The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Fresh Coconut Cake Country Style

Click here for more info.By Susan M. Thigpen © 1995-2012

Issue: Winter, 1995

Fresh coconut cake was a favorite cake to make around Christmas time. In those days, certain items would show up at the neighborhood general store that were not available at any other time of the year. Items such as oranges, raisins dried on a stem, a bigger variety of hard candy, and fresh coconuts.

You didn't just pick up any old coconut to take home to make your holiday cake, it had to be tested for freshness. To test for freshness, you had to shake the coconuts and listen for how much liquid was inside. The ones with the most liquid inside were the best. Of course you looked for a big coconut with the most liquid.

Once you got home with your coconut, everyone stood around and watched while Daddy carefully punched two holes in the end of the coconut with the "face." The shell was the softest there and you used large nails to make the holes. This was done carefully so as not to get trash from the outside of the coconut in the pure, creamy liquid inside. Two holes were punched to drain the liquid from the coconut - one hole to drain, one hole to provide air.

The liquid was set aside and then the shell of the coconut was cracked with a hammer. A knife was used to prize the coconut meat from the shell. Then the big hunks of coconut were shredded on a grater. Usually a small hunk found its way into the children's mouths during this part of the process.

All this time Mother would be in the kitchen getting out the ingredients for a white cake batter. A coconut cake had to be made from the finest recipe to produce the softest, fluffiest, melt-in-your-mouth cake possible. At this point, the children were given the shells to play with. We always marveled at coconuts and tried to picture the tree that grew them. We loved the scant tastes we got yearly, and wondered what it would be like to live near one of those trees and be able to eat all the coconut you wanted.

At our house, coconut was also an ingredient of the fruit cakes, so we got two instead of one. The juice of one coconut went into the batter for the coconut cake, but we carefully divided up the juice from the other one and got to drink it. That amounted to little over a generous sip each, but it was pure nectar. We relished every drop and longed to live on a tropical island where such delights were daily common fare.

After the baking, the three or four layers of delicate white cake were set aside to cool. While they were cooling, Mother got out thick cream and whipped it until it stood in stiff peaks. Then she added a generous amount of sugar and a scant teaspoon of vanilla to the whipped cream and blended it all together.

One layer of the cake was placed on the best cake stand. All the crumbs were carefully brushed away. Then a thick layer of whipped cream was spread over it and the fresh grated coconut was sprinkled thickly on top. The other layers were placed on top of the first one and treated in the same fashion. Then the rest of the whipped cream was iced over the top and around the sides of the tall cake and the remaining coconut was pressed into the cream on the sides and top.

The cake was never made far in advance of eating it because in a day or so, the whipped cream saturated the cake and disappeared from the surface. While this made the cake not as appetizing looking, as far as I was concerned it did nothing but improve the taste. The cake was then almost soggy with the cream and coconut. I loved it that way!

I have included below, a recipe for the very best white cake I have ever eaten. The recipe is not an old one, but it is the best, and in a time honored tradition, the cake layers had to be the best. I hope you will sample the delights of a fresh coconut cake, but remember, if you don't use a fresh coconut and grate it yourself, and if you don't use real whipped cream, you will be missing the flavor that made it a country favorite. Somehow the substitution of ready whipped substitutes and canned coconut just don't taste the same.

White Cake
(Makes 3 layers)

1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon soda
5 egg whites
2 cups plain flour
1 cup buttermilk
(For a coconut cake, substitute 1/4 cup of coconut milk for 1/4 cup of the buttermilk)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream butter and shortening with sugar. Add egg yolks. Sift flour and soda together. Add alternately with buttermilk and coconut milk beginning and ending with flour mix. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold egg whites into batter gently so the batter is as light and fluffy as possible.

(Cut a piece of wax paper the size of the cake pan bottom and place it in pan. Lightly flour the wax paper.) Pour batter into three round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until done. Do not over cook.

Turn cake layers from pans and let cool. Remove the wax paper from cake layers. After cool, brush crumbs that are clinging to layers gently away. Put first layer on a cake plate and proceed to ice with heavy whipped cream and add generous amounts of grated coconut between layers, finishing by putting the rest of the whipped cream and coconut on the top and sides of cake.

Homemade Coconut Bon Bons

While we're on the subject of coconut, here's something else you might like to try. Store bought candy was scarce in old times, but most homes made their own. That makes this a good holiday recipe for you to make Christmas memories with your children.

One stick of butter (real butter works better because of its texture. Margarine has so much water in it.)

One cup (or more if needed) of confectioners sugar

A cup or more of coconut

Maraschino cherries - drain them and dry them on a piece of paper towel. Cut them into fourths.

Use a stick of butter that is warm and soft. Cream the confectioners sugar in it. When it is all blended together and creamy, add a small amount of coconut and blend together again. The amount of coconut inside the bon bons is up to you. The texture should be stiff enough for you to pinch off and roll pieces the size of a small walnut without it sticking to your hands. If it is too sticky, add a little more confectioners sugar at a time until it is just right. When you have rolled a ball, pour the rest of the coconut into a dish and roll the bon bon in it until coconut sticks all over it. Place in a pretty dish and make a small indentation in the top of the bon bon. Place one-fourth of a maraschino cherry in the indentation.