"How do I relax? If there is anything that relaxes me more than cooking, it's baking. My specialties are pecan pie, chocolate mousse, coconut cake, cheesecake and other irresistible desserts. (Could that be why I'm always shopping for a suit with a size 8 top and a 14 bottom?)
There was a time in my life when I was known as a very good cook and an exceptional baker. But that was 'B.C.' (before column). In those days, I had a husband and two children and plenty of free time. I still have a husband, but the kids have grown and flown (hallelujah!) and free time --what is that?
Even today, I regard culinary offerings as the ultimate gift--a part of myself. What could be more generous and loving? It also provides a handy outlet for creative expression.
One of my first specialties was a spectacular coconut cake. This cake was not 'made,' it was constructed, like a cathedral. I wangled the recipe out of the pastry chef at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu, circa 1955. First, I'd bake an angel food cake--from scratch. No prepared mixes. That would be 'cheating.' Then I'd prepare a thick custard--also from scratch (I must have been crazy); next, I'd whip the sweet cream and fold it into the custard. Half of this sinfully delicious mixture was spread generously between the layers of the cake, and the other half was used to frost the top and sides. After that came the grated coconut. No canned coconut for me. I was a purist. If fresh coconuts were not available, I'd hold off making the cake until coconuts were in season. I'd pile the coconut flakes onto the cake until it looked like a mound of freshly fallen snow. Then, just before the presentation, a single red rose would be placed across the top. Dramatic? I made this masterpiece for a company dinner when the kids were 8 and 10 years old. They came home from school just in time to see me put this picture-perfect creation into what I used to call the 'icebox.'
On dinner-party nights, we'd feed the kids first. No company dessert for them--they would get their cake and the rest of the leftovers the next day. Of course, it wouldn't be quite as fresh or would it look as appealing. Occasionally some of the guests would ask for seconds, in which case there would be no leftovers. 'Sorry, kids--have some canned peaches.' (I'm beginning to sound like Erma Bombeck.)
As the kids hungrily eyed the fresh coconut cake, I grew increasingly ashamed. 'What kind of mother are you?' I asked myself. 'Are strangers more important than your own flesh and blood? Where are your priorities?'
'Obviously, in the wrong place,' I answered.
At that very moment, I decided to do the unheard of--cut the cake right then and there and serve it to my children! 'And when it is presented to the guests,' I told myself, 'I will simply tell them the truth: "I rearranged my priorities and decided to let my kids enjoy the dessert while it was fresh." ' And that's exactly what I did.
That evening the coconut cake was presented with a conspicuous hole gouged out of one side. The guests were somewhat astonished, but after hearing my explanation, they agreed that it was both comical and courageous. Furthermore, it told my kids something about where they stood with their mother." PRODUCED BY LINDEN GROSS DEAR ABBY'S COCONUT CAKE 5 egg yolks 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 2 tablespoons cold water 1 cup flour 10 egg whites 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/2 cup Sherry 2 cups grated coconut Custard Frosting
Beat egg yolks until pale. Combine 3/4 cup sugar and water; mix into yolks. Add flour; mix well. Combine egg whites and salt; beat until foamy. Add cream of tartar, vanilla and remaining sugar. Beat until stiff enough to hold a peak.
Gently fold yolks into whites. Pour batter into 10-inch ungreased tube pan and bake at 325 degrees for 60 to 65 minutes. Remove from oven, invert and let cool. When cool, remove from pan. Cut cake in half horizontally. Sprinkle each half with cup Sherry. Spread some of Custard Frosting over bottom half. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup coconut. Place top half on bottom half and frost with remaining Custard. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 cup coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Custard Frosting 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 1/2 cup water 5 egg yolks 3/4 cup sugar 1 1/2 cups cold milk 1 tablespoon flour 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Soften gelatin in 1/2 cup cold water. Combine egg yolks and sugar and beat until pale. Add milk, gelatin mixture, flour and vanilla and cook in top of double boiler over gently boiling water. Cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture coats metal spoon. Remove top of double boiler from heat and let cool. After pan has cooled completely, refrigerate custard for several hours (custard must be very cold before using).
With an electric mixer, beat custard until it is the consistency of heavy whipped cream. In large bowl, whip cream until thick. Fold custard mixture into whipped cream.