake cubes or test to see if you can squeeze them into round shapes without things falling apart).
Freeze for at least 2 hours.
Melt the remaining white chocolate and coconut oil in a glass bowl at half power in the microwave for 2 minutes and stir well.
Place coconut in a bowl beside the melted chocolate.
Hold a cake-pop stick in your non-dominant hand and twirl it while using a soupspoon to coat the cake with melted chocolate.
Hold the cake-pop over the bowl till the chocolate stops dripping and then hold it over the coconut and drizzle it as you twist the cake pop. Once it is coated, return it to the original pan.
Store the finished cake-pops in the freezer until serving time.
How did I do?
My cake-pops looked like coconut-cubes.
I can live with that.
I was still pretty proud of them and they certainly are tasty. Another time, I’d like to watch chef Gradauer actually make them. I think I missed something in the shaping of the balls. Pressing them as she suggested just made mine fall apart. My cubes were an adaptation.
I think this recipe would weigh heavy on the difficult side of the home-baking scale but if you’ve got the ability to channel Martha Stewart come Christmas time, then plan ahead and take it one step at a time. The reward? You too will be able to wave these magical little white snowball wands around like some fairy Godmother of Christmas past, present and future.
If all else fails, book into the Calgary Hyatt Regency for brunch or move onto the easier recipe that follows. All is well. Merry Christmas. Be of good cheer.
These cookies are based on an Italian biscotti method but use ingredients that grow together in Kerala: coconut, ginger and cardamom. The Italians always say, what grows together goes together and nothing could be more true than the tastes in the recipe.
To get 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom, you’ll need to place 6 green cardamom pods in a mortar and grind them with a pestle to relase the seeds. Place the seeds in a spice grinder and grind until finely ground.
1 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom
2 ¼ c flour
1 ½ t baking powder
¼ t salt
6 T butter
¾ c sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup diced candy ginger
2 cups white chocolate for dipping
2 cups long shredded coconut for dipping
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
Grind the cardamom and combine with the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl, whisking to blend.
Beat the sugar and butter in an electric mixer until fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides with each addition.
Lower speed and add the flour mixture until well blended.
Fold in the coconut and ginger until just well-distributed.
Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 logs.
Place the logs on the parchment paper and flatten them to 4 inch wide by 12-inch long logs, leaving at least 3 – 4 inches between them.
Bake for 35 minutes or until golden.
Let them rest in the cookie sheet for at least 10 minutes.
Cut the parchment in two and slide one log to a cutting board, carefully sliding its parchment out from under it. Cut the log into 1 inch wide slices with a serrated knife.
Return the slices to the cookie sheet and repeat with the other log.
Return the cookie sheet to the oven for 10 more minutes.
Let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.
Scrape off any crumbs.
Melt the white chocolate in the microwave on half power for about 1 minute and 45 seconds.
Dip one end of individual cookies into the bowl of melted chocolate and then dip them in loose curly coconut and set them up to dry on waxed paper lined sheets.
They should look roughly like the coconut palms of Kerala – the land of coconuts.