Uncle Monty's Coconut Cream Cake
This week, we travel with the children to the home of Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, their new guardian in Book 2, The Reptile Room.
Book The Second
In The Reptile Room, the second book of this unfortunate series, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire arrive at the home of Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, a famous herpetologist who will be their new guardian.
The children are very nervous to meet him, but when they finally do, they are pleasantly surprised to find that he is a very nice man who enjoys going to the movies and cooking good food.
Coconut Cream Cake
"I am your Uncle Monty, and this is really perfect timing!" their chubby new guardian exclaims when they arrive. "I just finished making a coconut cream cake!" And indeed, we are told, the cake they are served "was a magnificent thing, rich and creamy with the perfect amount of coconut."
Our recipe for Coconut Cream Cake is based on one we found in Bon Appetit, from 1999. That recipe, in turn, is based on the recipe for "Awesome Coconut Cake" which used to be served at the now closed Shubox Cafe, a postage-stamp sized eatery in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, just down the road from Adventure Kitchen in Montclair. Alas, the restaurant closed long before we ever had a chance to sample the awesome cake.
The Perfect Amount of Coconut
The Bon Appetit recipe calls for sweetened shredded coconut, but we felt that the flavors balanced better without the additional sugar. Also, the only sweetened coconut we were able to find came not only with added sugar, but also with lots of added chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers, and other things we neither needed nor wanted on our cake.
So instead, we used simple, plain shredded coconut (ours happened to be organic). Unsweetened, there was only one ingredient: coconut.
The "coconut cream" part of Coconut Cream Cake comes from something called "cream of coconut." It usually comes in a 15 ounce can with a pop-top, and is used to make pina coladas.
The Bon Appetit recipe calls for "sweetened cream of coconut such as Coco Lopez." Initially unable to find it, we tried substituting Goya brand cream of coconut, called Coco Goya, which was in the Mexican foods aisle at a local supermarket. The results were fine, but not nearly as rich and creamy as we got with a second attempt using Coco Lopez.
Upon very close analysis of the nutrition label (with calculator in hand, mind you), we discovered that Coco Lopez contains 45% more sugar and 30% more fat than the Goya brand. No wonder! This probably has something to do with the fact that the first ingredient on the Coco Lopez label is "coconut," while the first ingredient in the Coco Goya brand is "coconut milk." When you open and re-mix the separated contents (a must), Coco Lopez is noticeably thicker than Coco Goya, and is nearly opaque.
Our only hesitation with this whole cream of coconut thing is that, in addition to coconut and sugar, both brands contain lots and lots of junky chemicals. We normally try to steer clear of that kind of thing, but time did not permit us to experiment with alternatives this week. Some combination of coconut oil, raw coconut and sugar would probably work, but for this week, we went with the canned stuff. (Stay tuned...)
three books in one week
Our class schedule follows the public school schedule of the district we teach in. The district has an early dismissal day next week, so sadly for us, that means no cooking class. So, this week in class, in addition to The Reptile Room, we also learned about the 3rd and 4th books in the series: The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill.
Unfortunately, although the Coconut Cream Cake makes for a promising start to the Baudelaires' time at Uncle Monty's house, things go downhill pretty quickly. Before long, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are arriving at the door of Aunt Josephine's house in Book 3, precariously perched on a cliff overlooking an aptly named Lake Lachrymose.
Aunt Josephine is afraid of everything, including cooking, so she only prepares food that is cold and raw. This is very unpleasant, but as Lemony Snicket points out, some foods that are served cold can be absolutely marvelous.
In class, we sampled Chilled Cucumber Soup, which Lemony Snicket points out can be quite refreshing and delicious on a sunny day. Next week, although we won't have class, I'll share an easy Chilled Cucumber Soup recipe, so you can see what the Baudelaires' first meal might have been like with Aunt Josephine, if her soup was as good as ours.
I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but things don't go well for the children at Aunt Josephine's house. In Book 4, they end up heading to a miserable mill in the town of Paltryville, where they live in a barracks with the mill workers and are served nothing to eat for breakfast, a stick of gum for lunch, and soggy casseroles for dinner every night.
The very thought of this miserable diet was so upsetting that I couldn't bear to subject my cooking class students to it, nor you, dear reader. My students did, however, each receive a stick of gum, just in case they ever find themselves with nothing to eat for lunch.