Guest blog by Kara Gavin.
When my mom gave me this recipe for haystack cakes, she said something about it having French Canadian origins – which kind of makes sense given the maple syrup in the recipe. And maybe they resemble little Quebecois haystacks.
All I know is, whenever I make them, they disappear quickly and everyone wants the recipe! And, they should NOT be confused with the cloying “haystack” cookies that are made with packaged fried Chinese noodles and melted chocolate and butterscotch chips.
Basically, the idea of these haystacks is to coat squares of white cake with a maple-cream-brown sugar sauce, and then roll them in toasted coconut. When you’re done, you’ve got a tray full of tiny cakes that can be frozen and brought out any time.
- White cake mix (and corresponding ingredients according to box or your own mix)
- Two cups of brown sugar
- Two bags of sweetened coconut
- One cup of heavy cream
- Half cup of real maple syrup
- Teaspoon of vanilla
- First, make a white cake in a 13×9 pan according to the recipe on the box. (or your own recipe if you’re a purist.) White cake, which has no egg yolks, makes the best-looking and most tender haystacks, though it might be interesting to experiment with other flavors.
- Cool the cake on a rack, and then transfer it to wax paper or parchment to wrap it for freezing. (You can do this step ahead of time, but if the cake will be in the freezer a while, put a layer of tinfoil around it too, to protect the taste.)
- When you’re ready to make the haystacks, get out a heavy saucepan and three cookie sheets. Heat the oven to 300, and scatter two bags of sweetened coconut on the cookie sheets.
- Keep a close eye on things, and stir the coconut from time to time to toast it evenly without burning. WARNING: Hold your breath when you open the oven to stir – for some reason, toasting coconut gives off toxic-smelling fumes at first, before turning nice and brown.
- Meanwhile, combine one cup of heavy cream, a half cup of maple syrup (the real deal, no Butterworth/Jemima nonsense), and two cups of brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. Bring it just to a boil over medium heat, stirring, and then toss in a teaspoon or so of vanilla. Remove it from the heat. Don’t let it cool all the way – it’s important to work with it when it’s just bearable to touch with your fingers when you dip the cake cubes.
- While the syrup and coconut cool, make your assembly line – it’s best to use one long countertop if you’ve got it, or a table.
- Line a clean cookie sheet with wax paper or parchment, and put it at the far right side of your counter for the finished cakes. Combine all your coconut onto one sheet, and put it to the left of the empty sheet. Put your pan of syrup to the left of that. Leave room at the far left for your cake.
- Now, bring the frozen cake out. With a big serrated bread knife, cut it in half lengthwise to make two squares of equal size.
- Re-wrap one of the squares and put it back in the freezer – it’s important to work with still-frozen cake when doing the dipping and rolling.
- Cut the half cake into cubes, about an inch to an inch-and-a-half on each side.
- If you’re working alone, make sure to keep your left hand on the syrup side of the assembly line, and your right hand on the coconut side. Any crossover and well, you’ll gunk up the works. Or find a helper and divvy up the syrup and coconut duties.
- Take a cake cube in your left hand, and toss it into the syrup. Using only your left hand or tongs, roll it around to coat it, then toss it into the coconut. With your right hand, roll it around in the coconut, which will stick to the syrup. Use your right hand to put it on the empty tray.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat – and then do the same with the other half of the frozen cake. (Um, wash your hands before going to the freezer to get it and cut it…)
- When you’re done, either serve them immediately, or cover the finished cakes in tinfoil and stick it back in the freezer til you’re ready to serve. Arrange them on a platter or stand an hour or so before dessert time so they just barely thaw – if they get too warm they can fall apart en route from platter to mouth.
The number of cakes you’ll have will depend on the size of cubes you cut, but it’s usually about 24 to 28.