If you have a fear of sugar — the kind that’s heaped into quantities that makes your hands tremble and eyes twitch — then this cake is probably not for you. But for us, the sugar-high-riding gang at Lawrence (gummi worms at 5pm is a daily kitchen snack), well, we pine for the Queen Elizabeth cake, which is sweetened with not just regular granulated sugar, but also brown sugar, dried coconut, and dates.
The Queenie, as we affectionately called it, lived on the menu much longer than most of our desserts because it was so popular with clients. (It was also topped with a scoop of homemade Makers Mark-infused ice cream, so that probably didn’t hurt, either). And in the kitchen, we never got tired of the coconut-topped cake either, and we regularly ended shifts with a shared slice or two.
The Queen derives most of its sweetness from dates, which are soaked in hot water until a thick, mashable paste forms. The rest of the cake is a breeze to assemble — cream some butter and sugar, add a few eggs and vanilla, then alternate sifted flour with the warm date mixture. I love making this cake in a single bowl, creaming butter and sugar by hand, with a good wooden spoon. No mixer required. The batter puffs and swells into a lovely tan-colored cake, which is then topped with cooked mixture of (more) butter, heavy cream, unsweetened shredded coconut, and brown sugar. Then, finally, the cake is broiled until the topping caramelizes into a crunchy, amber crust.
So when Jessica’s birthday rolled around, I surprised her with a Queenie encore, this time gussied up, American-style, into a three-layer birthday cake smothered with vanilla buttercream frosting. (I was in such a rush that the cake didn’t completely cool before I frosted it, which is why you can see that top layer sliding around in the final photo!) I can make this cake in my sleep — I realized I still had the recipe memorized — but it was an entirely new challenge to bake this cake during service with her only a few meters away from me. Jess could totally spy the action from her garde manger station (as in, she saw the cake layers cooling on our speed rack and overheard us whispering about it, oops), but I think she was surprised anyway.
Note — Warm out of the oven, this cake is cozy and comforting, but it’s even better the next day. The flavors are richer, the topping even crunchier, the innards moist and sticky. I’d bring it to a picnic for a sweet finish to a long afternoon.