Monday, April 6, 2015

Bake me a cake as fast as you can....

Patty cake, Patty cake, Baker Man.

My sister Caroline is an incredible baker.  She loves to make things for family and friends, and loves to feed them. I have seen her go from stressed to relaxed with the simple act of pulling out the flour.

She posted the picture below of a cake that she made for some friends.  And Facebook exploded. 

Wait a minute...why wasn't that backstage at OCEANSIDE?! 
OMG I want this in my face!
Family secret? Or can you post the recipe? Coconut cake is the best!
I want to make this!
That looks seriously delicious! Also can I please see you someday?My husband looooves that cake!!!
I'm making this for Easter! Thank you so much!
Wow! Looks so yummy!I should have had a piece when I had the chance!
I have had some of this cake that Patty makes! It is so yummy! I will have to make one for Easter.

The coconut cake is a recipe that my Mom (it is a real 'Patty Cake') has has been making for years.  And it is always a huge hit. And I have no idea whether it was just that I needed a connection to my family, or whether the feed-my-friends gene is also present in my DNA.

Or whether it is possible that there is a little competition there.


Whatever the reason, I decided I wanted to make the cake.  HAD to make the cake. Caroline had posted her recipe, which was really straightforward.

"Simplest recipe in the world. Yellow cake mix. Made as directed and baked in two round cake pans. Cool and cut in half (and level off tops) for four layers. Frosting = 1 pint sour cream + 2 cups sugar (stir and let sit for a few hours).

Add 2 packages of flaked coconut. Frost three layers of interior of cake. For top and sides, add enough cool whip to firm frosting (I find that 1/2 to 3/4 of small tub of cool whip is plenty). Done!"

I love it when an experienced baker says things like "Simplest recipe in the world."  Guarantees that I will struggle.  Pinterest is filled with 'NAILED IT' memes to commemorate just such occasions.

Fortunately, Kathe is an experienced baker, and is less likely to go all 'mad scientist' on a perfectly simple recipe the first time she tries it.  As I told Caroline, "I have a tendency to think too much during the baking process: 'You know what goes well with coconut?  Amaretto!  And rum!  Maybe I can add just a little bit.  And you know what this recipe really needs?  Fresh strawberries!'."

Caroline: "Yeah, followed by 'I wonder why this didn't come out like Mom's'."

So I started the process, and immediately had to consult my wife.  A little bit of finagling later, and the cake has been freed from the round mould we had poured the batter in, before firing it in the kiln (Kathe is a potter, and has mad skills in getting stubborn pieces loose from moulds.  The downside is that we refer to kitchen implements with pottery studio names.)

And then it came to cutting the cake in half.  Kathe explained to me that the cake was not to be cut in half THAT way.  Lengthwise, she explained, was the way to cut it (obviously, I have never watched an episode of Cake Boss). 

And then frosting:  "stir and let it sit for a few hours".

This bit probably indicates that it would be a help to read all the way through the recipe BEFORE getting started.

"Hey, Kathe?  Do I let it sit in the fridge or on the counter?" Into the fridge it went.  For a few hours.

Patty cake, Patty cake.....

Finally, I got impatient, pulled the cake out, and sliced it lengthwise, and trimmed the top.  I was astonished at how reluctant I was to discard anything.  But since my floor slants, so does the oven.  And because the oven slants, so did my cake. 

Caroline: "By the way, leveling the cake is a pretty important step.  Otherwise, the layers have a tendency to slide around."

I slop the frosting on the first layer, inverted to make a flat surface for the frosting.  Spread it out, then add the next layer.  Trim a little bit more from the high spot.  Trim a little bit more from what is now the high spot.  And then again.  And again.  Look to see if there is any cake left from the trimming.  Shrug, then apply another layer of frosting.

Frost. Repeat. Frost. Repeat. Frost. Repeat. Frost. Repeat.

For the final layer and sides, Caroline says, add Cool-Whip to the remaining frosting to give it structure.  Fortunately, about the same time as I read "stir and let it sit" I also read the instructions on Cool Whip.

Defrost it in the fridge.  For about four hours.

Patty cake, Patty cake....

The end result was not exactly a masterpiece of beauty.  In fact, it seemed a little lopsided.  I filled the gaps as best I could, and wiped up the dollops of sour-cool-whip-coconut-sugar mixture.

And I served it at the crawfish dinner at Edna's. 

I'll confess, the eat-in-the-garden-until-you-pop crawfish dinner is probably not the best place to unveil this kind of new creation.  It is probably better served under much more controlled conditions (and probably to a little bit hungrier crowd.) 

But my truth is that I needed it.  I needed for there to be a little bit of my home present in my home.  I miss my family, and as much as I love my local surrogates, there is something about Easter particularly, something that triggers my need to have family close.

It is not even that my memories of Easters past are not pure nostalgia.  It certainly wasn't the squint-into-the-sunlight pictures in the front yard of Grandmama's house that I miss.  And I never once, not in my entire life, won an egg war after Easter dinner. (I did, however, get called out for cheating at least once.)

But that connection to family is definitely something I miss.  So it gave me great joy to share something with the friends that I love.  It was fun to hide Easter eggs for the kids (I am impressed that they found the one I duct-taped to the underside of the table). Sharing a feast with Don and Edna is always a treat.  Conversation with Emily and Roger, Mike and Sutton and was amazing.  Introductions to new friends and other members of my extended adopted family.  Shared joy, I have come to believe, is the most powerful force in the universe.

But more than anything, by doing the bakers-man thing, I gave myself the gift of a coconut-flavored hug from home.  And it somehow made the distance to kin seem a little less, somehow.

Thrown in the oven.  For my family and me.

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