A Coconut Cake for the Ages

Jun 02, 2021 · 39 comments
ndchef (Seattle WA)
Thank you for reminding me to take a look at my old cookbooks for recipes i've forgotten about. And lovely memories of the authors.
Earl Rose (Palm Springs, CA)
OK. So I was brought up on Pennsylvanian coconut cake that used boiled icing. It could have a jelly or preserve center layer or maybe three layers with a custard in the other space. Here in Palm Springs, Sherman’s deli/restaurant has a coconut cake which is similar to “mine”. There is nothing about this recipe that seems familiar to me. Just sayin’. It is the boiled icing, yeh? I will not mention the coconut cake my cousin Bernice baked every Easter using a lamb mold and, well, the coconut was the animals “fur”.
grennan (green bay)
@Earl Rose 'the coconut cake my cousin Bernice baked every Easter using a lamb mold and, well, the coconut was the animals “fur”.' My late mother did, too, in an ancient 2-part pan that produced a lamb that was sitting up; you could see both sides of the head. With seven-minute frosting and embedded coconut, it was probably the sweetest thing known to man...says a lot that nobody in our large baby boom household would eat the leftover cake except my mom.
John Golden (Portland ME)
This has already been published here and other spots on NYT internet and print. NOTHING new?
celeste (nyc)
@John Golden cranky, i've never seen it and loved reading about it. so just stop.
Nancy (Baltimore)
While the French love their jams,jellies, and liquors, the true coconut cake has none. It is heavy and dense with a perfect cream cheese frosting packed on top with sweetened flaked coconut. The Coco Lopez Coconut Cake is a treasure. It uses 1 can of Coco Lopez between the cake and the frosting. Perfect!
Emma (Paris)
There is a serious amount of butter, so it is definitely not a génoise. A génoise is butter free, so quite dry. Dry but good, I even enjoy it on its own.
Mark Carter (California)
This is most definitely not a genoise but not because of butter. Melted butter is a significant ingredient in a genoise but baking powder (or any chemical leavening) is not. Eggs are the only leavening ingredient where they and the sugar are slowly heated and then whipped like crazy until light and fluffy. Then the flour is folded in (gently so as not to deflate the sugar and egg foam) and finally the melted butter. I’ve seen some ‘suggestions’ to eliminate the butter but you can imagine Julia Child’s thoughts on that.
Karl (Charleston SC)
THE best coconut cake is at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston SC! It's inside the Planters Inn downtown. I have to warn you though, it's extremely expensive!
hungry lawyer (baltimore, maryland)
PLEASE PLEASE give us THIS RECIPE alluded to in the art icle: a salad of mussels, shrimp, peas and saffron rice with a creamy cucumber sauce.
FromDublin (Milan Italy)
I so love these Wayne Thiebaud style photos.
Edviga (California)
Favorite classic cookbooks on my shelf: any title by Elizabeth David, Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking....and for sweets: The Art of Fine Baking by Paula Peck.
Karl (Melrose, MA)
"Simca's Cuisine" is one of the great post-WW2 cookbooks. I still have my mother's copy from when it was published in 1972. It teaches so much, from a larger perspective. Menus by season and time of day and occasion. Working back from the perspective of a home cook, rather than iteratively like a recipe writer. An excellent bookend to it is Madeleine Kamman's "When French Women Cook", published in 1976 and republished since.
Auntie Mame (NYC)
The most extraordinary, work intensive and hold your breath cake I ever made was a recipe from the no longer in print "Gourment" magazine. White chocolate cake with lemon curd fill ng between the three layers; white chocolate icing -- melting the white chocolate was not easy -- I tinted it green and covered it with green tinted coconut. It was Easter, so the top was decorated with now hard to find pectic eggs. I thought it was extraordinary. The layers themselves were no challenge, I always find genoise a challenge, but it is the perfect base for all kinds of delicious and beautiful. Stwberries and cream.. Commercial sponge cake benefits from a dose of Grand Marnier - use the real thing - such an improvement before pairing with.... fruits and whipped cream.
@Auntie Mame Gourment?
Ruth b (NYC)
Thanks! Yes Gourmet was truly wonderful I still don’t understand why it closed shop… I used to feel that if I READ the recipe I wouldn’t be hungry anymore… ha. Occasionally I DID GATHER all ingredients to cook something from a magazine. ALWAYS DELICIOUS! It would really be a hit if it came back… probably also like the AUTOMAT NEAR GRAND CENTRAL STATION…
Cynthia Fritschi (Chicago)
There is magic in my cookbooks. My 40 year old copy of "Mastering the Art...." is stained, covered in notes, and includes the people and occasions for which each recipe was made. My Dorie Greenspan "Around my French Table" is catching up to Julia! I am drawn into my cookbooks as I would be a great novel.
Peter (Greenwich)
A coconut cake that is especially memorable is served at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve a son who is spending a few months down there and stopping by the restaurant to have that dessert will be a must when I next visit him.
Marjorie Summons (Greenpoint)
Yea I liked that too. That cake whatever
R Stuart (North Carolina)
Would love to get a description and/or picture of the Julia Child mashing fork.
June (Camden, ME)
@R Stuart Took all of five seconds to find this: https://thebakingwizard.com/kitchen-utensil-foley-fork/
dlb (washington, d.c.)
@R Stuart I believe its called a Foley fork. Don't think they make them anymore, but there are similar forks--mashing forks or granny forks.
R Stuart (North Carolina)
@June Thank you.
R Stuart (North Carolina)
"Simca's Cuisine" is a classic. And let me recommend the follow-up "New Menus from Simca's Cuisine." It isn't as nicely produced, it wasn't published under the prestigious Knopf imprint, it has a co-author, it's not as well organized - but every recipe is a winner. An often overlooked gem.
MaureenKennedy (Bay Area)
Read Simca's Cuisine just last week and was intrigued by the whole thing!
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
I’m not a baker, too inpatient. But I greatly appreciate and enjoys the results of others’ labor and art. Also, I might have to clean my screen, from licking it. Scrumptious.
save (nola)
Smith and Wollensky's Coconut Cake is my gold standard...must try this one though!!
Euphemia Thompson (North Castle, NY 10504)
@save Magnolia Bakery's coconut cake is the death of me. It surpasses all I have tried.
Cat (New York)
@Euphemia Thompson Oh! I promise you, all this time I thought Magnolia Bakery only made madeleines! I must look into this coconut cake!
J.S. (Northern California)
For a second, I thought this was an article about Wayne Thiebaud.
Edviga (California)
@J.S. If you get a chance to come to Southern California check out the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach...his latest work painted between the ages of 90 -100!) exploring the existential nature of Clowns...awesome show.
OWL (Carmel)
Thanks for a lovely article on an “old” cookbook. I own a number of old Gourmet cookbooks, ones in which most of the recipes assume that one knows how to cook and which do not have detailed steps. And, most items are not pictured. One had to use the imagination and have faith that the dish would turn out. Such a contrast to now-every cookbook has a photo of every dish and detailed step by step instructions.
Jan Whitener (Washington, DC)
Thanks Doris for a kindred spirit in the friends we make with our cookbooks. As with real life, some friends are old, and others we pickup along the way and some just today, just like cookbooks. New ideas and cooks have exciting new ideas and frankly the pictures are better. Still thinking about the cookbook I want to be buried with - perhaps Seven Fires (Francis Mallmann) or one of your books? Will be pulling Simca off my shelf this weekend.
Elizabeth (New Jersey)
Thank you Dorie for reminding us of Simca’s Cuisine a fabulous cookbook received as a bridal shower gift in 1980. Since then I have said goodbye to the marriage and the cookbook. Regret losing one more than the other.
gb (New York)
Simca's is one of my favorite cookbooks, also heavily stained and I made this wonderful cake many times.
Maggie (New York)
@gb I've never made the cake, but I swear by a couple of other recipes in that book and its companion cookbook, especially the macedoine of fruits, which is the best possible fruit salad.
MaryAnn (Michigan)
Loved Dorie’s reminiscing about cook book love- as a similarly affected cook there is an inexplicable comfort in paging through them and recalling those favorite recipes or challenging ones as well as the occasions and the people they celebrated. The cake will be one to try soon.
Peter (Texas)
My mother used to make a similar coconut cake, sans orange zest and rum. I loved the apricot preserves and the creamy coconut frosting. I now wonder if this was the recipe? (All of her recipes vanished after she passed.) I'll have to make it to find out. What a reward if it is.
Betsy M (Albany, CA)
@Peter it says "orange juice and rum" so not exactly the same. Personally I was thinking that slicing the layers, then brushing with this mixture, then the jam, and finally frosting when it was assembled, would be a lot of work!
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