Tropical Layer Cake

IMG_9443Disclaimer: I’m writing this at a time of night when I’d normally be listening to sappy music or journaling, so you’ll have to excuse any emotional rants that develop (and typos).

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh. Well, that’s a bit of an incorrect summary–I wrote about the horrible goodbye after my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh.  That empty feeling that I get when I’m separated from them certainly hurts for the moment, but thankfully we have no choice but to eventually move on from the sting of leaving each other and resume our individual lives: mine here, my sister’s in Columbia, and my parents’ in Charleston.

Still, there are just some things missing each time I make the transition from family-time to “independence,” things that I don’t always realize I long to have when I’m on my own. One of them is family dinner. I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking we’re a family from a picture in the 1950’s unit of your Social Studies textbook, sitting around a nicely set table at 6 o’clock every night. In fact, we rarely had the time to eat at a normal hour for many of the years I lived at home, and living room dinners became frequent. But just the occasion of all being in a house (not an apartment), all sharing a prepared meal (not whatever I threw together for myself), and intentionally doing it together (instead of whenever it fits in each person’s schedule)–it’s so different.

This weekend I was blessed to experience just that–a dinner that was truly a family-away-from my family night. A group of us came together to prepare a surprise meal for a family that generously hosts frequent dinners for us in their home. We each tackled a dish (you can guess what I was in charge of), came a couple hours early, cooked together, and spent the evening enjoying each other’s company. I think that cooking and eating food together is one of the most rewarding activities to share with friends and family, and the evening was certainly a testament to that.

In the middle of our meal, I was struck by this sudden swell of gratitude. (I say sudden because it was abrupt enough to pull me away from my candied pecan brussel sprouts, which is no easy task). I was honestly a bit overwhelmed with the feeling. Being a young adult is hard. Ballet is hard. Figuring out life away from home is hard. I often find myself, especially with my long-time struggles with injury, projecting my insecurities onto others. I allow myself to imagine that my coworkers and friends see me as weak or invaluable as a dancer, that the only reason they spend time with me is because of my job in the company. It’s been a sort of self-inflicted isolation that unfortunately causes me feel distant from the community that I cherish so dearly. But that night at dinner, those negative, untrue thoughts didn’t threaten to ruin my night.

I felt loved. Appreciated. Not just because I’m a dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Maybe a little bit because I make a mean cake. 🙂 But mostly because I am part of a family-away-from-my-family here. And that makes Pittsburgh just a little more like home.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13


(Forgive my lack of photos–this was a spontaneous recipe and was eaten before I could get pictures!)

Tropical Layer Cake


  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup almond milk, room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1/2 cup fresh mango puree, separated, room temperature
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup Malibu rum (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh, diced pineapple
  • 1 batch vanilla swiss meringue buttercream (Just leave out the vanilla)
  • solid part from a 13.5 oz. can of coconut cream
  • toasted coconut


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ cake tins with parchment paper, and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars on medium speed.
  3. Add each of the eggs in, mixing on low-medium speed between each.
  4. Mix in milk.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.
  6. Begin adding both the flour mixture and 1 cup of the mango puree to the butter/sugar mixture, alternating between the mango and the dry ingredients and mixing after each addition until both are completely incorporated.
  7. Pour cake batter evenly between both tins.
  8. Bake until knife inserted in the center of cake comes out completely clean, about 40 minutes.
  9. Remove cakes from oven, and allow to rest in pans for five minutes. Then flip them out onto a cooling rack (drizzle with Malibu rum if desired), and leave to cool completely.
  10. Make the swiss meringue buttercream, or if you’ve already made it, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip on low-medium speed until fluffy if needed. Whip in coconut cream, using the entire solid portion of the can or until the desired flavor is reached.
  11. Mix diced pineapple into the remaining 1/2 cup mango puree until all pineapple is coated.
  12. Assemble: Trim domed tops off cakes. Spread a layer of coconut buttercream on first cake. Top it with pineapple/mango mix, and then place the second layer of cake on top. Cover both cakes with buttercream, and press toasted coconut around the entire outside of cake.
  13. Pipe designs as desired on top of the cake, and top with another ring of pineapple/mango mix if desired. Serve immediately.



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