In East Tennessee, where I live now, the traditional Christmas dessert is Tennessee Stack Cake. My niece's great grandmother, Mamaw Manning, excelled at making that cake. It's a scrumptious stack of thin golden cake layers filled with a sweet tart apple filling. Mamaw Manning's secret ingredient was her wonderful old apple tree which produced the most delicious little green June apples I've ever tasted. They were fabulous for all kinds of apple confections: apple butter, dried apples, apple sauce, apple pies, and her wonderful stack cakes.
Mommy Jean, however, grew up in West Tennessee. I don't know of anyone in her family that made stack cakes. In the Walker family, Christmas dessert was always Fresh Coconut Cake....best washed down with plenty of boiled custard.
The way my mother made coconut cake was practically an all day project requiring the assistance of my father whose job it was to crack, peel and drain the coconut and then grind the coconut meat with a hand cranked grinder.
My mother used what she called the Lady Baltimore cake recipe. It's a standard old white cake recipe. The only ingredient she changed was to substitute fresh coconut milk for the regular milk called for in the recipe.
Here's my mother's recipe (followed by my suggestions for some labor saving short cuts.)
LADY BALTIMORE WHITE CAKE
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
3 1/2 cups White Lily Flower (or any good cake flour...White Lily is a soft white flour milled in Tennessee that makes very tender cakes and biscuits.)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sift above ingredients twice
1 Cup butter
2 cups extra fine sugar
Cream butter and sugar well
1 Cup Fresh Coconut Milk
Alternate adding flour mixture and coconut milk to the butter/sugar mixture. Stir batter until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla
Whip seven egg whites (should be at room temperature) until stiff, not dry. Fold gently into the cake batter.
Bake in three well greased round pans about 25 minutes.
(Mommy Jean always cut a pieces of waxed paper into circles the size of the bottom of the cake pans and lined them. That insures that the cakes come out of the pans cleanly without sticking or breaking up.)
Meanwhile the cake is baking, heat the left over coconut milk gently with a little sugar in a sauce pan until sugar is dissolved and you have a thin, sweet, syrupy mixture.
7 MINUTE ICING RECIPE
Place in the top of a double boiler over rapidly boiling water:
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cold water
1/4th teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Beat the ingredients together over the boiling water for 7 MINUTES (best done with a hand held electric mixer)
Remove from heat, add 1 teaspoon vanilla
Continue beating icing, away from the heat, until icing is the right consistency to spread over the cake.
After the cakes have cooled, turn them out of their pans.
Take a toothpick and gently poke tiny, widely scattered holes in the layers. Then ladle a LITTLE bit of the slightly warm, sweetened coconut milk over the holes...not too much....you don't want the layers to fall apart....you just want them to be VERY moist and sweet through out.
Divide the icing in half. Mix half of the grated coconut in one half of the icing. Stack layers, icing between the layers with icing/coconut mixture.
Ice the top and sides of the assembled cake with the rest of the icing. Sprinkle entire cake with the remainder of the grated coconut so it looks like it's snow covered.
That's it...you're done!
One word of caution: This is a fragile cake. The weight of the icing and coconut may make the layers want to crack and break apart. My mother used to hold it all together with strategically placed tooth picks. We all knew to watch out for tooth picks while we were eating our cake.
The is a fabulous cake. But it's also a whole LOT OF WORK! So, if you're short of time, patience and/or baking skills, here are some substitutions I've been known to make and even with these modifications, it's still makes a very good and festive cake.
MY LABOR SAVING SHORT CUTS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
Buy a white cake mix, what ever brand you like. (I like Betty Crocker.) Prepare as directed except substitute canned coconut milk for any liquid. Don't get that super sweet thick coconut milk they sell in the cocktail mixer section of the grocery store. Look for a can of real coconut milk. (I've seen it at Earth Fare and United Grocery Outlets.)
Bake cake as package directs.
While the cake is baking, gently heat a little canned coconut milk and sugar together in a sauce pan as above.
There's a Betty Crocker icing mix called 'Home Style Icing, Fluffy White.' It comes in a box. It's a dead ringer for 7 minute icing. I use it all the time. You don't even have to cook it and it never fails (like 7 Minute Icing sometimes does, especially on a humid day.)
You can also buy delicious frozen, grated coconut in the freezer section of the grocery store. It's very moist and works great for this cake. (DON'T use dried coconut, it doesn't make a good cake.)
Assemble the cake as above.
And what about the boiled custard? Well, I've never made it. But what I serve does taste almost like home made. Here's what I do.
Krogers makes a very good boiled custard as well as a vanilla egg nog. I can't tell them apart. I've read the ingredient list on both cartons and they're identical. I don't think there is any difference, so get either one that is available at your Kroger store.
Here's the trick: I don't serve it straight out of the carton. It's way thicker and sweeter than Mommy Jean's boiled custard ever was. Hers was not terrifically sweet or thick. So I mix the Kroger boiled custard (or vanilla egg nog) half and half with regular white milk. The result is still plenty sweet and just thick enough and it has very much the same feel and taste in the mouth that my mother's custard had.
Be Well, Good Luck and Merry Christmas!
P.S. If you have any special Christmas tips or recipes, I invite you to share them here. That's what the comment section is for.