Happy birthday to me! Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about my cake. (Sure, we're technically still talking about my birthday, but cake is universal.) I don't really care about sweets. I'm indifferent to chocolate, and I would just as soon have my caramel salted. Perhaps because of this, I'm a terrible baker. My skills are limited to drop or bar cookies, maybe brownies in an emergency. But everyone should be able to make one cake, and I've learned to make my grandmother's coconut cake, a personal favorite that can't be ruined.
This miraculously delicious — even to someone who doesn't care about sweets — cake was legendary in our family. Grandmother, and Grandmother alone could make it. Some of us believed the recipe was a great secret, and we looked forward to having the cake once or twice a year, on Easter or Christmas. Lo and behold, when my grandfather died, she unceremoniously handed me the recipe, because she didn't plan to make it ever again. I wrote about it, recipe included, on my local blog.
Grandmother explained that O.J. had been a fan of the cake, but it wasn’t her favorite. (She was never sarcastic, so “It wasn’t my favorite” meant exactly that. She didn’t hate it. There were simply others she liked more.) She didn’t like cutting the layers in half, because it was kind of a pain. He didn’t mind performing the task, if it meant he could have his favorite coconut delicacy. After his death, she knew she would not have occasion to make it again. She gave me the recipe, hand-written, right from her recipe book.
The cake is four layers, and slicing each layer in half is kind of a pain, especially if you don't care about the cake. I knew my grandfather O.J. was the one who sliced the layers, but I never knew it was a condition of the baking of the cake. Also? It's not that much of a pain. But there is something really lovely about a long tradition in marriage, and that particular one demonstrates the fairness and love they shared.
As it happens, the cake is nothing special. You can find similar recipes in small town newspapers, ladies' magazines and church cookbooks. Just Google "Three Day Coconut Cake." Time is the secret: Baking and assembling (but not icing) a few days ahead of time allows the sour cream and almond extract filling to saturate the thin layers. The sour cream is probably the other secret, because the icing — straight up Cool Whip, y'all — would be cloying without something sour to tame it.
My grandmother's hand-written recipe seems a little simpler than some. With seven children to raise and an active social life, she was inclined to skip unnecessary steps. I make it her way, and it comes out just fine.
→ Make It: Grandmother's Best Coconut Cake at The Shop Tart
If you aren't a baker, do you have a signature cake? And are there any dishes you make for your partner, but with certain conditions?
(Image credits: Anne Postic)