Tag Archives: dessert

132. Sweet Potato Casserole: Dessert in Disguise

21 Nov

sweet potato casseroleSome Southerners are partial to the pie, but I prefer my sweet potatoes in a casserole. Mainly because it allows me to fool myself into thinking that what I’m eating is a vegetable, not dessert.

I’m not sure how I got elected for the job, but I’m the official Holloway sweet potato casserole queen. (Not to be confused with an actual Sweet Potato Queen.) Every Christmas, I whip up a big dish of the delectable stuff, but not before arguing with my sister about how much to make. She pushes me to triple the recipe, but I stand firm at double, seeing as we always end up with way too many leftovers. Even a die-hard sweet potato fan gets a little queasy at the thought of eating reheated casserole more than three days in a row.

Back in the days before we switched from canned to fresh sweet potatoes, I had a whole other argument with my Mom each year. She tried to convince me that I should include the liquid from the can, when clearly draining is the only way to go. Unless you want sweet potato soup. Which I don’t.

For Southerners, sweet potato casseroles fall into two distinct camps: marshmallow topping or pecan/brown sugar crumble. The Holloways are nut people. That’s not to say I’d abstain from eating the marshmallow variety. Quite the contrary. I run across sweet potato casserole about as frequently as Baptists enter dance halls by the front door so I take what I can get. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for pecans.

BC sweet potato casseroleA while back I was browsing Grocery Outlet, where one can find an array of interesting products not seen in major chains. I’m talking Kellogg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops, Lil’ Joey Pancake Pockets, and Spam Singles. Imagine my shock and horror when I happened upon Betty Crocker’s Sweet Potato Casserole mix. Why, Betty? Why?

Sweet potato casserole isn’t hard to make. Especially when one is left alone in the kitchen. Sure, it always takes about twice as long as I think it will. And peeling sweet potatoes is a pain in the ass. But I’d never resort to serving “casserole” made with a blend of reconstituted sweet and russet (WTF?) potatoes. Prior to the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

Some of my family’s best loved dishes are related to us by marriage. I’m sure we’d have adored my sister-in-law Karen even if she’d come with an empty recipe box. Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out.

Karen Holloway’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 t vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup milk

Boil sweet potatoes over medium high heat till tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, mix potatoes with all other ingredients and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Top with the following mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is browned

Notes: I’m not sure how many sweet potatoes equal three cups. I usually peel and cut up a few and add them to a 4-cup measuring cup. I fill the cup to the top to compensate for the gaps around the pieces. I tend to err on the side of too much potato. If anybody has a better way of guestimating three cups of potatoes, please enlighten me.

When doubling the recipe, I usually just use one and a half times the topping. When tripling the recipe…oh right, I don’t.

The size of baking dish wasn’t specified. Similar recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 qt. casserole dishes. I usually opt for a 9 X 13 dish, unless I’m doubling in which case I use the biggest dish I can find.

The recipe calls for 20 minutes bake time, but I’d allow at least 40. You want the top to be good and crunchy.

What’s your pleasure: Nuts or marshmallows? Have you ever done both?

Photo credit: Sweet potato casserole by bengarland, Flickr Creative Commons.

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126. Balls–Because Who Wants a Square Meal?

26 Mar

Oreo balls--Not necessarily round.

Oreo balls–Not necessarily round.

In other parts of the globe, these delicacies might be called hors d’oeuvres, bon bons, truffles, and the like. In the South, we call ‘em like we see ‘em: Balls.

The selection of stuff Southerners will roll up into a ball and pass around to friends and relations grows larger by the day. Ten years ago, I’d never imagined one could transform broccoli into a edible sphere that would become a potluck staple. What’s next, kale?

Love at first sausage ball.

Love at first sausage ball.

Much like Southern salads, balls come in two separate, yet equally delicious, groups: sweet and savory. A few of the treats refuse to take sides, so I’ll henceforth refer to them as “swavory.”

Seeing as I like to save the best for last, we’ll start with savory. In this group you’ll find meatballs, sausage balls (yes, sausage is a meat, but these are two entirely different animals, so to speak), spinach balls, crab balls, ham balls (not to be confused with ham rolls), fried macaroni and cheese balls, and the dreaded cafeteria staple, cod balls. I found a recipe in the Bells Best III cookbook for Curried Chicken Balls, which includes mayonnaise, cream cheese, chutney, and flaked coconut. I’m guessing the next time that particular contributor offered to bring a dish to a party, she was told, “We could really use some ice. And maybe a couple of 2 liters.”

3168885199_b4cf60e58f_mI haven’t yet mentioned cheese balls because they represent a whole subcategory of savory. These usually feature cream cheese as the main ingredient–sometimes balanced out with shredded cheddar–embellished with one or more of the following add ins: worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, Tabasco sauce, Lipton onion soup mix, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix, minced onions, diced peppers, cayenne, and paprika. Once the desired ingredients are mixed together and shaped into a ball, the whole thing is covered in one of two things: chopped pecans or thin-sliced corned/dried beef.

I’ve run across a few cheese ball recipes that feature pineapple, which fit in the swavory category along with such creations as: popcorn balls, and…well, nothing else comes to mind at the moment. Can anybody help me out here?

Goodness gracious, great balls of coconut!

Goodness gracious, great balls of coconut!

The sweet ball category breaks into two subsections: chocolate covered and not. Amongst the former you’ll find: peanut butter balls, coconut balls, Oreo cookie balls, cake balls, and regular old chocolate balls. The latter group includes: rum balls, bourbon balls, amaretto balls, teetotaller balls for Baptists (just kidding!), pecan balls, date balls, and peanut butter balls (sans chocolate, but why?). Any or all of these can be rolled in coconut, though some probably take to powdered sugar better. Speaking of which, one could make the argument that given their shape donut holes ought to be referred to as balls. I, myself, am not planning to start a petition, but if there’s one floating around, I’ll sign it. Just don’t ask me for a contribution.

Why are Southerners so smitten with balls? I couldn’t tell you. Maybe the bite-size portion makes them easier to eat. However, I’ve yet to run across a Southerner who finds eating to be complicated in any way whatsoever. Ok, perhaps what to, but certainly not how to.

Translation: You're not worth the trouble.

Translation: You’re not worth the trouble.

One thing’s for sure: making stuff into balls doesn’t simplify the operation. Quite the contrary. How much easier would it be to toss some pre-cubed cheese on a plate and call it a day? Or to frost a couple of layers of cake as opposed to dipping a couple dozen in temperamental chocolate? Scientific answer: A lot!

I can think of only two reasons why Southerners go to the trouble: 1. Balls are cute, making for a more-attractive dessert table and 2. We love you. We really love you.

Growing up, one of the highlights of Christmas for me was enjoying the bountiful harvest of my mom’s annual candy crop. English toffee, pecan pralines, white fudge with candied fruit, haystacks, and my sister’s favorite, coconut balls. Once Mom got to where she couldn’t make the candy anymore, well, she didn’t stop, but she pared down the list considerably. Coconut balls were the first to get their walking papers.

One down, 870 to go!

One down, 870 to go!

After a few ball-free years, I decided to valiantly pick up the baton and produce some coconut balls. My reasoning was: A. I love my sister and B. how hard could they be? Seventeen hours into the process (give or take), my mindset had shifted to A. not that much and B. aaaaacccckkkk! That was my first and last attempt to visit that particular torture chamber. However, if you are more patient than I, you’ll find them worth the trouble. After all, in the words of the Steve Miller band: “you got to go through Hell before you get to Heaven.”

What are some of your favorite balls? Please do tell!

Coconut Balls
2 lbs. Confectioner’s sugar
1 can coconut (16 oz.)
1 stick paraffin
1 large pkg. Chocolate chips
3 sticks butter
1 can Eagle brand
2 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Combine sweetened condensed milk, sugar, and coconut in large bowl. Melt butter and pour over mixture and mix. Add pecans. Chill for at least 3 to 4 hours. Melt paraffin in double boiler and add chocolate chips. Stir until all are dissolved. Roll candy into balls. Dip into chocolate and place on waxed paper.

Note: As usual, the ingredients and directions are a little vague. Use your best judgement. Seeing as folks don’t enjoy the delightful flavor of paraffin as much as they used to, I’d recommend locating some high-quality chocolate melts. In a pinch, you can add about a tablespoon of shortening or vegetable oil per package of chocolate chips to thin the chocolate for easier dipping.

Oh, and one trick my sister and I learned this year: Don’t waste money on one of those fancy chocolate dipping utensils. Just break off the middle two tines of a plastic fork, and you’re good to go!

Photo Credits: Oreo balls by This Year’s Love, Flickr Creative Commons; Sausage Balls by Ezra Pound Cake; cheese ball with crackers by Adrianne Lacy, Flickr Creative Commons; coconut date balls by Christaface, Flickr Creative Commons;

122. Bread Pudding, the Kind You Eat With a Spoon

26 Feb

Two Sister's Prize-winning Bread Pudding

Two Sister’s Kitchen Prize-winning Bread Pudding

On my last trip to MS, I enjoyed something I hadn’t had since forever (or a few days shy of it anyhow): bread pudding. Ok, I should qualify this by saying that have tasted quite a few menu items called bread pudding, but here in the Pacific Northwest, emphasis is on the bread, while pudding is an afterthought. Sure, the name leads off with “bread” and said ingredient comprises most of the dish, but in my mind pudding trumps bread every time. Although to be fair, bread should be considered a high card in my Richard Simmons Deal-a-Meal deck. Anyone remember those?

Attention restauranteurs: If a dish requires a fork–or worse yet, a knife–for successful consumption, it ought not be called a pudding. Unless one is British and in the habit of calling any and all sweet endings to a meal “pudding.” Yep, Gordon Ramsay, I’m giving you a pass, even though I’m still holding a grudge about how you made gnocchi look so simple to make on one of your TV shows. It. Is. Not! But I digress…

Based on my traumatic experiences with red velvet cake around these parts, I realize I’d be better off avoiding any semblance of bread pudding here, but that’s nigh impossible. Like Sam in Quantum Leap, I keep ordering the stuff hoping each time that the next bread pudding will be the metaphorical “leap home.”

I can’t tell y’all how many times I’ve succumbed to the siren song of a delectable-sounding dessert listing only to be served a slice of chewy so-called bread pudding. Yes, folks, a slice! I’ll happily devour slices of cake, pie, tarts and, of course, bread. But if there’s any way to slice it, pudding isn’t pudding.

Delicious? Probably. Pudding? Not so much.

Delicious? Probably. Pudding? Not so much.

As soon as I caught a glimpse of the bread pudding at Two Sister’s Kitchen in Jackson, MS, I knew I’d have to pace myself. While I would’ve loved to dig in to more crispy, crunchy fried okra and scrumptious salty biscuits, I managed to save room for the bread pudding. It was speaking to me, y’all. With a megaphone.

When the waitress asked my sister and I if we wanted the B.P. with or without hard sauce, the answer was quick: Duh! When offered the choice between something sweet and something sweet with something sweeter on top of it, these two sisters always go for the latter.

Extra! Click pic and read all about it.

Extra! Click pic and read all about it.

Lo and behold, this was everything B.P. should be–warm, mushy, spoonable, and sweeter than Tupelo honey. I didn’t detect any of the so-called hardness in the sauce (hard as in liquor), but occasionally folks skimp on it either for economic reasons or perhaps to appease Baptist patrons.

Also, this particular B.P. featured nary a raisin, which I considered part of its charm.

I wish I could serve up a scoop of this delicacy to anyone who’s only ever experienced it by the slice. Since that’s a wee bit impractical, I’ll leave y’all with a recipe.

Why didn't somebody tell me about this!!

Why didn’t somebody tell me about this!!

A couple of caveats, I think there ought to be a higher ratio of liquid to bread, seeing as mine always leans a little too far toward the slice-y side for my taste, but I haven’t quite figured out the proper proportions. Next time, I’ll add an extra cup of milk and see how it goes…

I usually manage to botch the first batch of hard sauce, but when I made this for my book club potluck brunch on Saturday using the following recipe, it turned out beautifully (and tastefully). Folks were pouring it on top of everything: baked Bananas Foster oatmeal, apple cinnamon muffins, rhubarb cake, even–wait for it–fresh blueberries. (We may be nerdy book lovers, but boy can we cook!)

Also, while planning ahead is not part of my DNA, I find that prepping this the night before allows time for A. Bread to reach maximum saturation and more importantly, B. sleeping in.

Where’s your favorite place to order bread pudding? Have you ever tried the oh-so-decadent Krispy Kreme variety? Please do tell!

Sort of Authentic Southern-Style Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit with a little help from Paula Deen.

For the pudding:
7 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
3 cups whole milk (or 2%, if that’s how you roll), warmed up a bit
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-lb. loaf of bread (I like to use brioche or challah, but most any non-savory bread ought to work, except maybe Wonder)

(Note: Additional ingredients are needed for topping and sauce, so read on to make sure you have everything or–if you’re like me–workable substitutes.)

If your bread isn’t already stale, tear it to bits and toast in the oven till slightly brown. By the time you gather the other ingredients, it should be ready.

Butter a 9 x13 baking dish and find somewhere to stash it till needed.

Whisk eggs in large bowl. Add milk, sugar, cream, melted butter, and vanilla then whisk to blend well. Toss in the bread and mush it around till everything’s saturated. Pour it in the baking dish and refrigerate overnight or at least a couple of hours.

For the topping:
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and while you’re waiting mix together:

1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Sprinkle mixture as evenly as possible atop the bread pudding, then bake till puffed and golden–about an hour. (Oh, and you’ll want to put the casserole dish on a baking sheet. I did not and had a heck of a mess at the bottom of the oven.)

For the rum sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. rum
Cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Bon Appetit says:
Stir brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add cream, rum, and spices and bring to simmer. Simmer until sauce thickens and is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

This took me WAY longer to accomplish. Probably because I usually opt for the less is more approach when it comes to heat. Also, because I don’t really know what a “simmer” looks like so every time a few bubbles started popping up, I panicked and turned down the heat. I stirred and stirred, but the stuff just wasn’t thickening. I considered tossing in some cornstarch, but didn’t. Finally, I turned up the heat, bubbles be damned, and it started to thicken up just a bit. Then I ran out of time and just poured the stuff in a faux Tupperware container and headed out. By the time I got to the book club brunch, it was just right.

Photo Credits: Bourbon Bread Pudding by awiskandaspoon, Flickr Creative Commons; Two Sister’s pics and BP Throwdown from eatjackson.com.

118. Goodbye Hostess, Hello Little Debbie

11 Jan

One of my Southern friends once confided in me that she suspected her boyfriend had taken up with another woman. “Who?” I asked. Her reply: “Little Debbie.”

Ah, yes, it’s difficult for any red-blooded Southerner to resist the siren song of that little tart. Or more accurately, that little fudge brownie, honey bun, powdered donut, Swiss cake roll, what have you…After all, not only is Little Debbie cheap (and easy), she’s ever-so well preserved.

Sure, Betty Crocker, Sara Lee, and Aunt Jemima may age gracefully on your pantry shelf, but I’m convinced that Little Debbie could survive the Zombie Apocalypse. That’s how I know Cormac McCarthy didn’t set his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road in the South. The never-named father and son happened upon a Coke that one time, but there was nary a Little Debbie snack cake to be found. Which just isn’t natural.

Breakfast of champions!

What sets Little Debbie apart from convenience store counterparts like Twinkies (R.I.P), Zingers, and such? Aren’t all cellophane-wrapped pastries created equal? Well, sort of. But also not really.

Each Little Debbie package features an illustration of a cheerful little girl in a straw hat who looks like she’d enjoy jumping rope or swinging on the front porch and would most likely never throw a Wii remote at the TV. That’s little Debbie, the granddaughter of the company’s founder, O.D. McKee (wouldn’t that be a great band name?).

Debbie does...everything!!

Debbie does…everything!!

While you may find the occasional single-serve Star Crunch or Pecan Spinwheel, you almost always have to buy Little Debbie snacks in the family pack. I see this as a metaphor for Southern relationships in general.

But even though you have to take 5 to 11 extra treats when one would suffice, they come individually wrapped, so you can enjoy them at your leisure.

When I packed up my car and headed west nearly two decades ago, my friends treated me to a going away lunch and presented me with a big bag of goodies for the road. I remember seeing Little Debbie smiling up at me from a package of Oatmeal Creme Pies. Though I haven’t had one in years, I can still recall the taste of freedom, independence, lasting friendships, nostalgia, and, of course, high-fructose corn syrup. Yum!

What Little Debbies are made of…

After snapping this pic in my local grocery store, I decided that it might be time for some homemade Little Debbie-style treats. I Googled upon The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for oatmeal creme pies, which I quickly added to my ever-growing to bake list. Also, I noticed that her avatar looks strangely familiar. Check it out and see if you agree.

Oh! And what’s your favorite Little Debbie treat? Please do tell!

111. Hello Dollies, Goodbye Girlish Figure

12 Sep

A Hello Dolly by any other name still tastes as sweet

Folks up here call these delicacies “magic cookie bars,” but in the South they’re called Hello Dollies. Why, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps because they inspire folks to burst into song? I can, however, see why people think they’re “magic,” seeing as they’re easier than pie to make (even using storebought crust) and more addictive than crack. Not that I’ve actually compared the additive qualities of the two substances. I’m merely speculating. However, I’d be willing to wager that they’re easier to make than crack or at least crystal meth, considering all the complicated shenanigans on Breaking Bad.

Anyhoo, after I graduated from the Easy Bake Oven to the actual kitchen stove, Hello Dollies were some of the first baked treats I mastered. Considering that they’re nigh impossible to mess up, I think they ought to be adopted as the entry level Home Ec project as opposed to the more challenging Rice Krispies treats, which can potentially be disastrous. (Ok, maybe not for most people. But perhaps most people when faced with the conundrum of using large marshmallows instead of the traditional mini version might ignore their Home Ec partner when she suggests melting the marshmallows one at a time and thus avoid making “treats” that resemble concrete, only slightly more difficult to bite into.)

I can.

Folks, Hello Dollies are so easy to make that creating a bad one requires malice aforethought, such as substituting carob for chocolate chips, walnuts for pecans, or using fat-free sweetened condensed milk. As y’all may know, I’m of the opinion that the word “free” ought not be found in any dessert recipe. However, if you want to include that word in the price, by all means, go right ahead! I believe I’ve also made clear my position on alternate fat sources like margarine or the unfortunately named “Buttery Stick,” But in case you missed it, I’ll sum up: Just no.

For Hello Dollies, you’ll need just a few staples that are most likely already in your cabinet/fridge/deep freeze. Namely, graham crackers, butter, chocolate chips, flaked coconut, pecans, and sweetened condensed milk.

Once you’ve gathered all that and a baking dish (I prefer 8 1/2” x 11″, but they’re nearly impossible to find so a 9” x 13” will do), melt a stick of butter and put it in the bottom of said baking dish. Then crush up about one sleeve of graham crackers and mix them in with the butter to make a crust. I just keep adding more till I get a firm, not too buttery-looking foundation. Then layer on a package of chocolate chips, some shredded coconut (the pre-sweetened kind), and some pecans that have been chopped and toasted (forgot to mention that step).

Serving size: 1

Pop an opening on the can of sweetened condensed milk with the rarely used pointy end of a bottle opener, and then make an identical opening directly opposite the first (both on top of the can). Now, here comes the fun part: drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the top of the prepared layers. You could remove the top of the can and drizzle with a spoon or something, but it’s not nearly as exciting. (Did I mention I started doing this as a kid when I had more free time and was more easily entertained?)

Once you’ve drizzled all that will drizzle, carefully remove the top from the can with a can opener (beware the sharp points!). Scoop up the remaining sweetened condensed milk with your finger and lick. Repeat as necessary. Sometimes a plastic spatula is helpful for getting out those elusive last drops. Please note that eating sweetened condensed milk from the can like this is dangerous for children under, say, 27 so you should perform this task yourself. Oh, and also, you should put the pan in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until it looks brown and bubbly on top. I recommend eating this while it’s hot (also not advised for children) but room temperature also works.

Courtesy of sweet and talented Jessie aka CakeSpy. Click to visit her fabulous blog.

If you have any leftovers (hah!), they freeze and reheat nicely in the microwave. (The only reason I know this is because I live with someone who hates both pecans and coconut. However, if you take a pan of these to any gathering of three or more, you will come home with an empty baking dish. Not just empty — scraped clean!)

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little extra spendy, I’ll do a version of these I learned from my friend Gina (of the add-marshmallows-one-at-a-time debacle). Follow the same (half-ass, I know) directions but also add a package of butterscotch chips, a package of peanut butter chips, and a package of mini baking M & M’s.

When serving Hello Dollies, you might want to make sure there’s an adequate number of comfortable horizontal surfaces nearby because they’ve been known to cause sudden and prolonged sugar comas. Consider yourself warned.

Hello Dollies Quick Reference Recipe
1 stick melted butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
12 oz. package chocolate chips (more or less to taste)
1 cup nuts
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Make crust with the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs. Layer other ingredients as listed. Drizzle sweetened condensed milk over the top and bake at 350 until tan on top.

Ok, show of hands, who likes eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can?

107. Coconut Cake–Paradise on a Plate

28 Aug

Four layers of coconuttyness by The Thrillbilly Gourmet

If you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time, you’ve most likely dined in one of Tom Douglas’s many fine establishments. Seeing as they’re second in number only to Starbucks, it isn’t hard to do. Unless you are broke and have no generous friends. Then it could be something of a challenge seeing as Tom doesn’t give it away.

“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.

Dear Cupcake Royale, more icing, please!

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
4 eggs
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.

Filling:
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.

103. Banana Pudding–Over-Ripe Fruit at Its Best

3 Apr

Southern banana pudding by Evil Shenanigans

One of the perks of being the child of a Southern Baptist preacher (besides, of course, having your most embarrassing childhood antics immortalized in sermons) is that folks occasionally show up at the house with food.

I would never admit to rating congregants based on the quality and frequency of their culinary gifts. But if I were to do such a churlish thing, the winner would be Donnie of the aforementioned chicken and dumplings. First runner up in the (imaginary, y’all) savory category goes to Vicky J.’s lasagna and garlic bread. However, Vicky takes first prize in the dessert category. “There’s a dessert category?” Does bacon come from pigs? (Surely, no one will argue that bacon can also come from turkey. That’s not bacon. That’s a travesty!)

Yes! We have no bananas...

Anyhoo, Vicky breezes past the competition with her banana pudding. Those of y’all who’ve never had banana pudding may be wondering how such a dish could ever win (an imaginary!) dessert contest. There’s not even chocolate in it, and nary a nut to be found. You might think of pudding as something only old folks, hospital prisoners, and people lacking tastebuds would eat. Oh, no. You’re probably thinking of banana-flavored pudding (or more often, chocolate-flavored, still no nuts).

Banana pudding is an entirely different creature. First of all, it starts with actual bananas. Not just any old bananas (or worse, new!). They should be slightly riper than you’d like with cereal, but nowhere near banana bread territory (or smoothie for Seattle folks). The other key components are pudding and Nilla Wafers.

Pick the middle one.

What makes Vicky’s banana pudding so delectable is that she has the optimal balance of ingredients. Some folks are stingy with the wafers. Some skimp on bananas. But Vicky’s banana pudding features an abundance of everything so that every time you dip the spoon, you get pudding, banana, and wafer all at once. (Anybody who eats with me on a regular basis has likely noticed that I’m a big fan of the “perfect bite.” It takes a bit longer to eat in this persnickety manner, but it’s worth it.)

When I went down to Memphis to welcome my newest nephew, Eli, my sister gave me a very important assignment (and if y’all know Jenna, you know how fond she is of giving assignments). She had Paula Deen’s banana pudding recipe and wanted me to whip up a batch and bring it to the hospital so she wouldn’t be forced to ingest institutional chocolate-flavored pudding or worse, green-flavored Jello.

One of the steps in Mrs. Deen’s recipe is to mix together a block of cream cheese with a can of sweetened condensed milk. I was tempted to stop right there and eat the whole bowl, but I feared the wrath of my sister and thus persevered.

Rather than use the traditional Nilla Wafers, Paula goes all fancy (and spendy) using Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies. I’m not sure they’re an improvement, but my tastebuds are heavily influenced by nostalgia, so I could be wrong. I’ve also heard of banana pudding made with Nutter Butter cookies, but haven’t tried it because I’d hate to end up on A&E’s “Intervention.”

While I’d never turn up my nose at Paula’s banana pudding, I’ll note that it IS made with boxed pudding mix (though thankfully NOT banana-flavored). I’ve tried my hand at a variety of banana pudding recipes over the years and my favorites are the made-from-scratch variety. Like my PerfectBite™, homemade custard takes a little more work, but it’s worth it. The next recipe I’m trying is from Evil Shenanigans, pictured at top.

What’s your favorite banana pudding recipe? Or if you don’t cook, where’s the best place to order it?