This very special feature was written by Cookbook author Patty Pinner, who wrote one of my absolute favorite cookbooks ever, Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories. For months, I asked if I could feature her on the blog, and we finally connected just in time for Black History Month. This week, I will be featuring two recipes of her's, the coconut cake recipe below and her sweet potato pie, which I made for my father in law. I know you will be inspired by her amazing words below, just as I have been.
"When I was growing up, no matter how tasty my mother's main courses were, dessert was always the high point of our meals. Mama rarely purchased store-bought sweets--everything was hand-whipped and baked in the oven. In those days (early sixties), women used their scratch cooking skills as part of their 'technique' in their love affairs. My grandmother used to say, 'I don't care who a man is, or how important he deems himself to be, all men desire at least one good meal a day.' In my family, a meal wasn't much without dessert."
"I started collecting recipes when I was young. The women in my family impressed upon me the importance of having a variety of delicious recipes in my files and knowing how to cook them; and better still, how to put my own mark on them. They used to say, 'A woman's cooking is her glory; it sets her apart, the same way her signature lipstick and nail polish does.' Of course, it was a different time, and a different understanding of womanhood. Even so, today, I still tell my young female cousins and nieces that every courting woman should have a nice file of recipes that no other woman can beat her cooking--especially dessert recipes--men love the old-fashioned desserts that they grew up eating. Cooking for the man you love, isn't about being subservient, it's about showing off."
"People always want to know about my favorite dessert. Every time they ask what it is, I give a different answer. Truth is, the seasons influence my taste buds. In Michigan, where I live, apples, pumpkins, squash, and yams, are plentiful during the fall season. Add a few warm and fragrant spices, a cup or two of sugar, and a few pats of real butter, and you've got yourself a satisfying treat. I love summer desserts that are brimming with fresh fruits and berries. Berry pies look so feminine resting on a counter-top. My mother used to say, 'A man sees brassieres and petticoats all the time...but a nice little homemade pie sitting on the counter, isn't something he's gonna see that often.' "
"A lot of young women think you have to cook 'gourmet' in order to be considered a good cook. When they go to the market, they fret over their selections and they follow recipes as though they were written in stone. I've learned that cooking--good and tasty cooking--comes from the heart. Of course, there are certain measurements and temperatures that you must follow when you're baking, but quite often, I put my food together based on what I feel like tasting or serving. I always add my own touch to my recipes; like...adding a small amount of black coffee to my chocolate cake batter to bring out the chocolate flavor, and adding lemon extract to my yam pies."
"I wrote Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories and Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, With Pie so that women could have a collection of down home dessert recipes close by. I think it's important that we preserve our heritage--through food, photos, and stories. Most of my recipes are classic and easy to prepare. My recipes call for staples that most women already have on hand. When I'm in the kitchen tinkering with ideas, I don't want that spell broken because I have to stop what I'm doing, and run to the store for an exotic ingredient; I want everything to be in my cupboard."
Photos courtesy of Sheri Giblin Photography
Miss Essie Brazil's Three-Layer Coconut Cake
Recipe courtesy of Patty Pinner's Cookbook, Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories"
For the Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
3 cups cake flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup boiling water
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Set them aside.
To make the cake, in a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar thoroughly until
light and creamy. Add the egg yolks one at time, beating well after each addition. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating with the milk, beating after each addition. Stir in the coconut and vanilla extract.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold them into the cake batter. Divide the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each layer comes out clean. Transfer the pans from the oven to wire racks. Allow to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then unmold them onto the wire racks to cool completely.
To make the frosting, in a large saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and boiling water. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, and cook until the mixture spins thread and reaches 242 degrees on a candy thermometer.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Pour the sugar and syrup mixture over the egg whites, beating constantly. Add the vanilla extract, then cool the frosting until firm enough to spread.
Transfer one cake layer to a serving platter; spread 1/3 of the coconut frosting on top. Sprinkle coconut on top. Top with another cake layer and spread with the second third of the frosting. Sprinkle more coconut on top. Top with the remaining cake layer, then spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle with the remaining coconut, pressing gently into the frosting if you want to.