Monday, April 5, 2010

Coconut Cake

Sunday afternoon at my grandparents were spent around the dining room table. From the time I was a little girl, I remember being drowsy with good food, sunlight streaming in through the curtains, the hum of grownups’ voices. The women talked about garden club meetings, recipes exchanged in the grocery store, bridge club, bake sales, funerals. When a coconut cake was mentioned, it was with hushed and reverent tones.

I didn’t – and still don’t - like coconut so I didn’t understand the awe associated with coconut cake.

When I was old enough to bake myself, I still didn’t get it. How hard could it be? What was the big deal?

Now I get it. I see what the big deal is. I know why baking a coconut cake using fresh coconut is a very big deal indeed.

I learned this Saturday when I made one to celebrate Easter.

The Husband poked the three “eyes” of the coconut and drained the coconut water.

He used a chisel and a hammer to crack the coconut open.

That took some doings.

Finally, success!

That was the easy part. The halves then had to be broken into pieces. The Husband broke the halves into shards. Next you’re supposed to peel off the shell. Just peel it off.

It didn’t go that smoothly. You had to take off small pieces of the shell, bit by bit. It was about as efficient, fun, and easy as peeling off old, stubborn wallpaper.

We grated the coconut and lost count of how many times we scraped knuckles and fingers on the grater.

For all that work The Husband did, this is how much coconut he got:

Seems like a lot of sugar for a dime.

I traced a six-inch cake pan onto parchment paper and cut around the circles.

I love cake pans. So pretty and shiny.

I buttered the bottoms of two six-inch cake pans, lined them with the parchment paper circles, and buttered the parchment paper. (I keep the wrappers sticks of butter come in for just this purpose.) That may be one extra step too many but that way, I don't have to worry about the cake sticking to the bottom of the pan, no matter what.

The cake:

1 (18.25-ounce) package white cake mix
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cream of coconut
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line about two dozen cupcake pans with paper liners.

Combine all ingredients and mix for four minutes. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake according to package directions and cool on wire rack.

(This yielded enough batter for two six-inch round cakes and about a dozen cupcakes.)

I let the cake cool a bit before brushing the tops of the cake layers and cupcakes with the reserved drained coconut water.

While the cake soaked up the coconut water I did the first round of unloading the dishwasher, loading it back, and washing the mixing bowl and my favorite measuring cups.

The frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream of coconut (there should be just that much left in the can, if not, use milk)
4 cups confectioners sugar
shredded coconut

The fun part: icing the cake.

And the cupcakes

The cakes got a thin layer of icing, a crumb coat. I refrigerated the cake for a few minutes to let the crumb coat set up. I took it from the fridge and slathered on the icing. With the crumb coat nice and chilled, the rest of the frosting goes on smoothly and easily because I don't have to worry about snagging a bunch of unslightly crumbs and dragging them into the icing. The icing is topped with the grated coconut.

Those flecks of brown are from the paper-thin layer surrounding the coconut. The fact that it’s not pristine white shows that an actual coconut was used and should be viewed as a good thing, a sign of authenticity.

Is what I tell myself anyway.

The Husband, who loves coconut cake, and the reason I made the cake, loves it. My grandmother said she thinks that’s the best coconut cake she’s ever had. High praise.


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