Growing up in Indonesia, my mom practically lived off of the best tropical fruits and foods native to the island’s region. From bananas to mangoes to coconuts, my mom enjoyed a plethora of produce that basically grew out of her backyard. While California has a pretty extensive array of fruit produce, it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t come close to the produce in the other hemisphere.
Every time I ask her about her the foods she ate as a child, she tells me stories of dishes that her mom would make using local resources and simple techniques. In fact, we discovered that I inherited my baking gene from my grandmother, whom I never knew because she passed away from ovarian cancer when my mom was only a teenager.
A mother-daughter relationship can be both a blessing and a curse, which I am sure you know. Mothers just want to give, and daughters want to pull away. My relationship with my mom is now different. Some days it’s worse than others but I couldn’t fathom not having her here with me and I try to remember that every day.
I know that the memories my mom has of her mother are distant and hard to remember and it pains me to think about that. I couldn’t imagine a life without my mom, a life without having someone to talk to growing up. Who would listen to me moan and complain about the absurd and ridiculous details about life in high school? Who would I call when I’m stressed out from work or when I am feeling irrationally angry?
A week ago, I was feeling especially on edge and basically lived at school, which I know is hard for my mom since she worries that I stress too much. But the whole time she gave me space to sort out my crap and I’m very thankful that she understood this. As a gift, I made this coconut cake for her, knowing that my mom is coconut’s biggest fan.
I’d been flagging certain coconut recipes for the past couple of weeks, but none seemed to fit. They were either too sugary, too overwhelming, just toomuch. This dish needed to reflect my mom’s kind of dessert, not my own, and she prefers a treat that won’t weigh her down or leave her nauseous from a sugar hangover. I finally settled on a tried and tested book, Baking: from my home to yours.
Bundt cakes are the kind of cakes that scream homemade-they aren’t gussied up or fanciful. Instead, the focus is on the flavor, not the gimmicks. This coconut cake used coconut milk, which added a deeper coconut flavor as well as kept the cake moist and soft. The shredded coconut gave the cake an interesting texture- not crispy but it left a bite. Overall, I’d probably decrease the amount of sugar by 1/4 of a cup because it wandered in to slightly too sweet territory. The coconut I used was sweetened already, so if you use unsweetened, I’d leave the sugar alone. The cinnamon and ginger played well with the coconut and made the kitchen smell fantastic too.
When I gave her the finished cake, my mom started laughing and smiled. Not one of those polite smiles, but a huge toothy grin that showed her appreciation. After a long week of dealing with computer problems, tax issues, and overall crappiness, my mom savored every bite of this cake as we discussed our next shopping spree. We literally tore into this cake piece by piece, and then sat down with it early in the morning before our shopping adventure, trying to talk amongst the cake crumbs and gulps of coffee in between. Funny how a cake like this can link one generation to another, huh?
Coconut Spice Tea Cake
From Baking: from my home to yours
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (stir well before measuring)
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons dark rum (optional)
¾ shredded coconut (unsweetened or sweetened)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 to 10 inch Kugelhopf or Bundt pan, or use an unbuttered silicone pan. Don’t place the pan on a baking sheet- you want the oven’s heat to circulate through the inner tube.
Sift the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt together.
Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan, add the butter, and heat until the milk is hot and the butter melted. Remove from the heat but keep warm.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until pale, thick and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the rum, if you are using it. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and stopping just when the flour disappears.
Keeping the mixer on low, add the coconut, mixing only until it’s blended, then steadily add the hot milk and butter. When the mixture is smooth, stop mixing and give the batter a couple of turns with a rubber spatula, just to make certain that any ingredients that might have fallen to the bottom of the bowl are incorporation. Pour the batter into the pan and give the pan a few back-and-forth shakes to even the butter.
Bake for 60-65 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool to room temperature.