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.

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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.

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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,

Suzanne