This weekend, my family is getting together to celebrate my grandpa’s 92nd birthday at his home in Cupertino, California. This party will also be a reunion of sorts, since many of us haven’t seen each other in years. I don’t see my grandpa or the whole family very often, so I am pretty excited. Plus, I get to show off Jordan, which is always fun.
About a month ago, my mom asked me if I would be willing to bake a birthday cake for my grandpa’s party. My mom mentioned my grandpa’s favorite cake is a coconut layer cake with seven-minute frosting. Given that the cake sounded easy enough and that I thought it’d be a neat gesture for my grandpa’s birthday, I told my mom I’d be happy to do it.
Then I learned more.
About a week later, I found out the cake my grandpa loves is the same cake my grandma made for him every year for his birthday.
OK. Deep breaths. Don’t freak out.
I didn’t realize there was such history behind this seemingly simple cake. You see, my grandma passed away two years. So, basically, I don’t want to mess it up. I have big shoes to fill (actually, small shoes is more like it, since my grandma was a very petite woman, but you get the point).
Naturally, I wanted to back out desperately make a practice cake because I’m a control freak. So, to embrace this “experience,” I asked my mom if she could get me my grandma’s old recipe. After a few phone calls to my aunts, she found it. Apparently, the “coconut cake” recipe was actually a Golden Chiffon Cake with coconut flakes. If you’re interested, you can find it in the 1976 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It’s right there on page 138: my grandma’s recipe.
As I stood in my kitchen baking this practice cake, I couldn’t help but picture my grandma’s kitchen–as if I was baking with her. Every so often, I would remember bits and pieces of different times in my life standing with my grandma and making food in her kitchen. At one point, I looked down to the floor where Jordan was playing with some plastic containers and I became profoundly sad.
It suddenly hit me that Jordan will never meet her great-grandma. This made me sad in a way I hadn’t anticipated. When I got the call two years ago in February that my grandma had passed away, I didn’t cry. I felt sad, yes. I guess it was hard for me to accept she was gone after only a phone call. I haven’t visited since my grandma passed away, so its still difficult to imagine my grandparents’ home without my grandma.
Nana isn’t there anymore.
In a way, baking this cake helped me grieve for my grandma…when I didn’t even think I needed to grieve. Life is funny that way, I guess. I realize now that making this cake isn’t just for my grandpa.
It’s for me and Nana as well.
Miss you, Nana. (And, happy birthday, Grandpa!)
- For the cake:
- 2¼ cups sifted cake flour
- 1½ cups sugar
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup canola oil
- 5 egg yolks
- ¾ cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 cup (8) egg whites
- 2 cups coconut flakes
- For the frosting:
- 2 unbeaten egg whites
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ⅓ cup cold water
- dash of salt
- 4-5 drops yellow food coloring
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Place coconut flakes evenly over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven for approximately 15-20 minutes. Every 5-7 minutes, check on the coconut and toss. Careful not to burn the flakes. Once evenly golden, remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, sift together first 4 ingredients into bowl; make well in center. Add in order next 5 ingredients. Beat until satin smooth.
- Add cream of tartar to egg whites; beat till very stiff peaks form. Pour batter in thin stream over entire surface of egg whites; fold in gently. Bake in 2 un-greased spring-form cake pans at 325 degrees until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, approximately 40-55 minutes. Cool on rack. Frost with Seven-Minute Frosting (recipe follows). Sprinkle sides and top with toasted coconut flakes.
- Place all ingredients except vanilla in top of double boiler. Beat for ½ minute on low with electric mixer to blend. Place over, not touching, boiling water. Cook, beating constantly, until frosting forms soft peaks, (about 7 minutes, careful not to overcook). Remove from boiling water. If desired, pour into mixing bowl. Add vanilla and beat till of spreading consistency, about 2 minutes.
- Frost sides, layer and top of cake. Sprinkle generously with toasted coconut flakes to completely cover cake.
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