Sunday, January 20, 2013

Coconut Mist Cake

Hello gorgeous!
Oh, lovely Coconut Mist Cake, how did I miss you? Tucked away in a tiny recipe booklet dating to 1985 and extravagantly titled "Collection of Riches: An Indulgence of Recipes for Chocolate and Coconut Lovers," I've somehow overlooked Coconut Mist for far too long. The booklet, produced by the fine folks at Baker’s (of the German Chocolate and Coconut fame), does indeed provide an embarrassment of culinary riches within its frail pages. And first up is this gorgeous winner.

My mom single-parented my brother and I, and one of our favorite excursions was to the local grocery on a Friday night. Exhausted after a week working one of her three jobs, Mom let us choose our own adventure for dinner, with the results usually including the (then new) Tim’s Cascade Potato Chips and the (sadly, now defunct) San Francisco Seltzer, raspberry flavor. And on a really glorious, throw-caution-to-the-wind night, Mom led us over to the frozen-foods aisle and let us chose a dessert.
Creamed butter with wet and dry ingredients.

For those not familiar with the desserts that reside in the frozen-foods aisle, we will now observe a moment of silence. In the ‘80s, Pepperidge Farm dominated the aisle with jelly rolls, cinnamon rolls, and, my personal favorite: The coconut cake. When it was my turn to chose a sweet frozen treat, I went for it every time (even over its chocolate sibling). A small but sophisticated white cake covered in white frosting and sprinkled generously with coconut, this was my childhood version of heaven.

Hot out of the oven: A golden brown beauty.
The idea of any frozen cake is, of course, that you will take the time to defrost the treat in a manner keeping with the genteel nature of your upcoming gathering. Please. There is almost nothing better than a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake eaten straight out of the box, only semi-defrosted. Is anyone who buys frozen desserts really thinking ahead? If you’re thinking ahead, you have time to make homemade. No, I think the frozen-dessert aisle exists for midnight bingers and breakups, which, in my book, doesn’t make the goodies found there any less delicious.

Split the cake into two layers with a serrated knife.
I was pleased to see the Pepperidge Farm version still on offer today at my local store. But with the discovery of this Coconut Mist Cake, I also know I’ll not soon need to purchase it. This homemade lovely is studded with coconut at every turn – in the simple batter, in the luscious jam filling and finally, atop the fluffy Cool Whip frosting. It’s the kind of cake you can easily conjure up on a moment’s notice, not needing to fall back on a run to the frozen-foods aisle. Unless it’s midnight and you have a broken heart. In which case, Godspeed my dear reader. Godspeed.

Yes, this filling is good enough to eat with a spoon.
Coconut Mist Cake

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. Calumet baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
½ cup milk
½ tsp. vanilla
1 egg
2-2/3 cups (about ) Baker’s Angel Flake coconut
2/3 cup raspberry jam or preserves
3-1/2 cups thawed Cool Whip whipped topping

With original recipe in background.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cream butter to soften. Add flour mixture, milk and vanilla. Mix until all flour is moistened, then beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add egg; beat 1 minute longer. Stir in 2/3 cup of the coconut. Pour into 8x8x2-inch pan which has been greased and floured. Bake at 350-degrees for about 40 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 30 minutes; remove from pan and finish cooling on rack.

Split cake into 2 layers. Reserve 1 tablespoon jam for garnish; mix remaining jam with 2/3 cup of the coconut and spread between layers. Cover top and sides of cake with whipped topping and remaining coconut. Garnish with reserved jam.

Beautiful inside and out!
·      Like my heart garnish? Yeah, me too. Perfect for Valentine’s Day! Just fill a cookie cutter with jam, let set for a minute and remove.
·      I’d recently been gifted a jar of homemade blackberry jam, which was just destined to be used in the filling. I think the called-for raspberry jam would be divine, as would cherry or apricot jam, or lemon curd or even orange marmalade.
·      I used a serrated knife to cut through the cake layers. Make sure the cake is completely cool.
·      Once frosted, I threw the whole thing in the refrigerator for a few hours. There is almost nothing better in my book than a good, dense, cold piece of cake. Plus, chilling it allowed the Cool Whip to really sink into the cake.

Delicious, and no heartache required.
Why Don’t You …
·      Try this with real whipped cream frosting?
·      Make a several-layer version for a larger gathering?
·      Take a pass through the frozen-foods aisle next time you need a quickie dessert or a full-fledged binge? No thawing necessary!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Popcorn Cake

Kiss your New Year's diet resolutions goodbye.
My friend Lydia sent me this sweet email after New Year’s:

I was going thru my Mom’s recipe box over the holidays and came across a recipe I wrote up during the ‘80s. It made me think of you: Popcorn Cake! Basically it's a popcorn ball recipe with M&Ms and peanuts added and smushed into a 9x13. If anything, it'd be an easy recipe to do w/the kids.

I shivered from head to toe. Because at the exact moment I was reading Lydia’s email, my own recipe for Popcorn Cake was sitting at my elbow, all ready to be put to use as the first recipe of 2013. Time Capsule kismet! And all the more reason to throw New Year’s resolutions to “eat healthier” to the wind and embark on a recipe at least two girls in the ‘80s were keen on.

And it’s not hard to see why. As Lydia aptly describes, Popcorn Cake really is a glorified popcorn ball. Our recipes are similar but not identical, which makes these “hand-me-down” recipes all the more fun to collect and compare. (She grew up in Southern California, so I can officially say Popcorn Cake was having a West Coast moment – at the very least.)

The air popper at work.
My recipe is vague in both measurement and directions, but no wonder because it’s hand-written by me, circa 1983. The misspellings prove I still had to face my fifth-grade nadir, Ms. Dee (see Cheese”bugar” Pie), but does provide a charming glimpse of my 8-year-old self, if I say so myself.

I have absolutely no recollection of ever eating this during my childhood, but it is full of childish ideas of gourmet: salted peanuts, M&Ms, marshmallows and, of course, the popcorn. It’s hard to remember today, when the microwave has made popcorn an every-day affair, but when I was a kid, it was an event to get out the popcorn popper.

Melting marshmallows ...
Toward that end, I air-popped nine cups of popcorn (about 1/3 c. of dry kernels) and tossed it with the peanuts and M&Ms. Melting the butter and oil and marshmallows on the stove, I was reminded of one of my very favorite no-bake yummies, the Rice Krispie treat. But as I looked at the big greasy pot of oozing marshmallows, I also started to question the authenticity of my hand-written records. This was going to be one oily popcorn ball! Perhaps my recipe should have stated, “1/2 cup butter or oil” instead of both?

Sure enough, pouring the melted marshmallow mixture over the popcorn resulted in a very moist concoction. And, because it was hot, it also caused the M&Ms to melt and add to the resultant goop – a nice trick, but one that further confirmed my suspicions that there was more than enough goo to go around.

The wet and dry ingredients meet, and melt.
Really, I’ll eat anything once (in case you haven’t noticed), and I was more than game to dive into a piece of Popcorn Cake. After letting it firm up for about an hour, I cut into the pan. I’m happy to report that Lydia and I weren’t far wrong whenever we stumbled upon our respective recipes during our formative years. Popcorn Cake is very moist (yes, next time I’ll just use butter or oil, but not both), but tastes like a cross between Cracker Jack, Rice Krispie Treat and popcorn ball. I’d like to think that is also cheaper and a wee bit healthier than a traditional Rice Krispie treat.

Popcorn Cake promises to trim down with less fat in 2013.
There’s no denying that my original recipe for Popcorn Cake could use a few tweaks. But it provided a great entrée to the new year, and a fun reminder that food can and does span the decades and the geography between us. Enjoy!

“My” Popcorn Cake (reprinted as originally hand-written)

-9c or more of cooked popcorn
-1c M&Ms
-1c salted Spanish peanuts

1.     Mix (above) ingredients in large bowl
2.     Melt together ½ c buter or margarine, ½ c Sufflower oil, 1 pkg small marshmellows
3.     Beat mixture so it isn’t separated
4.     Pore marshmellows mix popcorn mix and push down into mold or or pan which is greased well.

The original hand-written recipe card. At the top right are my illustrations for popcorn, M&Ms and marshmallows.
·      My grocery store had Spanish peanuts, but they weren’t salted. Since I was using plain popcorn, I went with roasted, salted peanuts, against the emphasis of my childhood self.
·      It is important to ensure the melted marshmallows and fat of your choosing are well combined. I found a wire whisk worked well (and added to my love of alliteration!).
·      Great tip from Lydia that I failed to follow : “Be sure to pick out the un-popped kernels. Want to avoid broken teeth.” I mean, is this woman wise or what?

Why Don’t You …
·      Experiment with other fats? My go-to Rice Krispie treat recipe uses ½ c. of peanut butter and just a few tablespoons of butter (in addition to the marshmallows), and I would love to try that here, too.

Lydia’s Popcorn Cake (featuring adult spelling)

Pour into a large bowl:
3/4 c popcorn kernels - popped. (I microwaved a bag, it's my 21st century addition)
6 oz Planters’ peanuts
8 oz (or more) M&Ms

Boil for 1 minute:
1 cup Karo syrup
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp butter    

Add 1 tsp baking soda. Stir. 

Pour over popcorn mixture, mix and pour into a buttered 9x13 pan.