"Like me, my friend Robert Mullis remembers his grandfather lending a rare hand in the kitchen each Christmas, when his grandmother, Pearl Mae Oakley, set about making her famous coconut cake. He did the grating, and she did the rest, creating a simple, lovely cake with delicate drizzles of icing drifting lazily down its sides. The completed cake was moved to a screened-in porch for a day, so it could set up and mellow without tempting family members to sample the holiday centerpiece ahead of time. Robert's grandmother knew her recipe was a winner - she advised visitors, 'You just eat that with coffee and you'll love it!'"
Pearl Mae Oakley's Coconut Cake
*serves 8 to 10*
PEARL MAE'S YELLOW CAKE
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
PEARL MAE'S COCONUT ICING
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup butter
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1) To make the cake, heat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and use a fork to mix them together well. Stir the vanilla into the milk.
2) In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with a mixer at high speed until creamy. Add the sugar gradually, stopping to scrape down the bowl, and continue beating until the mixture is evenly combined. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well each time, until the mixture is thick and smooth.
3) Add about one third of the flour mixture to the batter and beat well with the mixer at medium speed. Then add about half the milk to the batter, beating well. Continue beating as you add another third of the flour mixture, the remaining milk, and then the remaining flour mixture. Beat well until very thick and smooth.
4) Quickly scrape the batter into the prepared cake pans, dividing it evenly, and place them in the oven. Bake at 350F for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cakes are golden, spring back when touched lightly in the center, and begin to pull away from the sides of the pans.
5) Remove from the oven, and cool the layers in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for 10 minutes. Then turn out the cakes onto wire racks or plates, top side up, and cool completely.
6) To make the icing, combine the sugar, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, until the sugar dissolves and everything melts into a smooth, velvety icing, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the grated coconut and set aside.
7) To complete the cake, place one layer, top side down, on a serving plate, and spoon about half the icing over the cake. Place the second layer over the first, top side up, and spoon the remaining icing over its surface. Work slowly, allowing the icing to soak into the cake a bit. Continue spooning icing over the cake, allowing it to run down the sides as it will. Let stand for about 1 hour before cutting.