Finding my fun in ‘Dolly’s Doughnut’

“If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
— Carrie Fisher

Sometimes, after a crap-ass year, you just need to have some fun.

That is not a terribly positive beginning (was it the term “crap-ass”?), and I apologize. But I speak the truth in my feeling. Despite this being a crap-ass year, it wasn’t my worst, by any means, and there were many good things in it. I’m grateful for the good and the bad. To me, gratitude is the best seat in the house. Always. But after a year of being overwhelmed by continued loss, stress, unyielding obligations, and one of the longest, darkest winters of my life, I just want a little light.

My tendency, too, like many in my family is to let the one little negative thing take over. A tiny droplet of pain, fear, worry and overthinking the looming potential problem — all become the soaking wet blanket cloaking everything. And when happy moments come, I mistrust them, as if they are some brief, temporary mistake. It’s not the best way to operate. I’ve ruined many a time I should have enjoyed by all of these tendencies and come to find myself, again and again, looking back and wondering the same thing:

Why didn’t I just have fun?

Other people have fun, or seem to. A lot of fun they make a regular part of their schedule. I envy them. It should be a priority.

And, too, as birthdays come and go and one considers — a tad morosely — the end of one’s days (and during a crap-ass year, one considers this more often than not), and I find myself looking at potential regrets, I’ll think: Would I be patting myself on my back if, at the end of my time, I considered my life and said, wow, I’m really glad I spent all those hours working and not having fun, of putting joy on the back burner — it really paid off. No! My regret would be, that I didn’t enjoy my life more. That I didn’t take the time to revel in the good and the bad and allow myself fun, play and letting myself be happy, guilt-free.

Stringing together some of the best moments in my life, I see they tend to be the ones where I took a chance on fun. Never sorry there. And even looking back over the last (and crap-ass) year, those times that have lifted and saved me have have been the ones where I pushed myself into some fun, despite the “easier” choice of staying home to dwell in worry and gloom. The best times — a morning in a hair net and apron, across the table from a dear friend, flanked by sprinkle-wielding children, making candy in a chocolate factory a la Lucy and Ethel; a Sunday afternoon of cannoli-making with Sicilian friends; a jaunt to a legendary human-sized house made of real gingerbread; building and decorating — for the first time — a gingerbread house of my own; taking a spring jaunt aboard the San Francisco-bound ferry to see “Swan Lake” with a former ballerina who danced on the same stage; making time — despite being short on it — to go to a county fair in my homeland, where there is still great comfort in funnel cakes and calf-showing and wiener dog races and traditions, times and places that remain true to their origination.

And where do I go, as I sit in times of real stress and worry, when I cannot push through and go out for fun? I step into the pages of cookbooks. There is true comfort and lightness there, too, as I ponder the great baking days I hope lie ahead.

I allowed myself the purchase in the last year of a book of utter baking whimsy — “Baked Occasions” (2014) by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, is in no way a book of baking basics or oft-repeated baking staples. It is a book of one-of -a-kind creations meant only for one thing — celebrating. On nights of stress, depression or other funks, I found myself paging through this book, and it lifted and transported me beyond the blues.

Each year for my birthday — and that of my blog, which happens to land on the same day — I make a cake to honor the day. If it’s wrong to make your own birthday cake, I don’t want to be right. I’ve enjoyed each and every cake, and tried to make them something daring, and even daunting, a baking challenge in which the ante has been upped annually.

And while I considered a range of cakes and desserts to make for this birthday celebration that included such ambitious possibilities as mousse encircled by a row of dutiful lady fingers in Charlotte Russe or a thin layer of sponge cake rolled with a towel while warm to be later unrolled, filled with jam or curd or cream and rolled again, I kept returning to one single notion and one cake that seemed to fulfill it.

Didn’t I just want to have fun?

Did I want to kill myself with stress and two to three days’ work, and a page-long list of ingredients and worry over something like a cake, which should be fun? Or, did I want to keep it slightly simpler this time and end up with something not only pretty and party-like, but also a treat to eat?

I needed a lighthearted cake after a crap-ass year, a cake that might portend funner times ahead, times of more laughter and more cheer, more adventure and more sheer, blissful pleasure and joy.

I needed Dolly’s Doughnut.

Dolly’s Doughnut, from “Baked Occasions,” is a cake inspired by the sunny, birdlike and bird-voiced country legend, Dolly Parton. It is a coconut (apparently Dolly’s favorite) Bundt cake, filled with coconut fudge and coated in a delightful pink glaze, bedecked and bedazzled with sprinkles. The fellows of “Baked Occasions,” baking gurus Lewis and Poliafito, who have authored a series of “Baked” books as well as running successful bakeries of the same name in New York, created quite a tribute to Dolly with this cake. It, like many of the cakes in the book, is a showstopper in its festive beauty and simplicity. I was drawn to it, like a moth to a flame. It was the light I needed this year.

Dolly’s not the only one who loves coconut, and this cake has it coming from all directions. The yellow Bundt cake includes coconut extract and coconut milk, with lots of butter and eggs to make it sort of a version of a poundcake.

Part of that batter lightens a dark chocolate, cream cheese and coconut filling, which is encircled over half the yellow cake batter. The rest of the batter is smoothed over the top.

The cake comes out a beautiful golden ring that could be eaten just as is (or, as I’ve considered, cloaked in dark chocolate with maybe a sprinkling of more coconut). But I was really excited to drown it in the color to come…

The glaze used melted white chocolate (which I find I’m quite fond of), flavored with more coconut milk and extract and tinted to the desired shade of pink. It pours easily and generously over the “doughnut,” and the melted chocolate gives it a lovely ganache-like sheen.

How often do we get to throw sprinkles on anything? A birthday was certainly a time for that! I had picked out a variety of sprinkles with bright colors, hearts and even bunnies to add to the fun.

Cake No. 8, shaped like a doughnut, pink and sparkly as a country crooner, glowed even brighter with the seven candles I lit on top, representing seven years of my beloved blog, my own source of fun I’ve allowed myself, my own source of light. I am so grateful.

Here’s to the lighter moments, always welcome.

Dolly’s Doughnut
From “Baked Occasions”
by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (2014)
Makes 12 to 16 servings

For the Coconut Bundt Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons coconut extract
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1⁄3 cups unsweetened coconut milk

For the Dark Chocolate Coconut Filling:
5 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup lightly packed unsweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), melted and cooled
1 large egg
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the Simple Coconut Glaze:
4 to 6 tablespoons coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6 ounces good quality white chocolate, melted but still warm
Red or pink food dye or gel


 For Décor:
Pink or rainbow sprinkles (optional)

For the bundt cake, preheat the oven to 350F. Butter
the inside of a 10- or 12-cup Bundt pan, dust with
flour, and knock out the excess flour. Alternatively,
spray the pan with cooking spray. Either way, make
sure the pan’s nooks and crannies are all thoroughly
coated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking
powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle
attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium
speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape
down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the
eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating well after
each addition. Scrape down the bowl again, add the
coconut and vanilla extracts, and beat until just
incorporated.

Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with
the coconut milk, beginning and ending with the flour
mixture, mixing after each addition until just
combined, about 10 seconds; do not overmix. Remove
the bowl from the standing mixer, transfer the batter
to a large bowl, and clean and dry the mixing bowl.

To make the dark chocolate coconut filling, In the
now-clean bowl of the standing mixer fitted with the
paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until
creamy, about 1 minute. Add the unsweetened
coconut, melted dark chocolate, egg, and granulated
sugar and beat again until completely incorporated,
about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of
the bowl and mix again for a few more seconds. Add
1/2 cup of the cake batter to the filling batter and fold
until incorporated.

Spoon half of the cake batter into the prepared pan.
Spoon the filling on top of the batter, keeping it in the
center of the batter and away from the sides of the
pan. Then pour the remaining half of the batter over
the filling. Smooth the top with an offset spatula.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 50 to 55 minutes,
until a small sharp knife or toothpick inserted in the
center of the cake comes out with just a few moist
crumbs.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and
turn it out onto the rack. Place a baking sheet (lined
with parchment if you like, for easy cleanup)
underneath the wire rack.

To make the coconut glaze, In a large bowl, whisk
together 4 tablespoons of the coconut milk, the
coconut extract, and vanilla extract. Add the
confectioners’ sugar and whisk until incorporated and
smooth. Slowly stir in the warm white chocolate. We
prefer a thick yet pourable glaze; if the glaze appears
too thick, thin it out with additional coconut milk, a
tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired
consistency. Stir in the food dye, a few drops at a
time, until the desired color is reached.

Pour the glaze in large, thick ribbons over the crown
of the Bundt, allowing the glaze to spread and drip
down the sides of the cake. Top with sprinkles, if
using. Allow the glaze to set before serving, about 5
minutes.

The cake will keep in an airtight container at room
temperature for up to 3 days.

Blogger’s Note: I would highly recommend using a baking spray (not regular cooking spray) for a clean release of Bundt cakes!

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