Cheri's Coconut Cake

This post should really be called "Ode to my Mother." Here's the thing: without my mom (an incredible home cook who taught me everything I know), I would not bake. This blog would not exist. Lulu would maybe be a figment in someone else's imagination. My mom has formed and informed me. My mom. Beautiful California girl that she is. Elegant and clever and well-read. Catholic school girl turned "I'm with the band" woman turned 5th and 6th grade teacher. And who knows whether all of her transformations are complete. Perhaps, as she turns 70 this year, she will reinvent herself yet again and surprise us all. As she is wont to do.

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share a little family history. My mom was born Cheryl Ann Walker somewhere in North Carolina (granddad was a Marine who flew fighter jets) but soon moved to China before landing in Beverly Hills, California at about three years old. Little Cheri ended up in convent school and later graduated from Immaculate Heart in Hollywood. Then, she surfed and flew.

My mom has always been a golden girl. A tandem surfer and and ocean lover, she spent all her time at the beach earning the nickname "Peely" for her constantly peeling nose. By this time, mom had a stepbrother who she nicknamed Teddy Bear Rug (this woman has a serious talent for clever monikers, silly songs and general word play) who also surfed and all her friends were the guys they surfed with. Gorgeous but accessible, sharp but impressionable, and infinitely classy, my mom was kind of like the Reese Witherspoon of her crowd.

Mom met my dad on a Continental Airlines flight in 1968. She was a stewardess. Yes, I know we don't use that term anymore, but they did then.  I believe his opening line had something to do with the Rolling Stones pin my mom had rebelliously smuggled onto her uniform collar, but it probably didn't hurt that my dad was as handsome as she is beautiful and he was always, always charming. Still is, darn it. Anyhoo, Dad wanted to move in with Mom but being the good Catholic she was, that wasn't going to happen. Much to both my grandmothers' consternation, Billy and Cheri eloped four months after meeting and soon had me, Erik and Adam, in that order.

When I was little, I thought all those now-classic-rock songs were about my mother. "Sister golden hair surprise...", "Blue jean baby. LA Lady...", and "We go to a party and everyone turns to see this beautiful lady that's walking around with me..." seemed to have been written, if not about her, then certainly for her, at least in my child's mind.
All the way back in October of 2014, my mom turned 69. And you know what she told us she wanted? A cake. That's all. Just a cake. Seems like a simple request to fulfill for a baker, right? Somehow between living 2 hours from my mom, an early November visit from my brother and his family (from Taiwan), Thanksgiving and then Christmas, this small gift never materialized. Sure, there were pies and cakes and all kinds of sweets for the holidays, but a special birthday cake for my mother did not happen. Shame on me!

I had to make this right. As spectacularly as I could. My mom's favorite is coconut cake (well, that or princess cake, but I traditionally make her coconut) and I've made many different recipes for her in the past. I've filled them with coconut pastry cream, buttercream, whipped cream. You name it. This time, I wanted a traditional cake with a light, fluffy filling/frosting. All I really had to do was swap coconut milk for buttermilk from the buttermilk cake recipe I posted last September, add coconut extract and a little fresh coconut garnish and it was, as my dad (they are not still married but great friends and happened to stop by. He really has a nose for these things) said, "better than Ralph's". For my non-California friends, Ralph's is a supermarket chain. My dad still knows how to make a girl feel special!

I hope you feel the way about your mom that I feel about mine. She has become my primary confidante, my greatest supporter and truest friend. I'm already planning her 70th and you'd better believe there will be cake!



Cheri's (Better-Than-Ralph's) Coconut Cake
Makes one 3-tiered 8"layer cake
1 C butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
3 C cake flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 large eggs, at room temp
1 t vanilla 
2 t coconut extract
1 C coconut milk
Oven to 350. Butter and flour 3 9" cake pans and set them aside. 
1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then lightly whisk them together to blend. 
2. In your stand mixer (or a separate bowl), cream the butter on its own first until it's fluffy and lighter in color than when you started. 

3. Then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes more, until the mixture is almost white and very pillowy. 

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them fully and scraping the sides of your bowl after each addition. 

5. Add the vanilla and coconut extracts and beat quickly. 
6. Alternating in 5 separate turns, add the flour and mix fully, then coconut milk, flour, coconut, flour (ending with flour).
7. Pour the batter into your pans, evenly distributing and bake for 18-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool fully before frosting.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting
1 C unsalted (always) butter, at room temp
5 C powdered sugar
1/2 C coconut milk
1-2 t coconut extract
pinch of kosher salt

1 C shredded coconut, for garnish (I used organic, but will definitely use the sugary stuff next time)

1. Beat the butter in a stand mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. 

2. Add the sugar and mix on low until incorporated. 

3. Add coconut milk, extract and salt and beat until light and fluffy again. (Add milk 1 T at a time for smoother consistency, but you do want a sturdy frosting because with 3 layers, you don't want them sliding all over the place. Another solution for sliding cake is to frost, decorate and then refrigerate your cake so the icing sets nice and firmly. Then, let it sit at room temp 30 minutes before serving.)

4. Frost your cake and then sprinkle it with the 1 C coconut. Mmm. 

Irish Soda Bread

Ahh, it's the time of the year when we all get together to drink green beverages to celebrate the arrival of a Roman Catholic in Ireland. A Roman Catholic who would teach the Irish about the Catholic religion and basically force the Druids underground, divide Christians and wreak general havoc.

It's true! St. Patrick was Italian and he did convert thousands of Protestants and Druids to the Catholic faith. He was a charmer, that one. Probably funny and handsome. Possibly with lots of dark, Italian hair and gorgeous teeth. Okay, I may possibly have him confused with my handsome husband who happens to have been born on the day we celebrate St. Patrick's impact on the world. If you're wondering what any of this has to do with Irish Soda Bread, frankly, so am I.

Every year in March we start seeing lots of delicious Irish dishes like corned beef and cabbage (sorry, barf) and colcannon (less barf) all over the interwebs. But you know what's always delicious? Irish Soda Bread. While the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread (yes, that's really a thing) would like for us to know that anything besides flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk make it a "tea cake", I beg to differ. Sure, they have history on their side. But I have your taste buds' best interest in mind here, friends. And I have concocted something undeniably delicious, if you like bread.
And who doesn't like bread? Warm, doughy, delicious BREAD. It's the staff of life and all that!

The recipe is simple. The prep is easy. The bread is LOVELY. Make this one. Trust me.



Irish Soda Bread
Serves 16

4 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1-1/2 t salt

4 T cold unsalted butter, cubed

1-3/4 C cold buttermilk
1 large egg, cold
1 t orange zest

1-1/4 C raisins, currants or other dried fruit
1 T flour

1 t cream or milk
1 T turbinado or muscavado sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set it aside.
3. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, soda, powder, salt) in a stand mixer on low.
4. Add the butter, also on low, until crumbly.
5. Whisk the buttermilk, egg and zest to combine in a bowl. Pour into the dry mixture.
6. Toss the raisins in the 1T flour to coat. Add them to the bread mixture.
7. Turn the bread out onto a floured board and knead 5-10 times or until it has a sturdy-soft-still cold texture. I know, that is not the easy part I promised you. But do your best. It'll turn out even if you get this part wrong.
8. Form the dough into a ball and place it onto your parchment-lined baking sheet.
9. Brush the cream on top of the ball of dough.
10. Sprinkle the sugar as evenly as you can over top.
11. Score the top of the loaf (this means take a knife and cut a shallow cross into the top. This gives the dough room to expand in the oven).
12. Bake 35-40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped with a spoon.

Let is cool as completely as you can - about 30 minutes to several hours. Slice however you like and serve with butter, jam, clotted cream. Oh, heck, it's a giant scone. Let's make the most of it, Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread be... well, you get the idea.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Thumbprint Cookies (gf)

Oh my goodness, this has been the very busiest couple of weeks (thanking the powers that be) and there is not a break in sight (I can do it, I can do it, I can do it!). Still, I have a little treat I hope you'll like. I'm cheating a weeeee bit because I posted the recipe for these Peanut Butter Cookies last year but today I've made a little change that makes a huge difference. Adding a dollop of your best quality jam makes these rich and hearty cookies a bit more delicate. Still better with a glass of milk than a cup of tea, these are such a lovely after-school snack. Their lack of flour (read: they're gluten free) is an added bonus and creates a soft inside texture. Matching the sugar to pb ratio, though, gives these little beauties a crunchy exterior that's almost like a thin sugar shell around a dense interior.

The great thing is that a cookie like this is one that takes very little time, uses one bowl and is easy enough to put into your heavy rotation. Oh, and, I may possibly forgive myself eating a few too many of these by telling myself there is protein and healthy fat in there, along with the partially hydrogenated oils and sugar. Hey, I'm working on it.



Peanut Butter & Jelly Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 6 dozen
2 C creamy peanut butter (the bad-for-you kind - Jif, Skippy, et al - with partially hydrogenated oils)
2 C sugar
2 large eggs
2 t vanilla
1 t baking soda

1/3 C good quality jam (I used apricot, raspberry and grape)

1. Preheat your oven to 375
2. Beat the peanut butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and baking soda until mixed
3. Using one tablespoon of dough each, roll into roundish balls
4. Gently press your thumb into each cookie, making a nice dent in the center (you can do this after they're baked, too, to increase the indentation. Just be aware of the heat.)
5. Bake for 10 minutes at 375
6. If making a second indentation, press before the cookies are all the way cool
7. Cool at least one hour
8. Dollop jam into the center of each cookie, about one teaspoon at a time
9. Pour a glass of ice cold milk and ENJOY