Human nature is such a curious thing, I often feel like I need to be a practicing therapist just to get through life. Like… I need weekly newsletters from the American Psychiatric Association with the latest updates just to get through the day. I’m sure you’re thinking she’s a writer and a cook how hard could it be? Well the answer to that is, I’m from the South, the land of cotton and guilt and stories and emotions and guilt. I was recently reading an article on Alfre Woodard, a wonderful actress from the South, in Garden and Gun magazine, a publication you should read as often as possible. In the interview something she said struck me deep inside as being one of the truest things I have ever read. It made me laugh out loud. This brilliant woman said when asked, What else do you value about the south?
“I like that people touch each other there. They fight. They don’t back away from human contact. The south is like a family. There is more social engagement. There are more real relationships between cultures, age groups, economic groups. The region is a huge breathing organism. My husband is from an old New England family. And I’m just saying, if you boil some meat instead of frying it, you aren’t going to be telling any good stories.”
I personally have never boiled any meat. I have, however, heard some really good stories.
My other need for some kind of guide book concerning people, is the innate quirkiness of Southerners. I include myself in that diagnosis. Lord God, we got some quirks! I haven’t quite figured out if we are more quirky or we just hide less about ourselves. I suspect its the latter. For one thing it is hot down here, about 78% of the time. Yes we have a reasonably nice fall, but it don’t really cool off these days until October and we have been know to spike a temperature of 85 in DECEMBER or January. Winter is the month of February. Spring shows up in March. Because its hot, we physically hide less of ourselves. Maybe that equates to hiding less of our personalities. I realize these are wild guesses here. But picture this. Its hot down here. We are cooking in a hot kitchen, where the only air moving through the window screen feels like the devils breath, sweating bullets for a Sunday dinner, FRYING chicken, which you have to stand over, (not boiling it, which you can walk away from) and the stories and the emotions and the sweat and occasional swearing are starting to fly. That’s the Sundays I remember. Granny is frying chicken, and Great Aunt Bonnie, while stuffing deviled eggs, would be telling about the time she and her 2 sisters (my Aunt Louise and my Granny) decided they all had to go to town one Friday, for a social at the Spindale House. They had a plan to go and pick out some husbands. So they all got dressed up in nice dresses and did each others hair, and all 3 got astride the one old mule my great Grandfather, Papa, would let them take to town. How they ever though landing a husband smelling like mule was going to work, I’ve yet to figure out. Henry the mule was ancient, had a good temperament and practically knew the way himself. As young girls do, they got to giggling and squirming around so much and then tickling each other that the old guy just stopped in the middle of the dirt road about half way to town. And wouldn’t budge. I’m assuming his dignity was impinged by this foolishness. So my Granny, who was the smallest, got off and tried to lead him. Henry wouldn’t move an inch. So Aunt Louise got off thinking that would help. Nope. Finally Aunt Bonnie with the red hair and temper to match, got off him and pulled a switch from a roadside bush and swatted him on the butt. My Granny was holding the reins, but she was barely 5 feet tall and not hardly a hundred pounds and Henry jerked his head upwards pulling her off the ground, where she lost her grip and landed on her butt in the dirt road, in her good dress. Aunt Louise started laughing, Aunt Bonnie took off after Henry, who had turned tail and ran back towards home. Old as he was, he was still pretty fast, faster than the teenage girl in Sunday shoes trying to catch him. They never made it to town that Friday night. An hour later when they finally made it home, Papa and their Mama, Mimi, were sitting on the front porch waiting for them, drinking iced tea and laughing. Henry had made it home already, been there most of that hour. When Bonnie asked “Daddy when Henry came home without us, why didn’t you come looking for us?” He just said “Bonnie, I could hear you girls fussing a mile away, I knew you were fine.” But those 3 old ladies in my Granny’s hot kitchen, laughing again like they were teenage girls, and trying to stick the blame on each other still after all those years is a thing a 5 year old girl doesn’t forget. I always wanted sisters like that. And a Henry the mule.
There’s another interview in that same magazine with Amy Ray, another Southern Girl who is an amazing musician, best know as one half of the Indigo girls. She lives in North Georgia in the Blue Ridge and records in Asheville. And yes I am going to quote her also,
“Being Southern means everything to me,”she enthuses. “Its the first thing that comes to my mind about myself. Before singer, before white, before gay, before activist, before woman. Being Southern means you’ve had to grapple with all the dark things.”
Because as my friend Sue, from Portland Oregon said after living down here a few years, “the South is the boiling pot.” I guess our boiling pots aren’t on the stove… they are out in the culture and the people on the streets and in our families. Grappling with all the dark things is something we do daily. That probably adds to our innate quirkiness too. There no covering up anything here in the boiling pot, its sweat and blood and tears and talking it out. Because we have to, because all those dark things will become a legacy to our children if we don’t. They will have their own problems… we cannot give them ours.
Recently I did something that I am having a hard time forgiving myself for. I got really mad at my dearest boyfriend in the world, Nick Nichols. Yes he’s my boyfriend, yes I am happily married to my wonderful husband Keith. Nick is happily married to his wonderful wife Leigh. But Remember? Quirkiness? I call him my boyfriend because to me he is. And its also kinda like that boy cousin you had a crush on growing up (but that’s a big no-no), and he’s kind of like my brother too. So we settled on boyfriend. He’s from Alabama and a true Southern Gentleman, up one side and down the other, to the core. If you have never met one of those, try and find one as soon as possible (no you cannot have mine, I already have to share him with his wife), become his friend and keep him around, especially if you are female, you will not regret it. Food is a good way to keep ’em coming back, I kept Nick around with my cornbread recipe. Yes, the recipe is on this blog, feel free to use it. So Nick and I were having a meal one evening when he was in Nashville working, I was hurting badly and I shared something with him, that I felt he did not respond to in the way I wanted him too. The thing I have found is, if you are hurting anyway and someone doesn’t show the degree of sensitivity that you need, you just get hurt more, often out of misunderstanding. Unfortunately I am a fighter by nature, grew up with a bunch of boys. So when I get hurt, I get mad. Anger for me is a catalyst, it usually gets me going to get whatever it is fixed and done with. Got mad that night, got madder the next day. So instead of using that catalyst to fix things, I decided to cool down a bit before contacting him, kinda ignored him when he contacted me. 2 months went by, I texted him yesterday, he called me back, we talked, I cried, he apologized profusely (Southern Gentleman), we made up. I told him I would wear his ring again, he said he would meet me on the school bus the next morning and hold my hand. That of course, is fiction. We did actually say those words, we meant those emotions, but it is that old fashioned kind of crush you have on someone you really admire and that is a precious, precious thing. And we are old and we are Southern and we are quirky. And we love stories and we like to play. And 2 months is too long to stand within the cold knowledge that you were justified in what you did or said (especially if you really weren’t, like me). Being right and feeling perfect in that righteousness is a cold way to live. You just get colder and colder and hard on the inside. You miss out on the love you could have had. Obviously the thing to do is not to get mad… yeah right, that won’t work, our range of emotion is the thing that separates us from the monkeys, I believe that is where that particular family tree split. I am human, I have emotions, I make mistakes. I will not let another day pass in misunderstanding if I can help it. I should have called him the next day, instead I missed out on the love I could have had. Isn’t that really what we are here for, the love we can have, the love we can give. Dear Lord never let me go cold again.
So in an effort to keep your loved one close or if you need a recipe to catch you a Southern Gentleman, I have a really good one in mind. Its one I have promised before but did not deliver. But it is the perfect Coconut cake, you will be famous and loved, men and women will bring you yellow roses, and thank you profusely for making their mouths so very happy. This friends, is a labor of love, it takes anywhere from 6 to 7 hours to make, but worth it, so very worth it. So set aside a day, gather up some money and coconut and butter and cream and eggs and make a gift to yourself and all who come into your life. It is a hunk of LOVE on a desert plate. Friend this cake will allow you to grapple with the dark things.
Candace’s 7 hour Coconut Cake
- This has 5 separate parts
- The cake layers
- The custard
- The syrup
- The filling
- The buttercream
Layers first, every ingredient at room temperature for the cake layers
- 3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 large egg whites
- 1 teaspoon very finely grated lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2/3 of a cup of coconut milk mixed with
- 2/3 cup of whole milk
- 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
Prepare 2 9″ cake pans by greasing them with Crisco and putting wax paper in the bottoms and flouring them. Preheat oven to 350
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt into a med. bowl. set aside.
In an electric mixed using the paddle attachment, beat butter at med speed, 30 secs until creamy
Gradually add sugar and beat at high speed until light and fluffy about 2 minutes.
Reduce speed to low and add egg whites 1 at a time, beating well after each and scraping down sides of bowl.
Beat in the lemon Zest and Vanilla extract, add flour in 3 additions, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 additions, just until flour is mixed in well. remove the bowl from the mixer and add the cup of sweetened coconut by stirring it in last. Scrape batter into prepared pans evenly, smooth the tops.
Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly browned at the edges, cool cakes on wire racks for 15 minutes and then invert them onto the racks to cool completely.
Whew, step 1 is done!
The Custard is next, yum!
Again all ingredients room temp.
- 4 1/2 cups whole milk or more if needed
- 3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
- 12 large egg yolks
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 9 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- 3 teaspoons Vanilla extract
Combine the milk and the coconut in a saucepan and heat over med. heat to just under a boil. Set aside and let steep for an hour. Pour the mixture through a sieve, pressing down on the coconut to extract as much milk as possible. You should have 4 cups of milk. Add milk to make up the difference if you have less.
In a separate bowl whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch, set aside.
Return the coconut infused milk to a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over low to med heat, remove pan from heat. Take 1 cup of the hot milk mixture and gradually add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs. Gently pour the hot egg mixture in the pan of milk, off heat and stirring with whisk until well combined. Place back over Med to high heat and bring to a boil whisking constantly. Boil whisking fast and furious for 1 minute. Remove from heat, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula and again stir with whisk until smooth. stir in the rum and vanilla extract. pore into a bowl and put over an ice bath until chilled stirring often, about 15 minutes. Keep chilled in refrigerator until ready to use, with a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of it. you should end up with at least 4 cups. If you have more than that you get to eat whats left over, all by itself.
Making the syrup, important and easy step, use really good dark rum.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons dark rum
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
Bring water and sugar to a boil over med high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Take off heat, add rum and coconut milk. bring to room temp.
Making the filling, its important that this is really cold
- Use 2 1/4 cup of the coconut custard you make and kept Chilled
- 2 1/4 cups of heavy cream Chilled
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the heavy cream with the custard until soft peaks form refrigerate cover with plastic until ready to use.
Last step in the making process, Make the Buttercream
- 3 cups unsalted butter softened (6 sticks)
- 2/3 cup confectioners sugar
- 1 1/2 cups coconut custard that was made previously
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- a good pinch of fine salt
In a perfectly clean mixer bowl beat at very high speed butter and confectioners sugar until light and creamy about 4 minutes, add the 1 1/2 cups coconut custard, the vanilla and the salt and beat at med speed until blended and smooth. Keep it chilled until ready for use.
You will also need 1 more cup of sweetened coconut to squish onto the sides of the completed cake.
Now we have all the parts and your kitchen is wrecked, all we have left is the assembly and resulting raves.
Take the 2 layers of the cake and split horizontally, yes its not easy but you can do it. Place the bottom side of 1 layer bottom side down onto your serving plate, you can use a little buttercream as glue. Brush the cut side with the rum coconut milk syrup. Spoon 1/3 of the coconut cream filling onto that layer, and spread evenly to with 1/2 inch of edge. place another layer cut side up onto that, brush again with syrup, and spread with the next 3rd of coconut cream filling. 3rd layer same way, syrup finish with last 3rd of coconut cream filling. On the 4th layer put the cut side down after brushing with syrup. Now friends you are ready for the buttercream. If your stack is a little slippery straighten it up and stick some wooden skewers in it broken off below the level of the top. Warn your guests. If you keep everything well chilled, I keep everything in the fridge including the cake until right before I need it, this is less of a problem. If it slides a little or the layers aren’t even don’t worry it will still taste good. Perfection isn’t needed here or anywhere for that matter. Now all we have to do is frost it with the buttercream and pat on the coconut.
So do that! Place back in the refrigerator, well wrapped until ready to serve. It is not only a beautiful cake it is also the best coconut cake you have ever had, and I have tasted plenty of them all around the south from Charleston to Savannah to Highlands to Atlanta to Louisville.
I’ve never seen coconut cake offered in the mid-west or the north. My friend Charlotte can’t get it in the northwest. So I assume its a Southern thing. I guess the south will rise again, this time on its food.
My boyfriends back and your gonna be in trouble….
hey ya, hey ya, my boyfriends back…
I love you my friend!