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!)
Golden Chiffon Cake with Toasted Coconut and Seven-Minute Frosting
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, p. 138-143 ©1976
For the cake:
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup canola oil
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (8) egg whites
2 cups coconut flakes
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.
For the frosting:
2 unbeaten egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup cold water
dash of salt
4-5 drops yellow food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place all ingredients except vanilla in top of double boiler. Beat for 1/2 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.