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Monday, February 27, 2012

SoCo Coconut Cake

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of my blogging death have been greatly exaggerated. I am rousing myself out of the deep funk created by the loss of Pilar and have begun, slowly, to do some nesting. 
Of course, the first logical project was to bake something. Something calorie laden. Something with booze in it. Something I could use my kitchen torch on. As if by divine intervention, I received the February issue of Bon Appétit. There, on page 81, was the answer to my nesting prayers: Coconut Southern Comfort Layer cake. 

To begin with, I nixed the idea of making 8 thin layers. I’m taking baby steps here, not launching into a sprint. Besides, I like my cake-to-frosting ratio to favor cake. As such, I cut the recipe in half and made 2, thicker layers. 

However, for the benefit of my readers I will provide the original recipe as seen in the magazine. Also, for those of you who do not keep Southern Comfort on hand in your liquor cabinet (me included) and don’t want to splurge on a whole bottle of the stuff, 1 mini-bottle of the brand was sufficient for the recipe. 
Please note that this is one of those cakes that seems to get better with age. I highly recommend making it the day before you intend to serve it, though it will be delicious regardless. In fact, it was so good I honestly can't wait to make it again.
For the cake: 
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 3/4 cups cake flour plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (not reduced-fat)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed to melt
1 cup buttermilk    
* NOTE: I also added a splash of Southern Comfort and about 1/3-1/2 a cup of   unsweetened coconut to the cake batter for extra flavor and texture* 
-Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray; dust  with flour.
-Whisk 2 3/4 cups flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter at medium speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth, 3–4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat until light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Gradually beat in oil. Beat in dry ingredients at low speed in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. 
-Divide among four 9" cake pans (about 2 generous cups batter per pan); smooth tops with a spatula. Bake until a tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 22–27 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks; let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks, remove pans, and let cakes cool completely.

The original recipe suggested a cream cheese based frosting. However, I substituted this for a butter cream frosting I’m fond of from the 1972 classic cookbook James Beard’s American Cookery (for the original cream cheese frosting, go to

Not for the faint of heart, this butter cream frosting is particularly rich: one I have reserved for special “comfort food” emergencies. The key to this frosting is creating a boiled custard first, then whipping in lots of creamed butter and powdered sugar. As a warning, I had to fiddle a bit with this recipe due to my adding most of a mini-bottle of Southern Comfort to it. As such, the measurements here are my best approximation.
3 egg yolks
2/3 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 c. cream
1 1/2 c. unsalted butter
2/3-1 c. powdered sugar (according to taste)
Rest of the SoCo mini-bottle
-Heat the cream in a saucepan until it just begins to steam. In a double boiler, combine the egg yolks, granulated sugar and salt, then add the cream and the Southern Comfort. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon (this will take a while due to the alcohol addition). Remove the  mixture from the double boiler and allow custard to cool.
-In a mixer, cream the butter until frothy. Gradually add the cooled custard, alternating with the powdered sugar. Chill for 15 minutes before using (if the mixtures separates while in the fridge, simply re-whip it).
Frost the middle layer and top of the cake. As you can tell from the pictures, I tried to frost the sides as well but ran out of frosting halfway around. In retrospect, I also think frosting the sides is unnecessary for this particular cake. 

Lastly, spread the rest of the bag of unsweetened coconut on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, either in the oven or with a kitchen torch. Cover the cake in the toasted coconut and serve!

So it didn't look like the picture in Bon Appétit, but it sure tasted great!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Just a few days before Christmas I noticed that my cat, Pilar, was breathing heavily. With no other symptoms of illness and a history of occasional snuffles during allergy season, I figured it was maybe a bit of asthma. I called the vet to make an appointment for her after Christmas. After hearing about the problem, the vet tech told us to come in ASAP.

Pilar was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF), a condition very rare for a such a young cat. We spent the next few weeks trying to balance her medications: too little and her heart would fail and her lungs fill with fluid, too much and her kidneys would fail. For a week she steadily improved and seemed fine. Then she began to go rapidly downhill. 
On January 14th, the event I had been dreading happened. Her condition, referred to as “smoke" on the heart because of the effect seen on x-rays, meant that her blood was thickening faster than we could thin it. She suddenly suffered a blood clot and lost the use the use of her back legs. She was in a great deal of pain and we rushed her to the hospital, where we had to have her put to sleep. 
Pilar, 7 weeks old
I had adopted Pilar in Knoxville, TN when she was about 6 weeks old. After I brought her home I saw that her estimated date of birth was June 20th, 2008. My father died on June 20th, 2005. It felt like a good omen at the time (now I’m toying with the idea that the day is cursed). 

First day together!
For the 3 1/2 years we had together, we were inseparable. I have been a cat person my whole life, but I never knew a cat and their human could be as closely bonded as Pilar and I were. She was like my child, my other half. 
I deal with personal tragedy in the incredibly healthy way of becoming a temporary alcoholic (yet another dirty martini? why yes please) and receding into what my mother calls “Eliza Land.” I have recently returned, for the most part, to the real world and am now faced with the task of finding some sort of jar in which to put Pilar’s ashes. 
My mother and I went on three “urn” ventures. There were several lovely options at places like Pottery Barn and Nell Hills. However, the idea of putting my little girl in a mass produced resting place, even a beautiful one, seems wrong for some reason. 

1 1/2 years old
I have turned to a local artist, Deborah Wald, who makes ceramic pieces. My parents bought several of her bowls years ago and I really like her work. She has a few jars coming out of the kiln in the next week or so and I’m hoping to find one that speaks to me in some way and seems Pilar-ish. 

Eventually I will put some of Pilar’s ashes with my father’s in the beautiful rose garden in the park near my Mom’s house. I also have close friends in Knoxville who had three cats and used to cat-sit Pilar. They lost their eldest cat, Undine, last year and buried her under the persimmon tree in their back yard. I will put some of Pilar’s ashes with Undine, as it seems right for part of her to be back in her home town with people/cats she loved. 

Showing off her black smoke fur
For now, though, I’m not ready to let go of her ashes. I look forward to seeing Debbie’s work and picking the perfect piece for my beautiful girl. 

We love every pet dearly, but, if we are lucky, there will be a particularly special one to us. Pilar was mine and I miss her more than I can say.