“How does this relate to Southern coconut cake?” you may be wondering. Well, actually, it doesn’t. It relates to Tom’s triple coconut cream pie. I believe that means there’s coconut in the crust, filling, and whipped cream, but honestly, I’ve never slowed down enough to check. This is some MY-T-FINE pie, my friends. But what it isn’t is good old-fashioned coconut cake. Apparently, folks around these parts fail to recognize the awesomeness of said dessert. Either because they’ve never had it or because they don’t know what’s good.
Every Seattle baker and his/her Facebook friends are doing renditions of red velvet cake that range in flavor from so-so to what Gordon Ramsay might refer to as “the dog’s dinner,” but nobody’s even attempting coconut cake. Well, some of the local cupcake places sprinkle a few flakes of coconut on top of buttercream icing and call it coconut, which I suppose it technically is. But no. To my mind, coconut cake was, is, and forever shall be comprised of no less than two, but preferably three or more layers.
Why are Southerners so fond of layer cakes? Simple: more icing per square inch. (Sorry, y’all, but I’ve been out of the South so long, I can’t remember if the correct word is “icing” or “frosting.” Somebody help me out here.) With a cupcake or sheet cake, there’s only one sad, lonely layer of icing. And woe be unto you if someone serves you a slice from the middle. Which, incidentally, never happens with a layer cake. You always get a wedge that includes at minimum three layers of frosting–top, middle, and side–and quite often you’ll encounter an extra middle layer. Pardon me for going all mathematical, but that’s a 3 to 2 or 4 to 3 ratio, which always trumps 1 to 1. At least as far as icing is concerned.
Please note that I’m not a cupcake or sheet cake hater. Anyone who knows me will vouch that I’m an equal opportunity cake eater. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for layer cake every time.
You might think from the name that a Southern coconut cake would feature a fair amount of coconut, coconut milk, or even the dreaded “coconut” flavoring. Nope, many coconut cakes contain nary a flake of coconut. They’re usually regular old white cake all dolled up in coconut frosting. Heaps of frosting with heaps of coconut. Not that anybody’s going to snub a cake with actual coconut in it, but…(Sorry, y’all, I just got sidetracked looking at photos of/recipes for coconut cake on the Internets. But now you have my undivided attention again. Except that I’m hungry.)
Well, anyhow, what makes a Southern coconut cake special is that it’s always super moist and the icing is usually slightly sticky. If you encounter a dry coconut cake with dry icing, run! Ok, that’s a bit drastic. Perhaps you should merely mosey along. Unless there’s no other dessert option, in which case, you’ll have to make do.
Here’s where I should probably tell y’all the secret to making a traditional Southern coconut cake. Sadly, I haven’t the foggiest. I live with an avowed coconut hater, so this particular cake is pretty far down on my to-bake list, seeing as I’d have to consume the whole thing myself. Not necessarily in one sitting, but still. I’ve thought about making one as a party/potluck contribution, but that would involve procuring a cake carrier. Which would involve finding a place to stow said carrier when not in use, and my cabinets exceeded maximum capacity three mixing bowls ago.
A few months back, as I perused a cookware store, a book called “Southern Cakes” beckoned me to come hither. And thither I went. After one glance at the stunning coconut cake on the cover, I promptly added the book to my library queue. (A shout out to my friend Linda who clued me in that one could check out cookbooks from the library. Who knew? Just be careful not to spill.) I made a few of the recipes—including one called “Celestial Chocolate Cake,” which turned out to be worthy of its name. If you like to bake (or just drool over pretty pictures) I highly recommend this particular cookbook. Also, it makes an excellent gift. Hint, hint!
In the meantime, I’ll leave y’all with my grandmother’s recipe. As always, the directions/measurements are vague, so your results may vary.
P.S. What’s your favorite Southern cake? Please do tell!
My Mom’s Mother’s Coconut Cake
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 cup milk
2 t baking powder
1 pinch soda
1 t vanilla
There are no mixing instructions, so use your best judgment. Also, I have no idea how long it should bake or at what temperature.
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
Coconut (No amount specified. Add however much you want, I reckon.)
Cook filling in double boiler until it thickens. Add vanilla.
I believe my mom once mentioned that it’s better to make the cake the day before you plan to serve it. But I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been able to wait that long to eat cake.
Photo Credits: Coconut layer cake courtesy of The Thrillbilly Gourmet, Coconut cupcake by Sea Turtle–Flickr Creative Commons.