If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not the sport for you. Fortunately, this doesn’t apply to baking cakes. Last Friday, in preparation for my trip to Orlando to visit my cousin, I decided to bake a cake. Not just any cake, no sir, I was going to bake my mom’s coconut cake. On a previous visit, my cousin had confided that she loved my mother’s coconut cake. She said she looked forward to family get togethers, even funerals, because she knew she would get a slice of coconut cake.
I like my mom’s coconut cake, too. It was my favorite and always my choice for a birthday cake when I was a kid. I made this cake once when I was in high school and it turned out well, although I was baking it under the watchful eye of my mother. But I thought I could do it again, after all, I’m known for my praline cookies and my brownies, a cake from scratch with seven minute frosting should be a piece of cake.
So armed with the Betty Crocker cookbook that my mother gave me when I graduated from high school (I think she thought I would be a domestic goddess) complete with her notes and her recipe for fluffy white frosting, cake pans that belonged to my grandmother and all the necessary ingredients, I set about my task. At first it seemed to go well, adding and mixing ingredients. I added the vanilla, but failed to replace the top on the little bottle. This led to my first mini disaster. I knocked over the little bottle of vanilla. Vanilla flowed over the counter. I cleaned up the mess. My little bottle of vanilla was now an almost empty little bottle of vanilla. I finished the batter and got the batter in the pans and the pans in the oven.
The timer went off and the cakes passed the toothpick test so I pulled the pans out of the oven. I consulted the recipe which simply said to let the cake cool. I wondered if I should let the cake cool in the pan or try to remove it. Since high school, I’ve only occasionally baked cakes and always from a mix. I use a 9×13 pan and leave the cake in the pan, frosting just the top and serving it from said pan because it’s easy. So I decided to let the cake cool completely in the pans. This led to mini disaster number two.
When I tried to get the cakes out of the pans, only the top half of the cakes came out leaving the bottom halves still in the pans. There was no way to salvage this. I called my mother and told her what happened. She said she always waited until the pans were cool enough to handle but the cake was still warm when she removed the cake from the pan. I told her I was thinking of trying again. My mother, ever the optimistic voice of encouragement said, “I wouldn’t. That’s too much work. Just try again in another week or so.”
But I was determined to bake this cake, so I tossed the unusable cake, though I did sample a bit and it tasted just fine, washed the pans and started over. This time, there was no vanilla disaster and all went well. When the timer went off, I pulled the pans from the oven after making sure they passed the toothpick test, then waited a few minutes before I tried to remove the cakes from the pans. The first layer slipped easily out of the pan. Feeling confident, I moved on to the second pan. This one did not come out quite as easily, but did emerge mostly intact. There was just a small piece along the edge that remained in the pan. No problem. I got it out of the pan and stuck it on the bottom of the cake and decided that layer would be the bottom layer.
On to the fluffy white frosting. Now this hand written recipe is my mother’s variation of seven minute frosting. You combine sugar, water and cream of tartar and boil it until you can spin a thread. The recipe was a bit vague about how long this was supposed to take, but I was leaning towards seven minutes. Ten minutes later, still no thread. Being the slightly impatient person that I am, I decided the whole spinning a thread business probably wasn’t that important, after all the syrup was hot and it would cook the egg whites that were needed to complete the frosting. I didn’t want salmonella frosting.
The egg whites needed to be beaten before I could add the syrup. I should back up here and say that my mother loaned me her mixer because I only have a small hand mixer and she thought the stand mixer would be easier when adding the syrup. So not being familiar with her mixer, I got the eggs in the bowl and turned the mixer on. This became mini disaster number three. The bowled spun much faster than I expected and egg whites flew out of the bowl onto the mixer, the counter and me. I stopped the mixer and cleaned up the egg white mess. Then I tried to decide exactly how much egg whites remained in the bowl. I added another egg white and continued on but at a much slower speed.
The fluffy white frosting was finally ready. I frosted the cake and then covered it in shaved coconut. This is the really messy part. Getting the coconut on to the side of the cake. You need more coconut than you think you might to accomplish this task. Finally, my cake masterpiece was done.
The next morning, I drove to Orlando with the cake safely stowed on the floor behind me. My cousin was surprised that I brought my mom’s coconut cake. She couldn’t believe I had baked a cake from scratch and made the seven minute frosting. We helped ourselves to a piece. It was delicious. By the time I left the next afternoon, there were only a couple of slices left. As I was leaving, I told my cousin I would bring my coconut cake on my next visit. I expect the next time will entail fewer mini disasters.