The Wonderful Coconut Cake

As my father’s 80th birthday approached, I was in a bind as to what kind of cake to bake for this special occasion. Not just any old cake would do, since an 80th birthday is quite a special milestone, a special cake was called for.

I perused every cookbook I had. Surely there would be just the right kind of cake for my father’s birthday. I thought about his likes and dislikes, though I have never known him to turn down any kind of cake, I needed something that wasn’t oversweet as he has diabetes and too much sugar would make for something unsuitable. His health is quite remakable given his age, and despite a bad fall last summer that sent him to the ER for stitches across his forehead, he continues to walk every day and keep involved in social functions at the senior community where he lives.

Looking through pages and pages of cakes left me dizzy with information. None of the cakes seemed to be “just right.” I thought of a Hummingbird Cake, but given it’s denseness and heaviness, I decided against it. Then it came to me…coconut cake.

Coconut would be ideal as it is light and has a low glycemic index. With my father’s birthday occurring just before Memorial Day, coconut sounded perfect for the time of year and just exotic enough for a special occasion. Finding the right recipe though, was more challenging than baking the cake itself.

It appears many of the recipes for coconut cake have succumed to what is easy and quick in place of true and thoughtful. Yes, there are those who feel shortcuts are better and if the same result is an edible cake, then what’s the difference?

The difference is in the taste. Cake mixes and pre-sweetened ingredients will produce a cake that is edible, but will leave a manufactured taste in your mouth long after the last bite is eaten. I have found many markets selling organic and unsweetened coconut from a bag and I can say they are fine as a substitution when in a pinch. I found myself resorting to organic from a bag for this cake as two coconuts I bought from different stores where sour!

Years ago, my mother had a cookbook called, Country Cakes by Bevelyn Blair through Blair of Columbus, Inc. My mother made a Red Velvet Cake for my birthday that we still speak of today. It was huge! And tasted wonderful. Unfortunately, after several moves and many yard sales, the cookbook was lost. I was sure I could find it on the internet and began looking. Isn’t the World Wide Web a wonderful invention… when it works?!

From Amazon, I located the cookbook and ordered it right away. I knew if anyone would have a recipe for a classic Coconut cake, this one was sure to have it. I waited anxiously for the book to arrive. And I was pleased, and more than a little releived to find tucked within the pages, not just one, but several versions of a good ‘ole classic Coconut cake! The recipe is as follows:

Coconut Cake

3/4 cups of butter                                                             2 cups of sugar

3 cups sifted cake flour                                                   3 teaspoons baking powder

6 egg yolks                                                                          Dash of salt

3 egg whites                                                                        1 cup of milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour and baking powder; add alternately with milk. Beat egg whites until stiff along with the salt; fold into batter. Add the vanilla flavoring and bake at 350*F. for 30 minutes or until done. Frost with Coconut Frosting of your choice.

I used the coconut frosting recipe that followed and added about one cup of shredded coconut to the mix. I also used lemon curd to spread between the cooled layers of cake as I didn’t want the cake too sweet.

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Coconut Frosting

2 cups sugar                                                                         1 cup water (or coconut water)

1/4 cup white syrup                                                            1 teaspoon vanilla

2 coconuts grated                                                                3 egg whites

(or large package fresh-frozen grated coconut)            Dash of salt

P.S. The coconut water substitution is my own and not from the original recipe.

Boil sugar, water and syrup until it spins a thread. Beat egg whites and salt until stiff. Gradually add hot syrup, beating all the time. Add vanillaflavoring and cool until stiff enough to spread. Frost between and on top of layers with frosting and layers of coconut. Or add the coconut to frosting and spread evenly over cake.


This cake was well received. Everyone liked it and my father told everyone how good it was. A successful cake for a most special occasion.



The Absolute Best Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

Nothing is as much a classic cocktail as a gin and tonic, however, if your sweet tooth is needs a pick-me-up, then this recipe for Gin and Tonic Cupcakes from Good Housekeeping U.K., is definitely worth the effort.

Don’t allow the unusual measurements and “caster sugar” dissuade you from making these cupcakes. A scale is useful in any kitchen and one can be found at any big-box store for a few dollars. Caster sugar is simply a more finer grain of sugar than the granulated sugar we American’s are used to using. I use Domino’s Superfine Sugar. It can be found at Wal-Mart. It comes in a tall plastic bottle in the baking aisle along with other sugars. And ounces are found on the side of measuring cups opposite the cup measures listed along the side.

These are my cupcakes following the recipe. I think you will enjoy them for your next party or get-together. (This recipe will make 12 cupcakes; I needed to test one first)!

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Here is a list of what you will need:

200grams (7oz.) unsalted butter

200grams (7oz.) caster sugar (I used Domino’s Superfine Sugar in the yellow plastic bottle)

4 medium eggs

200grams (7oz.) self-rising flour

Grated zest of 1 lime

75ml (3 oz. gin) (I used Gordon’s London Dry Gin)

And for the syrup:

50grams (4oz. caster sugar)

50ml (4 oz.) tonic water

2 tbsp. gin

For the buttercream frosting:

200 grams (7oz.) unsalted butter, softened

450 grams icing (confectioner’s sugar)

2-3 tbsps. of gin

Grated zest of 1 lime

Decorate with two limes cut into slices lengthwise, and cut through up to the rind, then twist and place on top of each cupcake.

Add a straw cut in half for the added effect of a gin and tonic.


Preheat oven to 180*C or 350 degrees F*.

Fill a 12 cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, mix together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add in the eggs one at a time and mixing well after each addition.

With a large spoon, fold in the flour and lime zest, followed by the gin. Spoon into cupcake liners and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into middle of cupcake, come out clean.

While cupcakes are baking, make the gin syrup.

Gently heat caster sugar and tonic water in a small pan, stirring often until sugar has dissolved. Turn up heat and boil for 1 minute. Stir in the gin.

Once the cakes have come out of the oven, poke holes into each cupcake with a toothpick and begin to brush the syrup over cupcakes. Leave the cupcakes to cool for 15 minutes then place cupcakes on a wire rack.

Make the buttercream by beating the butter until very soft then beat in the icing sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the gin to taste and the lime zest. Pipe buttercream onto cupcakes and add lime twist to each. Add a straw.

Yummy! Enjoy these delicious cupcakes.

Recipe can be found at

A Perfect Gin and Tonic

The history of the world’s most beloved cocktail is one steeped in mystery and medicine. Maybe that is why it is considered one of the more frequent drinks served in Southern homes for parties and gatherings. The South is embedded with its own particular mystery and romance and the gin and tonic is a perfect fit.

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Photo by on

Though many stories abound over its origins, gin is traced back to 16th century Europe and a Dutch physician, Sylvus de Bouve, who distilled juniper berries into a drink as a treatment for patients with circulatory ailments. It didn’t take long for the spirit to make its way to Great Britain where by 1750, it is estimated over 11 million gallons were being consumed. Others have stated that European monks were the first to use a similar concoction as a cure for the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. Their drink was also made from distilling juniper berries and mixed with herbs.

Quinine, an extract from the bark of the Quinquina tree, found growing on the hills of the Andes Mountains, was known as a cure for chills and fevers. To the local tribes it was known as “fever tree.” Another mystery unfolds as many stories surround the origins of this magic cure.

One such story is attributed to the Countess of Cinchona, who fell ill while visiting South America. Given the substance of the Quinquina tree, the countess survived and those among her travelling companions re-named the tree, Cinchona tree, in her honor.


Another tale recounts those of Jesuit missionaries in South America who brought the treatment back with them to Europe. Known as “Jesuit powder,” the medicine is said to have been given to Charles II as a cure for fever.

Whatever the beginnings, the gin and tonic as we know it today, was once the medicine of choice for those suffering from malaria during the 19th century as Great Britain took over the governance of India. With so many British people flocking to the Indian subcontinent, they were not prepared for the humid climate and the dreaded effects of scurvy and malaria.

However, quinine is bitter, and many balked at drinking up the substance. It was only when British soldiers began mixing the quinine with water, sugar and of course, gin, that many could tolerate the cure. Adding a wedge of lime also helped diminish scurvy. By the end of the 19th century, gin and tonic was known as “the gentleman’s drink.”

wine glass beside android smartphone and sunglasses
Photo by Ollie Hoolachan on

Gin made its way to America in the 1700’s by way of the early colonists, and by 1830, it is said that more than 7 million gallons of pure alcohol was being consumed in saloons across the country. Temperance unions sprang up and not long after the turn-of-the-century took place, Prohibition was in full swing.

From 1920-1933, speakeasies, gangsters, outlaws and ordinary citizens, took to making their own gin spirits in what became known as “bathtub gin.” The mixtures were cheap and easy to make. Quality was not a concern and many of these gins caused severe health problems, some fatal.


As romantic, or, tragic, as the period of Prohibition was for America, this time in history gave us the cocktails we know today. Our ancestors mixed various flavorings and syrups with gin as to make it more appealing, and after Prohibition, gin was the most popular of spirits.

This now famous cocktail is simple to make and is favored on warm evenings and for summer parties. Four ingredients make up the gin and tonic, not far removed from the drink that saved the British Army over a century ago.

Here I have two recipes for gin and tonic; one a true classic, another for the spirit of 1920’s America.

The Classic Gin and Tonic

What you will need:

A highball glass (well chilled)

Dry gin (your choice of brand)

Tonic water (the best you can buy)


A wedge of lime

Fill the chilled highball glass with 50ml of your favorite gin over very cold ice (right from the freezer, don’t allow it to begin melting).

Add tonic water to taste.

Finish off with a wedge of lime.

Now for the Prohibition special, The Bee’s Knees

close up photo of honey bee on yellow petaled flowers
Photo by Swapnil Sharma on

What you will need:

A cocktail glass

Dry gin (your choice)

Fresh lemon



Mix 2 ounces of dry gin with 3/4 ounces of honey syrup (made by mixing together 1 tablespoon of honey with 1/2 tablespoon of warm water).

Add 1/2 ounce of fresh lemon juice.

Pour the mixture into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake well.

Strain the mixture into a chilled glass.

Finish with a lemon twist as a garnish.



Resources: The Sipsmith Blog,, August 14, 2013








Hulling Out Strawberries…Easily!

It is not uncommon today while perusing the shelves of many supermarkets and big box stores, to happen upon any number of gadgets made for one specific purpose. Some can be costly in more ways than one as these items usually end up shoved to the back of a kitchen drawer only to be seen again when we commit ourselves to spring cleaning.

This time of year, the South is abundant with strawberries and the fun of “pick-your-own” strawberry farms. Once you have these bright, red beauties home, then comes the task of digging into the middle in an attempt to remove that hard center.

However, a sturdy, plastic straw will suffice in place of stainless steel strawberry corers that can costs upwards of 10 dollars! Below, is a video to demonstrate how easy, useful and cheap, a simple plastic straw can be.


Southern Baking and Beyond

For many in today’s world, baking is a hobby, something dabbled in once the leaves begin to change into their brilliant colors towards the end of another year. Baking is a reason to show off a recipe seen practiced between the pages of a trendy magazine, or seen demonstrated on any number of television shows clamoring for our attention and ratings.

In the South however, baking is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. It is as much a  fixture in our DNA as in our culture.

Southerners share food at every occasion, in times of celebration as well as sadness. Ask any Southerner to share a favorite memory of childhood and usually the answer will involve a grandmother’s kitchen filled with aromas that comforted the most troubled soul. The memory may include holidays and women with busy hands gathered together to make easy work of pies, cakes and cookies. Or perhaps thoughts harken back to a time one was in need and a special dish made from the heart was sure to accompany healing words. Nevertheless, kindness was the most important ingredient of any bake.

My mother remembers the multitude of baked goods served at dinners on the ground of her hometown church. She recalls how her mother made a well in the wooden bowl filled with flour, salt, and buttermilk for biscuit dough and “pinching off” the dough into drops that would mysteriously form a perfect round biscuit.

I still remember my grandmother’s fried chicken she always made special when we came to visit. The delicious, perfectly seasoned poultry was juicy and tender and far superior to anything you could buy in a bucket! My grandmother has passed on, but forty years later have not lessened the memory for me.

Old-fashioned Southern baking is too quickly becoming only memories for many. Today’s South seems to have no place for what is tried and true, replacing everything Southerners know and love with something newer, quicker, and more exotic. There is nothing wrong with trying something new, but when I can no longer find pimento cheese at the supermarket because it is considered “too Southern” for newcomers, I feel like a part of my heritage is being stripped away.

And so, I created this blog for classic Southern baking. You will not find obscure ingredients, or words you cannot pronounce. Along the way, I’ll provide stories and history behind our favorite bakes, as well as how-to videos and the recipes that didn’t work. (I’ve had many recipe fails! I am not a pro pastry chef!)

I look forward to sharing, learning and creating the bakes that are truly Southern as well as many that we have adopted as our own and become Southern through the years.

Thank you for visiting,