Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fresh Coconut Cake with Seven Minute Icing: an illustrated recipe in 30 parts.

Or: On Doing Things the Hard Way.
By Jodi Rhoden
Short Street Cakes

My mom has been in town for the past week, renting a house in Montreat for her lady friends to come visit, as is her tradition every summer. On Tuesday, as I was hanging out on the porch with the ladies, the conversation turned to cake. Several of my mother's guests were reminiscing about making cake "the old way," and how they had to crack and peel coconuts for their mothers, because "you just couldn't BUY shredded coconut back then, you had to make it." My mom said that her mom (my Mimi, from Cordele, Georgia) used to make fresh coconut cake for special occasions. The kids would have to crack and peel the coconuts, and the Mimi would grate it. She used seven minute icing and would put loads of fresh coconut on top. After gathering the descriptions from the my mom and her friends, I went to work this morning on making a cake from fresh coconut. Here's what happened:
To get fresh coconut from a coconut, first, you poke a hole in one of the three eyes. (two of the eyes will be too hard; one will be just soft enough for an ice pick or candy thermometer).

Puncture the coconut, then wiggle your pick around to widen the hole, then drain out the water.

(Shannon Approves.)

Taste it. The water should be fresh, and coconutty. If it is at all greasy, or foul-tasting, start over with a fresh coconut. (Mindy told me today that coconut water has the perfect balance of sugar and electrolytes for the body. So if you are ever in a tsunami, and need a source of nourishment, try to find some coconuts.)

Then place the coconuts in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes to loosen the hull.

Pull the coconuts out, and go at them with a mallet until they crack.

Peel off the hull with your hands,

and peel the inner rind with a vegetable peeler.

Grate your coconut meat.

Here's where it got tricky. The coconut was really hard, and was making the food processor jump and whine. Eventually, we had to cut the coconut meat into small chunks, and coax the food processor a little bit at a time. And eventually, we had all the coconut grated.

Viola! Those two small organic Mexican coconuts yielded a surprising 5 cups of grated fresh coconut.

And now: The cake.
I will reproduce the recipe here, and you can follow along in the pictures below. This recipe is Short Street Cakes' adaptation of several basic coconut cake recipes.

Sift your dry ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream in a mixer:
8 ounces salted butter (softened)
2 cups sugar

add, one at a time:
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add, alternating with dry mixture:
1 cup coconut milk

when combined, add 2 cups fresh grated coconut.

Divide batter into three nine inch pans (we did two eight inch layers and a dozen and a half cupcakes)
Bake at 350 degrees until the sides pull away from the pan and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Now: The seven minute icing.
(recipe straight outta the Joy of Cooking, Seven Minute Icing Method I.)
combine in the top of a double boiler:
2 unbeaten egg whites
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

(By the way, this recipe is from the beloved Joy of Cooking- 1975 edition)

Place ingredients over rapidly boiling water and beat constantly with a wire whip, for seven minutes.

Remove from heat, whisk in one teaspoon vanilla, and beat until spreadable consistency. (I had to ask Anna to take a turn, as my arm was getting tired). Y'all, I swear to god, this stuff tastes just like marshmallows.

Spread it on yer cupcakes.

Put some of that there fresh coconut on it.

Spread the icing between the layers of the cake.
Ice the sides and top, pulling the spatula back from the icing every so often to form soft peaks.

Cover that mammajamma with fresh coconut.

Make it beautiful.

make some people happy.

My thanks to Shannon and Anna, who tolerated my coffee-and-sugar-buzzed self today, and who helped me with the recipe, the photos, and creative direction.
Thanks, also, to my Mom and my Mimi, who inspired me to (re-)create this cake.
Look for this cake in the "deluxe" section of the new fall menu, coming out sometime in the "future."
And who's the lucky duckling who got the pretty cake? Why, Duncan, of course. Happy Father's Day!


Sally Rhoden said...

Hey Jodi girl,
Loved the step by step process, but I gotta tell you that when my mama was ready to make a fresh coconut cake, she handed me a whole coconut and I went out on my back concrete terrace and slammed that thing against the concrete until it was in enough small usable pieces for her to work with. I guess we didn't worry about conserving or tasting the coconut milk back in the 50s in rural Georgia--thanks for the nostalgia--Love you, Mom

Anonymous said...

Ah Jodi,

What a great post. Tons of info, personal, visual, scrumptious. I love it.

sallyrhoden said...

My sister, Judy says that our mother always put a nail in the coconut and did get the milk out that way, but she doesn't remember whether she used any of the milk to put on the cake. I only remember slamming it against the concrete! Another old friend of mine said that her mother saved the milk and poured it on top of the cake before putting the icing on--who knows??

Short Street Cakes said...

The recipes I was looking at called for milk, and I substituted with canned coconut milk (not the same as the milk that you drain off, but I think a combination of pureed coconut meat and coconut water). So I suppose I could substitute the water for the milk?
I'll try it next time.

Stacey said...

Wow, fascinating post! I love all the care and attention you gave to your family memories and that lovely cake! Thanks for sharing. I haven't been the biggest fan of coconut cake but now I think that's because it wasn't made fresh from scratch with love, Jodi style! I will definitely order one when they become available! Thanks again for sharing!

Melissa and the Zoo said...

Oh my goodness, that sounds goooooooood! I thought I was the only one who still had the '75 edition of Joy of Cooking! LOL

ladybugDZ said...

What a great blog!! You had just returned from buying these coconuts when I showed up at your store this weekend. It was great to see your store and talk with you about your fabulous business! Mat (Quickie) loved the Father's Day cupcakes although I had to steal on during my ride home to Atlanta. How could I not? They were delicious! I will be following your blog to see what you have been up to! Congrats on your success! I even featured your blog on my blog!

HomeEcDropOut said...

Thanks much for this post! It's my mom's birthday and she too was just remebering when her nana made her fresh coconut 12 year old duaghter and I are going to give it a shot. My mom is going to LOVE it!

MeganAnne said...

You cake ladies must be crazy awesome; I tried making this, and it was lopsided, the frosting didn't set up, and my attempt to turn the fresh coconut into sweetened coconut flakes (not advised on the recipe) turned into a gooey mess. My hat is off to you for making such a beautiful cake!

Short Street Cakes said...

Hey MeganAnne,
So sorry it didn't turn out for you! For lopsided cakes: try rotating it in the oven a few times while baking. As to the seven minute icing, it takes some time to get a feel for it. If you know someone who knows how to make it, try it with them the first time around! Once you figure it out, though, it will be like riding a bike. Now about the coconut- you don't need to sweeten fresh grated coconut...
Hope that helps!
Thanks, Jodi

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to have found this recipe and can't wait to try it for Christmas! I have wonderful and delicious memories of the fresh coconut cakes my grandmother and mother made when I was a child but I've never attempted one myself. This may be a silly question, but should I grease and flour my pans before adding the cake batter?

Short Street Cakes said...

I just spray them with a little pam, and line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.

Anonymous said...

To be or not to be.... That is how I feel about this! I grew up in the South watching my grandmother process the coconut as you describe, but no one in the family claims to make the cake she did. As far as I know, everybody defaults without trying, although that cake is a precious memory.

Knowing this, my daughter has presented me with a fresh coconut, already peeled at the store. I hear NO sloshing inside, so I think it must have been already drained of its liquid. Wish me luck as I try to figure out what to do with this!


this is a really nice step by step process.I'm sure this is going to be a piece of cake for me to make for my 1 year olds (twin girls) first birthday.

Priya said...

I have used your recipe and made this cake at least 10 times and everytime, its turned out great! Thanks for sharing. In India, we have tons of fresh coconut and that explains why I've ended up making this particular cake so many times!

Anonymous said...

I'm 15 and I love baking! I try to bake something new every weekend, and always look up reviews beforehand. I wanted to see how the seven-minute frosting turns out! Tomorrow I'm going to try making a chocolate sponge cake with pastry filling and seven-minute frosting... Wish me luck! :P