08/04/2014 01:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Coconut Lime Birthday Cake

Marisa Churchill

My German grandmother's 100th birthday is coming up in a few weeks. Naturally, I have been tasked with making the birthday cake for the big day! My grandmother is not a chocolate fan, which I try not to hold against her. I suppose, even if I think she's missing out, at nearly 100 years old she's entitled to have whatever kind of cake she wants! That being said, although I did promise to make her a coconut-lime cake, I am trying to make a lighter and healthier version. The key is for her not to realize that I've cut down on anything in the cake. So let's keep this posting between us, shall we? I don't need anyone letting it slip that I'm trying to serve reduced-fat birthday cake on her big day. This will no doubt be something that she, and most of you, will probably object to. I mean she's 100 years old! I should let the woman eat whatever cake (however rich and artery clogging) she wants, right? But before you're quick to judge, hear me out. You might understand, and dare I say even agree with, my inspiration for sneaking a little "skinny" into the big celebration.

My grandmother is the model by which all men and women her age should fashion themselves. She still hits the gym three days a week. She lives on her own. She needs no assistance walking, cooking, or driving (yes you read that right!). So why, you might ask, would I try to cut down on the fat in this woman's birthday cake? For goodness sake, let her have her cake and eat it too! Of course if you know anything about my Sweet & Skinny recipes, then you know that the key is a focus on health, not simply on cutting the fat. But it just so happens that sometimes those two go hand-in-hand. Now in my grandmother's cake (oops I meant case, but cake works too) the issue I have isn't the fat, it's the cholesterol. Yes, grandma is in great shape! However, she has survived two heart attacks, the culprit of both being clogged arteries. Since I'd like to keep her ticker going for a few more birthday celebrations, I see nothing wrong with trying to come up with a tasty birthday cake that is largely devoid of cholesterol. As long as she can't tell that anything is missing, I say no harm, no foul.

I'm often asked, what inspires you to create lighter desserts and how do you manage to do it? This, dear reader, is exactly how I do it. It starts with inspiration, which sometimes (as in this case) is very personal. From there, it's a step-by-step problem solving process.

First I take a full fat recipe, in this case, my recipe for coconut-lime cake. By the way, there's 1 stick of butter in the original recipe. That alone equals 243mg of cholesterol! I then start to think about how to cut the fat (or in this case cholesterol) without cutting the flavor. Replacing all of the butter with organic coconut oil for this recipe seemed like a no-brainer. Coconut oil is naturally cholesterol free and adds great natural coconut flavor. However, when I tested the recipe with 100% coconut oil it had a greasiness that I did not care for. Unlike coconut oil, coconut milk doesn't separate into fats and liquids when used in baking. It remains much more stable. By replacing part of the coconut oil with coconut milk, I got rid of the greasiness, and got the crumb of the cake where I wanted it to be; tender with no residual oil.

Unfortunately, at this point the cake still had loads of heavy cream, coconut milk and 4 whole eggs in it! I'd cut down on the cholesterol, but the cake slices were still ringing in a whopping 105mg of cholesterol per slice!


The next step was clear. With almost 250mg of cholesterol per egg yolk, I needed to get rid of most (or all) of the whole eggs! Unfortunately this often sounds simpler than it is. Egg yolks, which contain all of the fat and cholesterol, also contain lecithin. Lecithin acts as an emulsifier. It plays a crucial role in baking. Lecithin is responsible for creamy custards, silky ice creams, and tender cakes. Even if I had to remove the egg yolks, the good news was that I could still use the egg whites! Egg whites also play a key role in baking. They help to trap air and build structure in cakes and cookies. Unfortunately, with so much protein in egg whites, you can't simply swap egg whites for whole eggs without running the risk of creating a tough cake. Therefore, I opted for two egg whites and increased my baking powder slightly to help create a nice and fluffy structure.

Lastly, I used one of my favorite go-to ingredients in the Sweet & Skinny kitchen.....Greek yogurt! Greek yogurt has a low water content and mild flavor, which makes it ideal for baking. I swapped part of the coconut milk in the cake for a blend of plain fat free Greek yogurt and coconut extract. For the frosting, I replaced part of the whipped cream with Greek yogurt; a trick I've successfully pulled off in the past without anyone being the wiser!
When all of the swapping and testing was completed, I reran the numbers and came up with only 15mg of cholesterol per slice of cake. Now that's a number my grandmother's heart can live with! So on August 8th, when the champagne is being poured and candles are blown out, I'll give her an extra big slice and tell her to indulge. "You only turn 100 once, Oma." She'll never know the difference.


Coconut Lime (Birthday) Cake
Serves 12

(for the cake)
Nonstick pan spray
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 1/2 limes
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup lime juice
1 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt
2 egg whites
1/4 cup organic coconut oil, melted

(for the frosting)
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup fat free palin Greek yogurt
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

2/3 cup coconut chips or large flaked coconut, lightly toasted
Thinly sliced lime, to garnish
½ tablespoon lime zest, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 º with the rack in the center position. Grease two 8 inch cake pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the lime zest, coconut extract, coconut milk, lime juice, yogurt, egg whites and coconut oil. Create a well in the center of the bowl with the dry ingredients, pour the contents from the other bowl in and whisk well, to thoroughly combine. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Place the pans in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of each comes out clean. Once baked, remove them from the oven. Place the cakes on a bakers rack and cool for several hours. Once cool, remove the cakes from the cake pans.

To make the frosting, whip the cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Whip in the yogurt and the powdered sugar. To frost, cut the cake in half and spread 1/3 of the frosting over the top of half the cake. Place the other half of the cake on top and spread the remaining frosting on the top, leaving the sides exposed. Garnish the top of the cake with toasted coconut chips, lime zest, and lime slices. Slice the cake and serve.