Monday, March 8, 2010

It's the time of the season...

...for l-o-v-i-n-g...

Tell me you don't start singing that song by The Zombies.
Strike that. I just showed my age.

Tell me you don't like the sentiment, whether you know the song or not, then.

You can't. If you were in Seattle this weekend, you know what I mean. After months of grey sky and spittle rain and not-cold-not-hot temperatures, your heart quickened for a bit, before the weather turned its back on you today.

Oh, but for just a bit...

You opened the sunroof during errands, didn't you? You considered sandals, before you remembered that it wasn't quite pedicure season yet. You dug in the earth or walked the dog a block further or got an ice cream.

Me, I went on an impromptu photo safari with my friend, M. We were playing with our iPhone cameras and we strolled through the community garden and smelled fragrant things and saw green buds swelling, not in the merry month of May, but March. March!

And it's OK now that the chill has returned.

Because the door to spring opened ever so fleetingly, and I craned my neck and saw it.

And felt it.

It was right there on this tree, when I put my hand out and caressed the bark where the sun was shining on it.

Warm. Warm under my hand.

It's the time.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sometimes what you want is an old-fashioned layer cake.

My Aunt Judy is one of those cooks. You know the kind: does it by feel, does it well, doesn't crow about it, but would nod if asked: "So, Aunt Judy, do you think you pretty much have the banana pudding market cornered?"

At some point, I don't remember when, she started showing up at our house on my Dad's birthday, December 17, with a layered coconut cake for her big brother. We lived on E. Post Oak Drive in Conway, Arkansas, in one of those early 70s ranch-style houses. The cake always sat on the breakfast bar (just who designed that awful harvest gold-patterned formica, anyway?), with toothpicks providing the tent poles for the plastic wrap swaddling it. It never quite made it to the refrigerator, since there were 4 of us at home, and others would stop by to wish my Dad a happy birthday.  But many years later, Dad developed Type II diabetes, and that was the end of the cake delivery.

Recently I was flipping through our family cookbook, looking for something else, and I came across Aunt Judy's recipe. Although there are multiple components, each individual one is pretty easy--as are most of the recipes that come from a time and a place where fussy cooking would have been met with narrowed eyes.

A buttermilk cake, vanilla curd filling, boiled frosting (yeah, it's corn syrup. Repent with extra kale tomorrow!), and coconut. That's it. I tweaked Judy's recipe just a bit, to try to get a little more coconut flavor in, update some ingredients, and add some salt.  I also used fresh coconut (which, frankly, was a nightmare, since I couldn't find mature coconuts).

It would be a better cake if Aunt Judy had been here to help mix and stir and tell stories and laugh, and then sing alto next to me as we worked through some songs as the cake baked, but it's pretty good all the same.  Yes. I'm nodding.

Coconut Layer Cake

For the cake:
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
1/2 c. coconut milk
1/2 t. salt
1 t. soda
2 t. baking powder
2 c. flour
1 c. buttermilk
3 eggs

Mix sugar, oil, and coconut milk with a whisk until smooth. Whisk in eggs and beat well (no electric mixer!). Mix dry ingredients and add alternately with buttermilk. Bake in 2 9-in layer pans at 325 until golden and a toothpick tests clean. Cool completely and split layers horizontally.

For the filling:
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1/2 c. coconut milk
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 t. vanilla extract or vanilla paste, or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
3 egg yolks

Combine in a cold saucepan and turn on heat to medium. Stir to combine (be sure to get yolks mixed in well and get them off the bottom of the saucepan). Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until starting to thicken. Cool slightly and spread between first 3 cake layers.

For the frosting:
1 c. white corn syrup
1/4 t. salt
3 egg whites

Beat egg whites until stiff. Boil corn syrup and salt for 1 minute. Pour in steady stream into egg whites, beating constantly, until stiff and glossy.

For the topping:

Coconut, fresh or flaked (toasted either way)

Ice the filled cake with the frosting and sprinkle coconut on top (and sides, if desired).