Continued from Part 1 . A reminder:Today, we’re making that coconut cake. And trying a standardized format for “food from fiction” posts.
Source: The Simpsons. Google if you need to.
Specifically, this is from Season Eight, which people who think about The Simpsons a lot often see as a transitional stage. Around here more non-sequitors and darker humor that characterizes later seasons starts creeping in.
Some see this point as the end of the real Simpsons, though I personally don’t see a true drop in quality for another three or four seasons.
After all, the coconut cake has always stuck with me.
Context: Mrs. Skinner (Agnes) helpfully names the year and publication her scrapbook started from. The coconut cake is only a few pages in, so it’s a safe bet the picture was published in 1941 or 2.
Conveniently, wartime rationing in the US didn’t begin in 1942, so we’re free to use as much butter and sugar here as we want.
Recipes: After Googling “1940s coconut cake”, following lots of awesome Pinterest boards, and either not finding quite what I was looking for or not wanting to plagiarize another blog, I went back to my own cookbook collection for more ideas.
In the end, I split the difference with a pretty basic 1920s cake, and a 1960s frosting (which lines up with many of the older coconut frosting recipes I found online).
So cake, from Mrs. Allen on Cooking, 1924:
And frosting, from The Modern Family Cookbook, Meta Given, 1964
Notes on Ingredients: I used period brands when available (Swan Cake Flour, Argo Cornstarch). It also hit me, after buying a carton of egg whites, that I should separate my own eggs.
This is a two-handed job, so no step-by-step photos available, but I’m sure some blogger out there has a great tutorial if you don’t know how to do it. Speaking of,
-Eggs: it also hit me that Mrs. Allan might use so many eggs in most of her cake recipes because in her day eggs were smaller. But buying smaller eggs meant buying eggs in styrofoam, and in the end the environment won out over authenticity.
Besides, if anything, this cake could use more egg.
-Coco(a)nut: I couldn’t find “moist-packed” (canned or frozen) coconut, and this isn’t the best moment of my life to break open and grate a fresh one. So for the frosting, I soaked dried coconut (from the baking aisle) in coconut milk.
Presumably, coconut milk’s been available in the US since not long after the Bakers started importing packaged coconut meat in the 1890s. Again, the war(s) might have disrupted this, but we’re safe in 1941 now. Which means,
-Butter/Shortening: We’re free to use butter as a shortening substitute. Shortening makes good cake, and might make a better cake than butter in this case, but I wasn’t willing to buy a full package and use an eighth of it. Those who are should.
-An egg separator would have been helpful. I don’t own one, so it was the shell-to-shell method for me.
-Electric mixer: The first hand-operated rotary mixer was patented in 1856. Electric mixers became common for home use in the 1920s. Production of home appliances in the US stopped during World War II, but even if you’d made this cake post-1942 you’d probably have your old mixer to use. So I’m using mine.
-Oven/stove: In all these projects, my oven will be the oven. Even when I get into Dickens-era stuff, I’m not going to rent out a coal stove. Unless my SCA buddy can hook me up, we’ll have to concede this one.
-Double boiler, sifter, bowls, pans: Can’t have changed much, apart from materials. My two 9-inch layer pans are not in this location, so I used a single 8-incher, which turned out to be a good size. For two layers, I’d double this recipe.
Process: To start, here’s 4 tablespoons of butter in a bowl.
Here’s the butter after it’s creamed and scraped out of the beaters:
One thing I’ve learned about cake making is that you have absolutely got to cream that butter and sugar properly. I timed the creaming on the cover photo cake for five full minutes. I didn’t time this one, but did keep going until the lumps of butter were gone and it all came together in one whole, fluffy mass.
To avoid washing the beaters, I beat the egg in a separate bowl with a fork:
For flavoring, I used vanilla extract, but almond or citrus would also be good:
I then failed to take a picture of the egg combined with the butter/sugar, but you want that to be pretty smooth, too.
Next step. When you’re sifting a flour mixture, it’s a good idea to put the sifter in the bowl, then add the ingredients to the sifter.
After the first sift, I put the sifter on a plate, then poured the mixer back into the sifter from the bowl. You could also get two bowls going here.
From there, I sifted right into the main mixture.
Mrs. Allan doesn’t specify how many times we should alternate adding the milk and flour mixture, so I went for the standard three, beating “vigorously” after each dry and wet ingredient. The pictures show the batter through each step.
This could get boring quickly.
Cooking spray was invented until 1961, so I cheated by using PAM on the pan. On the other hand, it was that or olive oil.
I started to pour the batter in before I remembered the point of the whole exercise.
And this picture:
While it was baking, I did frosting.
I discovered in the planning stage that I couldn’t use a mixer for this, because the kitchen outlets are all too far from the stove. I proceeded anyway, figuring I could attempt to beat by hand.
The ingredients made this look pretty daunting.
Eventually I came up with a work-around. I’d beat the frosting by hand over the double boiler for a minute or two, then take the whole system–
–Over to the counter, where I electric mixed for a few more minutes over the still-hot water.
After several sessions of this, I decided it was done.
And unpanned the cake.
Since you’ve invested so much hard work in making this frosting, it’s only fair that it spoons over the cake without much fuss.
Meanwhile, about 3/4ths of a bag of coconut had been soaking in coconut milk in the fridge.
Incidentally, this is what coconut milk looks like stirred and poured out of the can:
And here’s what coconut milk looks like mixed with coconut:
And, pressed over the cake:
It won’t be featured in Ladies Home Journal any time soon, but maybe it’s what readers came up with when they followed the recipe in the ad/article.
Here’s a close up:
And the inside:
Before I cut into it, I thought the cake needed one more touch to remind us what this post was all about in the first place.
And there’s a picture of the coconut you can’t have.
Until next time,
The Wednesday Woman
PS: Requests are accepted.