Or: On Doing Things the Hard Way.
By Jodi Rhoden
Short Street Cakes

My mom has been in town for the past week, renting a house in Montreat for her lady friends to come visit, as is her tradition every summer. On Tuesday, as I was hanging out on the porch with the ladies, the conversation turned to cake. Several of my mother’s guests were reminiscing about making cake “the old way,” and how they had to crack and peel coconuts for their mothers, because “you just couldn’t BUY shredded coconut back then, you had to make it.” My mom said that her mom (my Mimi, from Cordele, Georgia) used to make fresh coconut cake for special occasions. The kids would have to crack and peel the coconuts, and the Mimi would grate it. She used seven minute icing and would put loads of fresh coconut on top. After gathering the descriptions from the my mom and her friends, I went to work this morning on making a cake from fresh coconut. Here’s what happened:
To get fresh coconut from a coconut, first, you poke a hole in one of the three eyes. (two of the eyes will be too hard; one will be just soft enough for an ice pick or candy thermometer).

Puncture the coconut, then wiggle your pick around to widen the hole, then drain out the water.

(Shannon Approves.)

Taste it. The water should be fresh, and coconutty. If it is at all greasy, or foul-tasting, start over with a fresh coconut. (Mindy told me today that coconut water has the perfect balance of sugar and electrolytes for the body. So if you are ever in a tsunami, and need a source of nourishment, try to find some coconuts.)

Then place the coconuts in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes to loosen the hull.

Pull the coconuts out, and go at them with a mallet until they crack.

Peel off the hull with your hands,

and peel the inner rind with a vegetable peeler.

Grate your coconut meat.

Here’s where it got tricky. The coconut was really hard, and was making the food processor jump and whine. Eventually, we had to cut the coconut meat into small chunks, and coax the food processor a little bit at a time. And eventually, we had all the coconut grated.

Viola! Those two small organic Mexican coconuts yielded a surprising 5 cups of grated fresh coconut.

And now: The cake.
I will reproduce the recipe here, and you can follow along in the pictures below. This recipe is Short Street Cakes’ adaptation of several basic coconut cake recipes.

Sift your dry ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream in a mixer:
8 ounces salted butter (softened)
2 cups sugar

add, one at a time:
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add, alternating with dry mixture:
1 cup coconut milk

when combined, add 2 cups fresh grated coconut.

Divide batter into three nine inch pans (we did two eight inch layers and a dozen and a half cupcakes)
Bake at 350 degrees until the sides pull away from the pan and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Now: The seven minute icing.
(recipe straight outta the Joy of Cooking, Seven Minute Icing Method I.)
combine in the top of a double boiler:
2 unbeaten egg whites
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

(By the way, this recipe is from the beloved Joy of Cooking- 1975 edition)

Place ingredients over rapidly boiling water and beat constantly with a wire whip, for seven minutes.

Remove from heat, whisk in one teaspoon vanilla, and beat until spreadable consistency. (I had to ask Anna to take a turn, as my arm was getting tired). Y’all, I swear to god, this stuff tastes just like marshmallows.

Spread it on yer cupcakes.

Put some of that there fresh coconut on it.

Spread the icing between the layers of the cake.
Ice the sides and top, pulling the spatula back from the icing every so often to form soft peaks.

Cover that mammajamma with fresh coconut.

Make it beautiful.

make some people happy.

My thanks to Shannon and Anna, who tolerated my coffee-and-sugar-buzzed self today, and who helped me with the recipe, the photos, and creative direction.
Thanks, also, to my Mom and my Mimi, who inspired me to (re-)create this cake.
Look for this cake in the “deluxe” section of the new fall menu, coming out sometime in the “future.”
And who’s the lucky duckling who got the pretty cake? Why, Duncan, of course. Happy Father’s Day!