Family Day Monday was a holiday here in Alberta, so Michael and I spent the day with our family of friends by hosting a “Call the Midwife mini marathon.” We watched four episodes of our fave show (well, one of our fave shows), and of course, had goodies to match the fifties/sixties era the show is set in.
In the very first episode of Call the Midwife, newly trained midwife Jenny Lee comes to Nonnatus house, an abbey where both nuns and nurses live as midwives, serving the East London community, Poplar. In this first episode, Jenny is greeted by Sister Monica Joan, the most elderly of the nuns, and likely the most mischievous. Sister Monica Joan has a great love for sweets, and she entices Jenny into the kitchen where, between the two of them, they polish off an entire coconut cake meant for supper. Because of the nun’s penchant for cakes, the other inhabitants of Nonnatus had taken to stashing cakes in pots and pans for safe-keeping, but this doesn’t stop dear Sister Monica Joan.
Given the history of the coconut cake in Call the Midwife, of course we had to have some at our mini-marathon! In my hopes to find treats that would match all the charm of the show, I borrowed The Life and Times of Call the Midwife: The Official Companion to Season One and Two, by Heidi Thomas, from the library. While this book has an entire chapter on food, it doesn’t have many recipes, but two of those few recipes are for variations on coconut cake. The following recipe comes from the book (Heidi Thomas is also the writer of the Call the Midwife series), but it was included in the form of an old newspaper clipping, complete with spelling mistakes and scant instructions. Because of this, I’m not really sure who to attribute the recipe to. I’ve quoted the recipe below, and have put my interpretation of some of the ambiguous instructions in parentheses.
INGREDIENT. -1/4 lb of desiccated coconut (I used medium unsweetened), 1/2 lb castor sugar, 1/2 lb. of margarine (I used butter), 3/4 lb of flour, 1-1/2 teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar, 1/3 flat teaspoonful of carbonate of soda (baking soda), 3 eggs, milk (I used 1/4 cup).
FOR THE BUTTER ICING. – 12 oz. of icing sugar, vanilla flavoring, 6 oz. of butter, desiccated coconut.
METHOD. – Grease a cake-tin and line with greased paper in the usual way. (I used a 9 inch round cake tin, lined the bottom with parchment paper, and greased the side with butter.)
Sieve the flour with the cream of tartar and carbonate of soda. Whisk up the eggs. Cream the fat and sugar. (I creamed the fat and sugar in a stand mixer for several minutes after I used the mixer to whisk the eggs. I would do this in the other order next time, so the eggs would hold the air a little better.)
Gradually stir in the flour, etc., and coconut alternately with the eggs, and some milk as required (I used 1/4 cup of milk. I mixed the coconut in with the flour and alternated the dry ingredients with the eggs and milk as I added them to the mix).
Mix all together and beat well, put into the cake-tin and bake in a moderately hot oven (I went with 325 degrees F) for about one hour and a quarter, lessening the heat as the cake begins to brown (I turned the temperature down to 300, and yes, I did bake it for the whole one hour and a quarter).
When cooked, turn out carefully and leave on a sieve (cooling rack) until cold.
TO MAKE THE ICING. – Roll the lumps out of the icing sugar and rub it through a fine sieve (I skipped this step).
Add the butter and beat both to a cream.
Flavor with vanilla. (Note: I found this frosting very hard to spread; after I had mega troubles with the first layer of frosting, I added a little milk to loosen the mix, and it was a much happier experience from there on out.)
TO ICE THE CAKE. – Split the cake into three and spread some of the icing between each layer, then sandwich together again.
Spread a layer of icing on the top and all round the sides of the cake, then coat with dessicated coconut.
Note: this is a very forgiving cake as far as cake-decorating goes. I often make a total mess of cakes, mixing the crumbs into the frosting, which isn’t a good look, but dessicated coconut covers a multitude of cake-related sins.