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.
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.