Every good cook, it seems, has devised special recipes combining coconut, walnuts and chocolate chips -- from bar cookies in which all three are layered along with graham cracker crumbs and sweetened condensed milk (widely and unfirmly known as Hello Dollys) to old-fashioned drop cookies in which they are stirred into a brown sugar butter dough underpinned with cupfuls of oatmeal.
But the full, rich flavor that comes forth when you combine sweetened coconut shreds, chopped walnuts and good-quality semisweet chocolate chips is most appealing in an upside-down cake: In this cake you treat the mixture exactly as if it were fruit to be placed on the bottom of a baking pan ready for the batter to be poured on top.
Instead, the chips, nutmeats and coconut are stirred into melted butter, cream and cinnamon, and then spread on the bottom of a layer-cake pan. Over the top goes a tender batter quickly made from flour, sugar, butter, egg, milk and vanilla.
As the cake bakes, the bottom (which will become the topping) begins to ooze and melt upward into the batter part, making for a moist, soft cake. When the baked upside-down cake is inverted to rightside-up, a golden brown, buttery, partially melted chocolate top is revealed. The brown sugar, butter and some of the chips will have melted down into the cake.
Serve the cake, still warm, cut into triangular wedges with a cloud of lightly whipped heavy cream to one side, or at room temperature with scoops of vanilla or coconut ice cream, or with hot fudge sauce. Just plain, along with a glass of ice-cold milk, this cake also is delicious. COCONUT-WALNUT-CHOCOLATE CHIP UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE (6 servings)
Is it a cake or a confection? The bottom (which turns out to be the top) is a candylike, rich and sweet pattern of chips, coconut, and choppings of walnuts, settling on a plain, not-too-thick cake base.
FOR THE CAKE PAN:
1 tablespoon butter, softened
FOR THE COCONUT-WALNUT- CHOCOLATE CHIP MIXTURE:
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons light cream or evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
FOR THE CAKE BATTER:
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 extra-large or jumbo egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
Lightly grease the inside of an 8-inch round cake pan (plain or springform variety) with butter. Line the bottom with a circle of waxed paper, lightly butter the paper and set aside.
For the coconut-walnut-chocolate chip mixture, heat the butter, cream (or evaporated milk) and cinnamon in a medium-size saucepan over a low flame just until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut, walnuts, chocolate chips, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir well to combine. Lightly pat the mixture in the bottom of the cake pan in an even layer. Set aside.
For the cake batter, into a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar and baking powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, vanilla, egg and butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the milk, whisking to form a smooth, thickish batter. Spread the batter evenly over the layer of chips, coconut and nuts, using a flexible spatula.
Bake the cake on the middle rack of a 350-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is a light golden color and the cake gently pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Cool the cake in the pan for 3 to 4 minutes; run a thin, dull-edged knife or palette knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto another cooling rack. Peel away the waxed paper. Press back on any topping that may have clung to the waxed paper.
Serve the cake warm or cool, cut into wedges.
Variation I: Substitute 3/4 cup chopped pecans for the 3/4 cup chopped walnuts.
Variation II: Substitute 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butterscotch chips for the 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chocolate chips and substitute 1/2 cup light brown sugar for the dark brown sugar.
Equipment Note: An 8-inch springform pan may be used in place of the layer cake pan; to unmold the cake, first remove the sides of the springform pan, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack and remove the metal bottom along with the waxed paper.