Friday, June 29, 2007

"My Mother's Southern Desserts" by James Villas and Martha Pearl Villas - Snowflake Coconut Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting

From the “vault”

My Mother’s Southern Desserts by James Villas with Martha Pearl Villas (authors of My Mother’s Southern Kitchen)
Published by: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0688156959
© 1998

Recipe: Snowflake Coconut Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting – p. 106-07

My girlfriend, Mar, sent me an email today just cracking up over my rather lengthy story about how I decided to make Scenic Salisbury Steak from a Route 66 cookbook. Little did she know I had another one of those connect-the-dots moments this past weekend. It goes like this:

My husband and I took a road trip to Kansas City (where, according to the musical, Oklahoma, “everything’s up to date.” My husband sadly did not get that connection), driving south through Minnesota, into Iowa, and then into Missouri.

Now, I do not have any cookbooks as of yet on Kansas City Barbeque (likely because I’m thinking an itty bitty gas grill isn’t going to cut it with KC pit masters, although I could be wrong) and until Tuesday of this week, I didn’t have any cookbooks from Iowa (a friend passed on most of her mom’s collection to me). And so cooking a “memorial” recipe from those places was out at least for the time being.

So instead, I’m giving you a recipe from North Carolina. Why? Well, stay with me on this: just outside Des Moines, we stopped at a Popeye’s fast food place and I ordered the chicken tenders with a side of rice and beans. I’d never been to a Popeye’s but had heard the rice and beans were good. I should have stuck with that. Instead, I ate the gut-bomb chicken tenders and the gut-bomb biscuit (or something resembling a biscuit) and lived to regret it.

So I started thinking about true southern fried chicken, which I’ve maybe had once in my life, and then I started thinking about all the southern cookbooks on my shelf at home which led me to think about two of my favorite cookbook authors, James Villas and his mother, Martha Pearl Villas, and then I thought about the hilarious description he wrote in one of their joint cookbooks, My Mother’s Southern Kitchen, about how to make a proper southern biscuit (let's just say Mother knows best) and from there I totally segued into thinking about this fabulous coconut cake I made for my 10th wedding anniversary party that I found in the cookbook I've featured here, My Mother’s Southern Desserts and that’s how that recipe came to be presented to you today! (That wasn’t so bad, was it? You try sitting in a car for 4 hours after eating a totally depressing “southern” meal and tell me your mind wouldn’t go down the same culinary highway that mine did!)

This cake is beyond delicious. It was the hit of the anniversary party (we had desserts, cordials and other after dinner drinks). I also made a couple other recipes from this book for the party, all good. (“Daddy’s Chocolate-Almond Charlotte Rousse” and “Emergency Lemon Buttermilk Wedding Cake”) But this one stood out mainly because of the note included with the recipe:
“Just the mention of ordinary coconut cakes made with canned flaked coconut and frosted with a heavy, overly sweet, innocuous white icing makes Mother cringe. ‘They’re dry as a bone, tasteless, just awful,’ she says with a scowl, ‘so if you’re not willing to deal with fresh coconut and produce a nice, light frosting in a double boiler, you’d be better of making another cake.’ And that’s that!”

Well, people, I hate to say but that was almost was “that” and I contemplated making another cake. The thought of working with a fresh coconut was rather intimidating and I thought to myself “Why bother? I don’t need her stinkin’ coconut cake!”

Well, I was wrong. I did need her cake. And so I went to the grocery store, bought a coconut, took it home, “tapped” the eye of the coconut with an ice pick so as to remove the coconut “milk” that is used in the cake, duly baked the coconut as directed, and “shaved” it so as to put fresh coconut on top of the cake. I admit it was a little bit of work but man, oh man, oh man, it was worth it. People still talk about “THAT CAKE” and every single morsel was gone, baby, gone within minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something inhaled so quickly.

So if you make this cake for family and friends, be sure to get your slice while the slicing is still good. And by all means, don’t make Martha Pearl mad by substituting fake coconut for the real thing. Mothers, even if they are not yours, have a way of finding out these things.

Snowflake Coconut Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting – yields one 3-layer 8-inch cake; 10 to 12 servings.

I medium-size coconut
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 large egg whites
Seven-Minute frosting

Pierce the eyes of the coconut with an ice pick or small screwdriver, strain the milk into a container, add enough water to measure 1 cup, and pour into a small saucepan. (By the way, coconut milk looks more like white water than regular milk…just so you know). Add ¼ cup of the sugar, bring to boil over moderate heat, stirring, and set aside to cool. Crack the coconut with a hammer and remove the meat from the shell. Trim off the brown skin with a sharp pairing knife and discard, grate the coconut onto a plate and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans, tapping out any excess flour, and set aside.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and mix well. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and the remaining 2 cups sugar together with an electric mixer till light and fluffy. Beat the dry mixture alternatively with the milk and vanilla into the creamed mixture till well blended, ending with the dry mixture.

Wash and dry the mixer beaters, then, in another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites till stiff but not dry peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold them into the creamed mixture. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake till a cake tester or straw inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Place a cake layer on a cake plate, drizzle about one quarter of the coconut mixture over the top, spread about ¾ cup of the frosting over the top, and sprinkle about one quarter of the grated coconut over the frosting. Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third and spread the remaining frosting over the top and around the sides of the cake and press the remaining grated coconut into the top and sides. Drizzle the remaining coconut milk over the top, cover the cake with plastic wrap and chill for at least 24 hours before serving.

Notes from Martha Pearl regarding the cake that were listed elsewhere in the book:

Coconut: To remove fresh coconut meat easily from the shell after draining the milk (using an ice pick or screwdriver), preheat the oven to 400F and bake the shell for about 15 minutes. While it is still hot, split the shell with a hammer. The meat should come out easily and cleanly, but if it doesn’t, pry it from the shell with a small, heavy knife and remove any brown skin with a vegetable peeler.

Cake flour: Cake flour gives cakes such as angel food a lighter texture than all-purpose flour, but if a recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have any, you can sift and resift all-purpose flour eight to ten times and get the same result. (Ann’s note—and I thought working with fresh coconut was time-consuming!)

Seven Minute Frosting – Yields 3 cups frosting; enough for the top and sides of a 3-layer 9- or 10-inch cake.

5 large egg whites
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In the top of a double boiler, combine the egg whites, sugar and water and beat slowly with an electric mixer until well blended. Over boiling water, beat the mixture briskly till stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the vanilla. Continue beating until the frosting is thick and smooth, then use immediately. (Ann’s note: This will be hard, but try to save some frosting for the cake as it is just bowl-liking good!)

No comments: