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Joni Woolf: Cakes made easy (yes, these really are)

Recently a friend at exercise class commented on this column and said, “I’d like to see some more cakes — some easy-to-make cakes.” I thought about cakes, and went back through my records, and sure enough — it had been a while. And they weren’t of the “easy” variety. Though I’ve been making some of them for years — the cream cheese pound cake for instance — they are only easy for someone who’s made dozens, or hundreds. So, I went to a couple of my tried and true sources, looking for “easy” cakes. Here’s what I found.
In one of my favorite cookbooks, “My Mother’s Southern Kitchen,” written by James Villas with comments by his mother, Mother Pearl, he says, “Southerners love big, rich, complex cakes,” but on the very next page he quotes his mother as saying, “Once they have the ingredients, everybody knows how to make a cake.” So, complex, or easy? Today we will consider the easy ones.
Some of the recipes in the book are copies of his mother’s hand-written directions, and the following one appealed to me for what it didn’t say: it gave almost no directions, just the name — Admonition Coconut Cake. Villas says the recipe came from his Aunt Dee, “a devout Methodist with a tendency to invoke shades of morality when she named one of her many rich, sinful cakes.” He was right about rich and sinful. Following is the complete recipe as it appears in the book.

Admonition Coconut Cake (Aunt Dee)
2 cups sugar
2 cups sour cream (2 ½ pt. cartons)
2 pkgs. (6 oz. each) frozen coconut
1 pkg. (2-layer size) yellow cake mix
The night before baking cake, combine sugar, sour cream and coconut. Store in refrigerator. Next morning, prepare cake and bake in two layers, by package directions.
That’s it. Those are the complete instructions. So, I took Martha Pearl at her word (“everybody knows how to bake a cake”) and set about to make this cake. The cake part was easy: follow the directions on the back of the Duncan Hines box and bake two layers. The frosting was a challenge. Not wanting to overinvest in expensive ingredients (in a somewhat dubious recipe,) I decided to halve the frosting ingredients, and to use confectioners’ sugar instead of granulated. So, I mixed one cup confectioners’ sugar, one 6 oz. package of frozen coconut and one cup of sour cream and placed in the refrigerator overnight.
Half the frosting recipe turned out to be quite enough. It covers two layers, stacked, nicely. And it is not the kind of frosting that would run down the sides of the cake and stay there. For my taste, using the amounts that he gave (two, two, and two) would be overkill — too much sugar, too much sour cream, too much coconut. It is a pretty cake; it presents well. And it met the criteria of  “easy.” (I have not figured out what the cake “admonishes” one to do. The name “Admonition” will remain a mystery.)

Another easy cake that I have made more than once and plan to make again this weekend is Millie Cohen’s Rum Cake, found in “Food and Faith,” the cookbook published by Calvary Episcopal Church several years ago. It is always moist, thanks to a generous ½ cup of rum and other liquid ingredients.  It stays fresh for days, but probably won’t last that long.

Rum Cake
½ cup chopped pecans
1 pkg. instant pudding (flavor wasn’t indicated in recipe; I use vanilla)
1 ½ cups water
4 eggs
1 18-oz. box yellow cake mix
½ cup rum
½ cup vegetable oil.
Grease bundt pan. Sprinkle with flour and sprinkle nuts on the bottom of the pan. Dump everything else in a bowl and beat 2 minutes. Pour batter into pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes at 325 degrees F. Removed and cool 20 minutes. Glaze with hot rum glaze.
Glaze
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
¼ cup rum
¼ cup water
Combine sugar, butter, rum and water. Heat thoroughly and pour on cake.

So here are two cake recipes that are easy to make, delightful to taste and will please the cook or the guest who is hankering for just a ‘little something sweet’ at the end of a meal. Or anytime.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net