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.┬á 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. ­čÖé 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.



Coconut Pineapple Petite Fours with Mirror Glaze (V)

IMG_6884I’ve anticipated making this dessert for quite a while now, but I hadn’t found a weekend with enough time to make it happen. Until… the blessing by the name of Labor Day showed up! This bake was a real consuming one, and I knew it would be. By that, I mean loads of time, energy, electricity, dish soap, and sugar were consumed in the creation of these petite fours. I could preface it with a disclaimer: no living thing was harmed during the making of this recipe, BUT MY WILL TO ICE ONE MORE BABY CAKE IS VERY MUCH DEAD. By the time I’d finally finished the trial and error of each component and reached the point of assembly, the sight of another itty bitty diamond of dessert–which, under any other circumstance, would have induced a similar reaction as me seeing a puppy–made my stomach sink. It was quite the project, and at 1am in the morning as I hunched over the counter with posture that would have made my pilates teacher wince, the end seemed painfully far from sight.IMG_6862

I’ve been working on another project this week: a new piece of choreography. Though I’m off for the next couple weeks, there’s a show in which many dancers in the company are participating, whether by dancing or choreographing. I knew as a first year professional dancer, my chances of getting to create a piece were slim; so, I decided to take the opportunity! The problem was, I had absolutely no plan: no concept, no music, no cast, not really a single element of a dance piece.


Lucky for me, lots of parallels exist between my passions, specifically the way I approach them. I’ve come to understand that a similar pattern in my creative process emerges in both my baking and my choreography. They always begin positively, with a new idea, the promise of an adventure and the excitement of the unknown. I love the feeling of having sudden inspiration for a recipe or a piece of choreography. But after that, the unknown becomes much less exciting and much more intimidating. The reality of how much work has to go into turning that vision into something visible, edible, real–that’s when the curve of my attitude takes a dip. With it always comes the panic of feeling creative block, the pressure of finishing within a deadline, the sting of failed ideas, the fear of whether anyone will even like what I make. It’s this period of work that’s the substance of a project but the most frustrating and often least memorable part of the process.

But I’m a fan of happy endings. Thankfully, then, my pattern doesn’t end in sag, in an eternal plummet to the x-axis. Once the hardest work is almost done–when I’m actually working with my dancers, or putting the final touches on a bake–that’s when things get exciting. And when the end comes, when I take a seat in the audience or behind my iPhone camera; when I relax in the fact that I’ve sent out this brain child out of my nurturing hands and into the world–that’s when the graph of my emotions skyrockets. This week, don’t let the “busy work” of your favorites things take away the indescribable high of seeing them through. Of proudly sharing them. For anyone who needs this reminder: it’s so totally worth it.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24


Coconut Pineapple Petite Fours with Mirror Glaze (V)



  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 flax eggs (to make 3 eggs, mix 3 TBSP ground flax with 9 TBSP cold water and leave to thicken in fridge for at least five minutes)
  • sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk, room temperature


  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream, room temperature (shake can before using)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  • 4 cups fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • toasted, unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped (to toast, cook in pan over medium heat, stirring often, until golden brown)


  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/4 water
  • 1 TBSP agar agar powder
  • 1/4 cup vegan condensed milk (simmer 1/2 cup almond milk with 1/2 cup sugar until reduced to about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cocoa butter



  1. Preheat oven to 350┬░F. Grease bottom of a 9×13 rectangular baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together both flours, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix sugar, coconut oil, flax eggs, and coconut milk. Mix on medium until combined.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing between additions until it’s completely incorporated.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in pan; then turn out onto a cooling rack, running a knife along sides of pan before to make sure cake isn’t stuck to sides.
  7. Once cool, wrap in cling film and keep in freezer until ready to use.


  1. Combine shortening and half of coconut cream in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium until combined.
  2.  Gradually begin to add the powdered sugar. When icing becomes too thick, add remaining coconut cream.
  3. Continue until all cream and sugar is added. Add salt, and mix on medium until smooth. Use immediately, or keep covered in refrigerator until ready to use.


  1. Combine pineapple, water, lemon juice, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until liquid is gone and pineapple is very soft, about 35-40 minutes. Shred pineapple into smaller chunks towards the end of cooking when soft enough. Set aside.


  1. Cut frozen cake into desired shapes; then cut each shape into two layers.
  2. Spread a thin layer of frosting on bottom half of each shape. Dip in toasted coconut, and then place a small chunk of pineapple filling on top of coconut. Place top layer of cake on pineapple.
  3. Cover entire petite four in coconut frosting.
  4. Place assembled cakes in sealed containers in the freezer until ready to glaze.
  5. **Keeping the cakes very cold during this process makes it much easier; don’t hesitate to place them back in the freezer for a while if they become difficult to handle, or freeze and then add a second layer of icing.


  1. Place cocoa butter in a heat-proof bowl. Set aside.
  2. Combine water, corn syrup, sugar, and agar agar powder in a small saucepan. Whisk until combined.
  3. Place saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as it’s boiling throughout, remove from heat, and stir in condensed milk.
  4. Pour mixture over into the bowl with the cocoa butter, and whisk until it’s melted.
  5. Divide between bowls and add food coloring as desired.
  6. Place prepared, frozen cakes on a cooling rack set over a baking pan to catch drips.
  7. When warm but not hot (won’t take too long at all), pour glaze over prepared petite fours. If glaze becomes too thick, simply microwave for 10-15 second intervals until it’s a better consistency.
  8. Scoop extra glaze from the pan after you run out, and microwave to reuse.
  9. If you have enough room, set the entire cooling rack in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to allow glaze to set quickly. (This makes handling them easier).
  10. Enjoy immediately, or carefully transfer petite fours to sealed containers and keep in fridge. You can also freeze them and transfer to fridge hours before you’re ready to eat them.


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