My name is Jonene Ficklin, and I'm a full-time wife, mom, writer, and professional artist. I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I use colored pencils, oil paints, and watercolors. I love what I do!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coconut Milk, an Heirloom Cake and a Fiesty Cajun Grandma

My husband loves me. He really, really loves me. He loves me enough to do something crazy, like make a coconut cake.

You need to understand, this isn’t just your average coconut cake. This is an heirloom, take all day, sweat-hammers-and-curses cake. Yeah, you read right. Hammers. I’ll explain in a minute.

You see, he often makes me a cake on my birthday. When he asked what kind I’d like, I said a coconut cake – imagining a box cake mix with white frosting and coconut sprinkled over it. But what he thought of was his grandma’s coconut cake, which was four layers of luscious homemade cake separated by homemade coconut filling, encased in homemade seven minute frosting, and only then, sprinkled with fresh hand-grated coconut. And he wanted to make it. For me.

My eyebrows shot up. Now my husband is a wonderful cook. He makes killer breakfast burritos. He doesn’t often make homemade killer cakes. But I guess there was no better time than the present.

So we called his mom and got the recipe. Step one, get a real coconut and make coconut milk. (You can use the canned stuff, but it's not as good, and hey, there’s no adventure in that.)

Here’s where the hammer came in. Twice.

You take a coconut, punch a hole in one of the eyes, drain out the coconut water, then cook the coconut (shell and all) for a half hour. So we did. (Yes, I helped. I didn't want to miss a minute of this.)

Then we took it out, pounded it to smithereens (our two younger boys did – and you should have seen the shells flying. We had to do an intervention.)

The next step entailed separating the coconut meat from the shell, peeling off the skin, shredding the coconut, putting it in the blender, covering it with hot water and blending it ‘till it was a smoking smoothie.

Are you huffing yet?

Well, toughen up. We weren’t done. We squeezed the coconut stuff through cheesecloth, and voila: now we had REAL coconut milk. (Incidentally, only powder was left in the cheesecloth and it was tasteless – all the flavor washed out into the milk, which tasted good.)

Now, hot coconut milk in hand, my hubby was ready to make the filling. Grandma’s instructions were to cook 4 cups of coconut milk with 2 ½ cups of sugar and a bit of vanilla (how much is a bit?) until it’s thick. Supposedly, this takes a long time. But how long? How thick? How much vanilla?

You gotta love seasoned cooks and their pinches of this’s and dashes of thats. But to really appreciate this recipe, you need to picture Grandma. She’s a real barefoot French Cajun from Louisiana. Her gumbo and etouffee are as legendary as her coconut cake. She wasn’t afraid of hunting ‘gators in the bayou or, when she’d take the wrong exit on the freeway, she’d pull a U-turn halfway down the exit ramp, drive up the wrong way and reenter the freeway. She was tiny, fiesty and sweet, and kissed everyone on the lips, God rest her soul.

She would have loved it that my hubby was making her cake. Well, to make a long story shorter, my hubby did a great job making the filling. And it was REALLY thick when he was done. We hurried to spread it between the four layers of cake.

We’d barely finished and put the pan down, when we realized the spoon was standing upright in the leftover filling. I could barely pull it free. When I examined the pan, I realized we'd just made coconut candy. And that was holding the cake together.

Well, the cake was frosted, dusted with coconut and topped with fresh raspberries. It was very pretty, but presented a bit of a challenge to cut. The layers were a little crunchy. I was kinda worried.

And then we tried it.

Oh, momma. It was soOOOooo good! When Grandma made it, her fillings were thick and gooey and sunk into the cake. That was very good, but this was even better. The textures were an exotic mix of soft cake, delicate frosting, crun-chewy fresh coconut, and smooth candy layers. Then came the tang of the raspberries. It was unbelievably awesome!

I could totally picture Grandma laughing from the heavenly bayous, double barrelled shotgun over her shoulder, as she floats down to steal a crumb.

All the family raved. I raved - and wasn't lying a bit.

I think I married well. Don’t you?


  1. Yum! What a fun cake and post. :) Love the descriptions of Grandma.

  2. My mouth is watering and only sometimes like coconut. But the REAL stuff, that's awesome.

  3. Leisha, yes, Grandma was unforgettable. She might show up in a book sometime.

    Jolene, real (fresh) coconut does make a difference. And we sure had fun pounding the shell open.


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