Coconut Pound Cake and Ratio Cooking
It was soft and yellow-white with a thin, dark crust. The crust was not hard or chewy, but broke away perfectly from the rest of this pillow-y treat. It wasn’t a piece of bread, though it looked like one. Was it cake? It was on the end of a long table under a blue tent shading us from the summer sun. A gold cardboard plate presented perfect slices of this marvelous discovery.
I held the slice in my little sweaty hands, taking small bites that burst with butter, vanilla, and sugar. Its texture was half of the pleasure: smooth, moist, fine-grained, and soluble, I already wanted more. But the table was on the other side of the lawn now, and there were so many long tables laden with food with big people figures milling about, from one end to another. I never found it again.
This slice of heaven was none other than a pound cake, and a store-bought one at that. I was with my family at the annual summer block party, and I was only five or six years old. The block party is all but extinct now in most communities, but they really should be an obligatory community event. Some of my favorite memories came from the food and games and popsicles and sugary drinks and plastic prizes, the best of which I still remember: a stretchy, pose-able Bugs Bunny, in blue or pink. It was invaluable.
As for the value of this particular block party, it formed one of my first and best taste memories. Taste is a combination of memory, experience, preference, cultural assimilations, and a lot of scientific fact and theory. Take away most of that, and you have a child’s taste: inexperienced, few memories, and an instinct for sugar and other goodies that override snobby acquisitions like culture. Will I ever enjoy pound cake with such simplicity again? Or am I hampered by experience, culture, and too much knowledge of what goes on the in olfactory epithelium (thank you, University of Gastronomic Sciences, for letting me know)?
Naturally, I made a pound cake to see just how much I still enjoy it. I know I like it (a lot) but will I ever derive the same amount of pleasure from food as I once did as a child? Conclusion: I can’t (though I came pretty close to it!). But I also won’t have to suffer the same utter repulsion as I did with cooked spinach. You gain some, you lose some.
This coconut pound cake isn’t as fine-grained as the one I had as a little young’un because of the coconut grains, but I like the texture and love the coconut-y flavor. It’s moist and the yogurt lends a pleasant tangy hint. It was eaten all up in the first evening.
Coconut Pound Cake*
150 g sugar (¾ cup)
100 g butter (or about ½ cup)
100 g flour (or about ¾ cup)
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
150 ml (½ cup) yogurt thinned with milk
300 ml unsweetened, grated coconut (1 ¼ cup)
Optional: 50 g pecans, hazelnuts or almonds
- Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. Leave out butter, eggs, and yogurt for a few hours before. Eggs can be placed in warm water to heat up faster. Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F). Toast a handful or two of the coconut: Add to a dry pan over low-medium heat and stir constantly. Remove from the heat.
- Beat the butter until it’s creamy, about one minute. Add sugar and beat on medium-high until it’s white, fluffy, and one third of its size bigger, about 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating each time until well-incorporated. Add vanilla. Mix.
- Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the batter, and then add the yogurt. Beat well until very smooth. Stir in coconut and other additions.
- Grease a loaf pan and spread in batter, smoothing the top. Bake for one hour and cool for ten minutes before taking out of pan. Eat warm, eat for breakfast, eat with coffee or tea, or bring it to the next neighborhood block party.
*If you have a scale and Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, then the kitchen is your oyster. This recipe is a mix of Ratio guidelines and (as a comparison to be sure I wasn’t completely off-track) at least 12 recipes I found online; I’m proud to say it’s (kind of) my own invention.