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Coconut Cake

Let me first say this: my mother wasn’t a cook. She put food in front of us from the kitchen and it was sometimes ok, sometimes pretty scary. While growing up, she was not allowed into her mother’s kitchen much. She was the youngest of a very large family- her closest sibling was married while my mother was in kindergarten. So I suppose that my grandmother just really needed to get things done without her being underfoot. These were in the days when canning food was not a hobby or a periodic diversion- it was a necessity. Grandmother once said that it was quite a good thing when she didn’t have to “put food by” any more.

They lived in various places throughout the year. Usually, it was the South in the winter, either in Florida or Asheville, North Carolina. The summers were spent between Asheville and Wilmington, Delaware. She kept a garden of one description or another wherever she was. That provided a wide range of produce options to consider. Grandmother loved vegetables of all sorts and cooked them in a wide variety of ways. They also kept a cow and chickens while in North Carolina.

My Grandmother was a Southern girl- a Moore of the North Carolina Moores. I’m a North Carolina girl too, so something inside me is drawn to anything about that state. Her playground included Blowing Rock and the grounds of the Grove Park Inn, where her father was Groundskeeper. It was a prestigious thing, to be associated with the Inn, especially in the early days. Boulders from Sunset Mountain in Asheville were moved to the Inn’s grounds before it opened in 1913. She grew up with the Wolfes. “That bad boy Thomas Wolfe!” she used to say, shaking her head. Yet every year, while visiting us, she would seek out his novels from my father’s numerous bookshelves and read them. She led an interesting life, but it was her quilting and cooking that was of most interest to me.  Spending time with Grandmother was glorious. She told me of our family history. Not all glamorous, but always interesting. I got a picture of the family and of parts of her life as though I had watched a movie. There were stories of  sailing ships, wonderful gardens full of her favorite violets and herbs by the back door, and the house in North Carolina named Bonnie Castle, which burned to the ground amongst the rocks it was built with. The importance of tradition was understood. She was a DAR, and she carefully preserved all that goes with that for my sister and I so that we could also uphold that tradition of representing family.

The times together in the kitchen with her are some of the happiest of my memories.  She cooked from scratch and without written recipes. We wore aprons. Hers (which she brought with her) was always a print of violets. And Grandmother’s favorite quilts, of the ones she made, were ones that included patches with flowers in violet tones. I didn’t learn to quilt much then, but did later. And at that point an additional appreciation of this gentle woman was realized. Her quilts were pieced by hand- many, many small pieces from scraps left over from sewing for her family. Then, she painstakingly quilted them with tiny stitches, in close designs. I never asked her about the naughty Wolfe boy and I have come to regret that. I did ask a multitude questions about cooking, baking and canning. She was never too busy to let me help. My sister and I loved it when she cooked dinner- someone who really cooked! Our mother was a 50’s housewife who adored pearls, cocktail parties, and long cigarette holders. Like in Madmen. Except that my father was a young college professor. But I am wandering.

It was my grandmother who taught me patience in cooking, and maybe thereby infused it into me. We once spent half a day making a fresh coconut cake. Made from a real coconut, drained of it’s milk and grated. I never saw a cake made from a real coconut before. Who knew! We debated whether to put lemon curd between the layers, but didn’t have enough lemons to make lemon curd. People actually made lemon curd- another discovery! That day, we built a towering cake adorned with fuzzy, aromatic coconut gratings. Grandmother baked with no recipes. They were in her head. I tried to memorize what she did- to store it away for later use. Oh yes, I adored the nights she cooked, and the days she baked. Some things, such as pie crusts and biscuits have to be learned standing next to the expert. Feeling the biscuit dough, learning not to twist the biscuit cutter while cutting (thereby assuring a high biscuit), seeing the correct pea-sized rounds that make a flaky pie crust and that the water must be icy…I learned all of this from Grandmother. The woman that my mother knew as “Mama”, who shooed her out of the kitchen, was nothing like the patient Grandmother that my sister and I knew.

I have worked out the closest recipe that I can to what I remember as my grandmother’s coconut cake. Many recipes do not actually put coconut into the cake, but only into the frosting. Margaret Moore Medd’s had both. She is buried next to the love of her life in Arlington National Cemetary, a bit up the hill, in view of the Eternal Flame there. She would have thought that funny. I believe that she would be pleased that I do not shoo my grandchildren out of the kitchen, and that as they become old enough I include them in cooking and baking. Both of my grand daughters love to come to Nana’s to bake. I’m proud of that- I think Grandmother would approve.

Aryanna and AddisonAddison

Here is the recipe that I have come up with from my memory. I hope I have not done her too much of a disservice and that you enjoy it.

ingredients

Coconut and coconut milk

 

COCONUT CAKE

3  cups flour, sifted before measuring

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

1 -1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs, yolks and whites separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon coconut flavoring (optional)

1 cup coconut water (add canned if necessary)

1  1/2 cups freshly grated coconut

1/2 – 3/4 cup raspberry jam, lemon curd, or tart orange marmalade (optional)

Fluffy frosting (recipe below)

 

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour 2 (8 inch) cake pans. Sift flour with baking soda and salt into a bowl.

In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat sugar in gradually and continue beating until well mixed.

Beat in egg yolks and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, using a wire whisk or electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form when beater is lifted; set aside.

Add the flour mixture to yolk mixture in three additions, alternating with coconut liquid and stirring smooth, ending with a liquid addition.

Stir in 1/4 cup of the flaked coconut. The rest is used on the frosting.

Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool.

Place bottom layer onto cake plate and spread with jam, if using. Spread 1/2 cup fluffy frosting on and top with the other layer of cake.

Frost cake top and sides, then sprinkle with remaining coconut.

 

FLUFFY COCONUT FROSTING:

3 egg whites

1 1/2 c sugar

5 Tablespoons cold coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup grated coconut

Instructions:

Put egg whites, coconut milk, and cream of tarter in top of a double boiler over simmering water.

Beat well to blend, then increase speed of mixer to whip egg whites. Continue beating until soft peaks begin to appear and then gradually add sugar. Add the vanilla.

Beat until firm peaks appear in the frosting, about 7-8 minutes.

Use to frost the coconut cake.

 

 

 

I love to cook and I love my family and friends. It seems like we end up eating or talking about eating, fun activities and craft ideas, and family, when we get together. This page and blog seemed like a natural extension of those things. I live in Valrico, Florida- that’s just outside Tampa, and very near Plant City. I raised four children with my husband and we have five grandchldren. Our house is still a very busy place with all of them coming through, even though only one of our sons currently lives at home.

The title phrase comes from my children. They referred to the music makers they made in preschool from two metallic pie pans, a few dried beans, and a couple of jingle bells as “Jingle Pies”. And the “Starry Skies” are the ones they asked in their prayers to be guided through during their sleep.

My first food job was assisting a pastry chef who had been brought to the United States by the Busch family to create fabulous breads and desserts for their Busch Gardens Tampa Swisse House Restaurant. He left that employ to open his own pastry shop, and that’s where I came to know him and work for him. After watching closely, and tasting a lot, I became the “Danish Girl” at his shop, “Karl’s Konditori”. I left there to go to college but kept the fond memories close. He was the pastry chef who made my gorgeous wedding cake as his gift to me. I discovered then that there is a “forever bond” forged in food and those who work in that industry.

My oldest son had always wanted to go to culinary school, and eventually did. I still do the “Mom” cooking and leave the fancy stuff to him.

Graduation Day

 

I love to learn recipes, cooking ideas, tips and skills from others in any way I can. I’m always taking classes, seminars, following blogs, reading cookbooks, and watching cooks and chefs on TV and in person. I simply love to cook. I also love sewing and stitching.

I thank you for reading my blog and appreciate it more than you know. I hope that starry skies guide you through your dreams tonight.