Alabama Pastry Chef Nominated For James Beard Award

Birmingham, Alabama, pastry chef Dolester Miles is a finalist for a James Beard Foundation award this year. She’s been making desserts at Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega and Chez Fonfon for more than 30 years.

The awards honor excellence in cuisine, culinary writing and education.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with Miles about her work and her nomination.

Miles’ Coconut Pecan Cake Recipe

Serves 12 to 14

  • 1 cup firmly packed, sweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup cream of coconut
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk

For the filling:

  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon cream of coconut
  • 1 cup shredded coconut

For the icing:

  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2 cups sweetened coconut, toasted


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  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each with a circle of parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper, then dust with flour, tapping out any excess.
  3. Finely grind the coconut in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl.
  4. Add the walnuts to the processor, along with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and finely grind them.
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the ground coconut and pecans.
  6. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream of coconut, and the remaining 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  7. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the coconut extract. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the coconut milk, starting and ending with flour mixture.
  8. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the top of each with a spatula. Bake until the cakes are golden and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
  9. Let the cakes cool in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cake, invert onto wire rack, and remove the parchment. Let cool completely.
  10. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the filling.
  11. Place the egg yolks in a small heatproof bowl.
  12. Combine the condensed milk, butter, and cream of coconut in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until hot.
  13. Whisk one-third of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks.
  14. Transfer the egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the consistency of pudding, about 4 minutes. Do not allow the custard to become too thick.
  15. Transfer the custard to a bowl and stir in the shredded coconut. Let cool completely.
  16. To assemble the cake, cut each cake horizontally in half. Build the layer cake in a cake pan: Place one layer in the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Moisten the top with some of the simple syrup. Spread 1/2 cup of the coconut filling in a thin, even layer with an offset spatula. Repeat to make 2 more layers of cake and filling, then place the last layer on top.
  17. Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour.
  18. To unmold, run a spatula around the edges of the chilled cake, invert a cake plate over the top, and flip the cake over onto the plate.
  19. To make the icing, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and coconut extract until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on the top and sides of the cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut.
  20. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
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