Thursday, February 08, 2007

Retro Recipe Challenge #6: The Way to a Man's Heart...

This month's Retro Recipe Challenge, hosted every month by the lovely Laura Rebecca, has us cooking something for our honey for Valentines Day. This is a bit tough for me since we celebrate "anti-Valentines Day" in our house. Which actually is really nice because I never know when MBH is going to decide to hold an "Anti-Valentines Day" and surprise me with a small token of his affection like the package of pocket sized Moleskines he got for me a few weeks ago to jot down book titles, recipe ideas, and random thoughts or the Digital Food Photography book he gave me to celebrate the launch of Thus, I wasn't really planning on participating this month as I cook something special for MBH every day.

Until that is I stumbled upon a section in the McCall's Show-off Cookbook published in 1965 as part of the McCall's Cookbook Collection called "Cook Your Way Into His Heart with Our Man-Tested Menus". After finding this gem of a section, I knew I had to rethink my whole plan of not cooking for this RRC. I mean how can any 21st Century woman resist trying out a "Man-Tested Menu"??!! Especially when enticed by this wonderfully crafted opening paragraph:

"If it's true that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then all a girl needs to achieve that end is a working kitchen and our man-tested menus. All planned with malice aforethought, these recipes are designed specifically with your man in mind. We can almost guarantee that you can cook your way into his heart - and live happily ever afterward."

WOW! With a statement like this I just HAD to try something from one of the "Man-Tested Menus"!

As you may recall from an earlier post, I use food as a motivational tool at work (ok, it really is a bribe). I knew this week's special project engineering meeting was going to be a particularly tough meeting. I have several projects with tight deadlines that need to have custom product developed for the projects. I also know that our engineering group is stretched to the max on the type of projects they can take on right now. So, as the only woman in the entire engineering group, I did what any self respecting woman of the 50's and 60's would do...I baked a cake. Not just any cake either but the Old-Fashioned Coconut Cake from the "Man-Tested Menus"!!

Girls, let me tell you this cake is four layers of pure coconut heaven. It is a classic all white cake with all white frosting with generous amounts of shredded coconut pressed into the frosting and liberally sprinkled between the layers AND IT IS TO DIE FOR. It is everything you expect a coconut cake to be: moist and dense, with a good dose of coconut flavouring with every bite. This cake isn't a start from a white cake mix type cake either. This is a whipping six egg whites, sifting cake flour, creaming butter, and adding the flour/milk in four parts starting with the flour and ending with the flour, don't go running through the house because the cake might fall type of cake. The frosting isn't for the faint of heart either. This frosting is the full on, bring the sugar and egg whites to soft-ball stage while you stand over a double boiler with your egg beaters going Seven Minute Boiled Frosting.

And I'll tell you what...if the reaction I got this morning during the engineering meeting when I opened the cake carrier and started handing out slices of this beauty are any indication of the results of using a Man-Tested Menu, then I say ladies, go get your man (and your egg beaters)!!!

Old Fashioned Coconut Cake
From McCall's Show-Off Cookbook (1965)

3/4 cup egg whites (about 6)
2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup soft butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (I used coconut extract)
1 cup milk

In small bowl of electric mixer, let egg whites warm to room temperature (note: let ALL your ingredients come to room temperature, they conveniently leave that little nugget about baking cakes from scratch out because they assume you know this because you always bake your cakes from scratch and your mother taught you this!). Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 F. Grease well, flour and layer with a circle of wax paper three (8 by 1 1/2 inch) or two (9 by 1 1/2 inch) cake pans. Sift flour with baking powder and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. At high speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until soft peaks form when beater is slowly raised. Set aside. In large bowl of electric mixer, at speed, cream butter with rest of sugar and the extracts until light and fluffy. At low speed, beat in flour mixture (in fourths) alternately with milk (in thirds), beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat in egg whites just until batter is smooth, about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared pans (about 1/2 full); bake 25 minutes or until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool throughly on wire racks.

1/4 cup egg whites (about 2)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
dash salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla (I used 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp coconut extract)
2 cans (3 1/2 oz size) flaked coconut (I couldn't find this in a can, so I used bagged flaked coconut)

In top of double boiler, combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and 2 Tbsp water. With portable mixer or rotary egg beater, beat about 1 minute to combine ingredients. Cook over rapidly boiling water (water in bottom should not touch top of boiler), beating constantly about 7 minutes or until stiff peaks form when beater is slowly raised. Remove from boiling water. Transfer frosting to medium bowl; cool completely. In small bowl, whip cream and vanilla until cream is stiff enough to hold its shape. Fold cream mixture and one can (1 cup) of coconut into cold frosting, with rubber scrapper, using an under and over motion and mixing until blended.

Putting the Cake Together:

Slice any "peaks" off the tops of the cakes so each cake is fairly flat (save this for a treat for the kids or for a dessert) Slice each cake into two layers. Starting with a bottom on the bottom, put a layer of frosting on top and sprinkle with coconut. Repeat until all the layers are used, finishing with a bottom with the flat part on top. Fill and frost the sides of the cake and then frost the top. Using a cupped palm, lightly press loose coconut into the sides and sprinkle any remaining coconut on top of the cake. Chill for one to three hours before serving.

Serves 10